- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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A weekly analysis of the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback play:
Rewind: Christian Ponder went 25-for-42 against the Cleveland Browns, throwing for 228 yards, but once again, the third-year quarterback wasn't able to put four quarters together. He threw for just 63 yards in the second half in the loss to the Browns, missing an open Greg Jennings on a throw that could have put the game away, and got booed on a number of occasions at the Metrodome as the Vikings were unable to put the Browns away. Ponder, as it turns out, was playing with a rib injury he sustained early in the game; he finished the contest, but his status for Sunday's game against the Steelers could be in jeopardy.
Fast-forward: The Pittsburgh Steelers team Ponder would face Sunday isn't the imposing defense he would have seen in previous years, but the Steelers can still throw some confusing looks at Ponder with their 3-4 defense and Troy Polamalu roaming the secondary. Ponder might get some help this week with Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton returning to block for Adrian Peterson (and presumably take some of the load off the Vikings' passing game), but he will still have to diagnose the Steelers' defense on the fly and avoid the mistakes he has made so far this season, when he has thrown five interceptions.
Cassel lurking: It was telling how much more confident Ponder was about his ability to play through injury than coach Leslie Frazier was willing to be Wednesday morning. Players are typically more willing to say they're able to play through injury than coaches are to grant them that privilege, but Ponder might also know that if Matt Cassel takes a start from him, the backup quarterback might not give the job back. Cassel struggled in the preseason and is coming off two poor seasons in Kansas City, but he is a former Pro Bowler who might give the Vikings a change of pace. If Cassel plays Sunday and gives the Vikings a spark heading into their bye week, it will be extremely telling what Frazier does next.
Prediction: Ponder was still able to throw in the portion of practice open to the media Wednesday, and the guess here is he starts Sunday against the Steelers at Wembley Stadium. But don't expect a big game from him, especially with Felton back to help Peterson. Look for him to post something in the neighborhood of 175 yards, as the Vikings ask him to keep them out of trouble and help them get their first win as they head into the bye week.