NFC North: 2013 Week 3 QB Watch NFC

QB Watch: Vikings' Christian Ponder

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:40
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback play:

Ponder
Ponder
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.

QB Watch: Lions' Matthew Stafford

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the Detroit Lions' quarterback play.

Stafford
Stafford
Rewind: Matthew Stafford, statistically, had his best yardage day and worst completion percentage day of the season in the 27-20 win over Washington. He threw for 385 yards at a clip of 9.2 yards an attempt but hit on only 59.5 percent of his passes. Still, that’s a pretty strong day for the Lions quarterback, especially as he rebounded from an early interception to lead Detroit to its first win ever in Washington, D.C.

Fast-forward: The Bears will be a challenge for Stafford and the Lions. Undefeated Chicago already has intercepted five passes this season and forced 11 overall turnovers. If Stafford can continue his strong decision-making, though, he could have a pretty decent day. The Bears are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.4 percent of their passes, so there could be holes open for the Detroit offense if Stafford can make the right reads.

Losing Burleson hurts: The broken forearm receiver Nate Burleson suffered in a single-car accident early Tuesday morning could change things for Stafford. Burleson is leading Detroit with 19 receptions, and provided a nice option for Stafford after Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. He also started to show some spark, going for more than 100 yards receiving against the Redskins. Now Stafford has to look to Ryan Broyles, Patrick Edwards and Kris Durham, along with perhaps an increased role for his tight ends. None has the long-term reliability Burleson showed, but they have some talent.

Pass protected: Stafford continues to see time to make decisions in the pocket. He is being sacked only 1.6 percent of the time he drops back to pass -- a testament to the strength of the Detroit offensive line. He also isn’t seeing as many blitzes, as teams are sending five or more rushers at Stafford on only 35.2 percent of his drop-backs. He is helping his line by making quick decisions, taking only an average of 2.81 seconds before he makes a pass.

Prediction: Adjusting to not having Burleson on the field, combined with the for-now uncertainty surrounding Bush’s availability, Stafford could struggle more this week than in the past. He’ll still throw a couple of touchdowns and top 250 yards, but he might also have a pair of interceptions.

QB Watch: Bears' Jay Cutler

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the Bears’ quarterback play.

Cutler
Rewind: Forget about the paltry 159-yard passing performance and focus on the impact of what Jay Cutler did against the Steelers on Sunday. Cutler completed 67 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 90.8, but he stayed within the confines of the system as opposed to improvising and taking chances. Then, when the Bears asked Cutler to step up, he did just that during the game-defining drive in which he scrambled for a 13-yard gain (while running over a Steelers defensive back in the process) before firing pinpoint throws on third downs to Brandon Marshall for a 41-yard gain and Earl Bennett for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Fast-forward: Detroit sacked Cutler seven times in two meetings last season, including five times the first time the teams clashed last October. Don’t count on those types of sack totals this time around, as the protection is greatly improved and Cutler is getting rid of the ball much more quickly than he did in the past. Cutler likely will be forced to play dink-and-dunk ball Sunday to advance down the field as opposed to striking the Lions for big chunks of yardage. But the new Cutler has proved disciplined enough to do just that.

Stay consistent: Cutler was responsible for three turnovers in Week 2: two interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown. However, he eliminated such mistakes against a desperate Pittsburgh team in difficult circumstances on the road at Heinz Field. Now, Cutler must do that again at Ford Field. Cutler currently ranks No. 3 in the NFL in total QBR and needs to ride the momentum he has established by remaining consistent.

Prediction: Cutler’s passer rating will be in the 90s again, and he’ll finish with at least two TD passes.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD