Entering this off season, the Vikings clearly had issues to address, particularly on offense. While the team ranked 2nd in rushing (Thanks for the career season, Adrian!), but ranked at or near the bottom in virtually every passing category, and 31st overall.
Among the 38 quarterbacks who took at least 325 snaps in 2012, Christian Ponder finds himself ranked 36th in Pro Football Focus’ passing ratings.
So, Quarterback Christian Ponder is heading into his third NFL season…… “Well, sort of”, says offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
“This is really his second orthodox offseason,” said Musgrave, referring to the NFL lockout that wiped out Ponders off-season before his rookie year. “He didn’t have one initially after he was drafted. There are much fewer unknowns for him at this stage even than there were a year ago. He knows more of what to expect and lets himself go a little bit and not be so guarded”.
“His decision making, we’re assessing every day with all these competitive periods (in OTAs and minicamp). It’s been good.”
Ponders wildly inconsistent two-year start can be illustrated by last year’s series against Green Bay. On Dec. 2 at Green Bay, Ponder posted a 41.9 passer rating. He threw two interceptions that were simply bad reads. As a result, the Vikings lost a game they could have won. Twenty-eight days later, Ponder posted a career-high 120.2 passer rating with three touchdowns and no INT’s in leading his team to a play-off clinching victory at home against the Packers.
So which Ponder will we get this year?
Last year was like 3 different seasons in one. In the first 6 games, he completed 144 of 210 passes for a completion percentage of 68.6 % with 8 TD’s and 4 INTs. with a QB rating of 92.8. He was decisive and poised. He seemed to recognize the different schemes thrown at him and the game seemed to have “slowed down” for him.
Then, came the middle season where Ponder was horrendous, made poor decisions and seemed utterly lost as evidenced by his stats over the next 7 games: 107 completions in 191 attempts for a percentage of 56.0 % with 6 TD’s and 8 INT’s. His QB rating dropped to 59.4.
The third and final season had Ponder looking began to look more settled and comfortable and his results reflected this. In his last 3 games, Ponder had 49 completions in 82 attempts for a 59.8 % with 4 TD’s and 0 INT’s and a QB rating of 95.3.
His 2012 stats compare favorably with his Rookie season:
2012 – 300 completions in 483 attempts for a completion % of 62.1 with 18 TD’s and 12 INT’s and an overall QB rating of 81.2.
2011 – In 11 games – 158 completions in 291 attempts for a completion % of 54.3 with 13 TD’s and 13 INT’s with an overall QB rating of 70.1.
While “Operation Ponder” is still a work in progress. Last season, Ponder was an improved version of his rookie self. However, did he show enough improvement to make Vikings fans comfortable? That would be hard case to make.
Speaking of Musgrave, there are more than a few observers who say the problem lies with the embattled offensive coordinator. Did he hold Ponder back? He hardly ever let Ponder throw the ball down the field, instead he preferred to dink and dunk, rarely threatening the secondary by stretching the field and defenses felt comfortable packing the line with 8 in the box while showing nothing more than single coverage.
While we can debate the reasons, the results are clear. An offensive upgrade is needed.
The team answered the call during the off-season by surrounding their QB with better and more menacing targets. See below:
The first move was addition by subtraction in this writer’s opinion. Readers may take exception here, but hear me out on this. The team shipped out their most talented receiver in Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a number 1 pick that turned out to be CB Xavier Rhodes. Some criticized this move but I have a different take on the matter. To me, the team rid itself of a cancer that clearly loved Percy Harvin much more than he loved the Vikings or their fans. This was a player who never hesitated to throw his quarterback under the bus, and was critical of his coaching staff on many occasions.
Furthermore, Harvin missed nearly ½ of the season due to injuries/conflicts/migraines and although one cannot argue his abilities when motivated, quite frankly he had no intention of playing for the Vikings this season. So the team cut its losses and unloaded the talented wide out much to the chagrin of All-World running back and NFL MVP Adrian Peterson who found it hard to believe the Vikings are better off without Harvin. “The best all around player I’ve ever seen or you’ll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!” Peterson emphatically stated.
Peterson seems to have softened his stance a bit since then especially when the team then took the money saved by jettisoning Harvin and added it to the package they gave to Greg Jennings. With Jennings they get a solid citizen, with game breaking ability that can line up wide or play in the slot. As an added bonus, Christian Ponder gets an ally that won’t pout and criticize him every time he doesn’t get the ball thrown his way.
‘Christian Ponder has tremendous upside’ Jennings added.
Next they traded several picks to the Patriots for the right to select perhaps the most talented, albeit raw receiver in the draft in Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee. By selecting him, the team gets the explosive long ball threat they have been lacking since Randy Moss.
When asked if Patterson was ready to take the big stage, Musgrave’s response was that he needed to do “Less thinking, more reacting.” The general feeling is Patterson has some learning to do and will need a year to develop his route running and understanding of the more complicated NFL.
According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, Patterson is a special talent with physical abilities that are rare even among NFL receivers. Those abilities have been on display during minicamp, and according to, at least a half-dozen people have told him that Patterson has looked very impressive.
List Greg Jennings as someone who has been impressed with what he has seen so far. “Sometimes what makes a player what he is, is the thing we try to take away. It comes natural. That’s a gift. You can’t really teach that. He has it.” Jennings said.
It doesn’t hurt being physically blessed with ridiculous speed either. Patterson has also been displaying that 4.33 speed he showcased at the NFL Combine.
“If you see the back of his jersey, you might want to stop running, because it’s over,” Jennings said.
The team also returns Jerome Simpson, a player who simply cannot be as bad as he was last season after the team gave him big bucks to provide, well…….a lot more then they got ! A lingering back injury and some embarrassing drops rendered him virtually useless in an offense that was starving for a receiver to step up. To his credit, Simpson took a big pay cut to stay with the team and this becomes a huge “prove it” year for him.
Forgotten in the above mentioned was the fact that in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the Vikings selected a pair of wide receivers from the University of Arkansas, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs.
While Wright had an impressive second half to his rookie season and looks to be an impact slot receiver in 2013, Childs’ football future remains in doubt.
More on Greg Childs comeback attempt coming.
– Dawgg out !