NFC North: 2013 Week 4 QB Watch NFC

QB Watch: Vikings' Christian Ponder

October, 2, 2013
A weekly examination of the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback play:

Rewind: With Christian Ponder out because of a rib injury, Matt Cassel turned in the kind of performance the Vikings had been waiting for at the quarterback position. The backup went 16-for-25 for 248 yards, tossing a pair of touchdowns to Greg Jennings and becoming the first Vikings quarterback to post a turnover-free game this season. He helped the team achieve some balance on offense, with Adrian Peterson running for 140 yards, and as the Vikings went into their bye week, Cassel threw open the question of who would start on Oct. 13 against the Carolina Panthers.

Fast-forward: The Vikings will have to determine if Ponder is healthy, first of all, after he broke a rib that the team's medical staff deemed too close to his heart to allow him to play last week. Ponder said he would be ready to play against the Panthers, adding doctors told him he'd need about 10 days before his ribs would be set in place again, but coach Leslie Frazier said on Tuesday that Ponder is still hurt, adding he would have to show he is ready to go by next Friday for the Vikings to start him against Carolina. Cassel could cause Frazier to keep Ponder's threshold high; he made some throws that Ponder has so far been unable to make, and turned Greg Jennings into a legitimate weapon for the first time this year. While Ponder could return to the lineup, the job won't be handed to him at this point.

Managing the reaction: It was probably expected that players would be complimentary of Cassel after he quarterbacked the Vikings to their first win of the season, but the number of offensive players -- from Greg Jennings to Adrian Peterson -- who spoke up about Cassel's command in the huddle might speak to a larger point. If Ponder is healthy enough and Frazier goes back to him, he might have to sell his team somewhat on the idea that Ponder is the best hope for the Vikings to get their season turned around. A large section of the fan base is certainly clamoring for Cassel to start against Carolina, so Frazier will have to do some consensus-building if he goes with Ponder.

Prediction: The Vikings still seem tied to Ponder -- perhaps out of a desire to make a definitive ruling on whether the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft can play the position or not. If Ponder is healthy enough to play, the guess here is that he starts against Carolina, despite Cassel's solid performance and the support it seems to have engendered. If Ponder gets the start, he'll need to bring his level of play up against the Panthers to hang onto the job going forward.
A weekly analysis of the Lions’ quarterback play.

Rewind: After three weeks of brilliant play, Matthew Stafford took a small step back Sunday -- but it didn’t matter for Detroit as the Lions beat the Bears 40-32 in an impressive overall offensive performance. Stafford completed 23 of 35 passes for 242 yards, a touchdown, an interception and two fumbles -- one of them lost. That fact that this game -- in which he completed 65.7 percent of his passes -- is considered an off game for him illustrates how far he has progressed this season.

Fast-forward: Now comes the challenge. For all of Detroit’s streak-breaking this season, winning at Green Bay would firmly place the Lions among the NFL’s playoff contenders. Even though Detroit has not had success in Green Bay, Stafford has. He threw for a team-record 520 yards and five touchdowns at Lambeau Field in 2011 and completed 27 of 45 passes for 264 yards last season. He’s a 60.6 percent passer at Green Bay in his career.

Quick decisions: Part of Stafford’s success this season has been his fast, smart decisions. He has the shortest time before pass among regular starters in the NFL this season at 2.75 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he also spends the least amount of time in the pocket (2.18 seconds). That he’s completing 64.1 percent of his passes -- and it’d be higher if not for a 7.1 percent drop rate by his receivers -- tells how good he has been this season.

Pass protected: The other reason -- and we’ve written about this before -- is his pass protection. Yes, he’s getting the ball out early, but in some ways he doesn’t have to. He’s been sacked on a league-low 1.9 percent of his drop backs -- more than a full percentage point better than Peyton Manning, who is in second place. He’s also been sacked a league-low three times. Short pass play calls to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell have helped, but much of the progress is due to the line and the quarterback.

Prediction: For the first time this season, Stafford truly struggles at Green Bay. He still throws for 275 yards, but most of it is trying to rally his team from an early deficit due to Aaron Rodgers’ success. He throws a couple of interceptions and only one touchdown.