Minnesota Vikings: Pondering Christian Ponder

Top 5 Reasons the Vikings Should Start Ponder:

1. McNabb is doing just enough to lose games. His accuracy would appear to be on pace with his career number, but he can’t make the clutch play on third down. Also he doesn’t give his receivers an opportunity to make any yards after the catch, leaving them out to dry on too many passes. Our offense is built around Adrian Peterson, the only thing McNabb has to do in our offense is complete a few important passes in third down situations and make the occasional big play down field to keep defenses honest. He hasn’t been able to do that. Perhaps a change in quarterback can spark this offense to life. It’s not like it could get any worse than it already is. We are 0-4, bottom of the barrel. Also McNabb is an old man at 34; he’s been doing this for years. You aren’t going to be able to fix him or adjust his mechanics. McNabb is McNabb, that’s all he’ll ever be, and it isn’t good enough.

2. Other rookie quarterbacks have already been thrust into action, and so far have performed admirably, especially Panthers QB Cam Newton. Newton was viewed as raw, and was taking over a franchise that heralded 2010 2nd Rounder Jimmy Clausen failed to improve. Despite the shortened off-season due to the lockout he has played lights out going over 350 yards passing in three games. I don’t expect Ponder to be able to reproduce such a staggering feat, but he was considered the most NFL ready of any of the QB prospects to be drafted in 2012. Ponder is more talented the Andy Dalton, and you aren’t going to be able to convince me that we don’t have a more talented roster than the 2-2 Bengals. Who says Ponder can’t win right now? We get the ball rolling as Ponder gets cozy in the offense and build up steam going into next year. We pick a few key players in the draft and we are the 2012 version of this year’s Lions.

3. We are 0-4. We play in a division with the reigning Super Bowl Champion Packers, the reigning NFC North Champion Bears, and one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now in the Lions. Our division also boasts the only two undefeated teams left in the NFL, putting us in last place in the division at four games behind two teams. Our only chance at making the playoffs is if we somehow got moved to the NFC West. Our present situation is grim, and we need to start grooming younger players for the future of our franchise. The best franchises in the NFL are the ones who invest in their future. And for the Vikings, our future rests with Ponder.

4. Ponder really could be the answer to our offensive woes. I know he’s a rookie, but really all we need is a game manager. Ponder is a genius, he’s smart with the ball; he’s not going to make a lot of mistakes. I’m sure he’ll make his fair share but I would rather it during a lost season the next year where we get another chance to compete. A lot can change in a year, the mighty can fall (Eagles, Falcons, Steelers, Chiefs, Colts), and some unexpected teams can rise (Titans, Bills, Redskins, 49rs). Ponder gives us the best chance to compete next season, with some valuable game time experience for him plus a revamped offensive line we could do some damage. We have rising good young play makers at key skill positions (Harvin, Rudolph, and Gerhart) and of course the incredible Adrian Peterson, we just need someone who can consistently get them the ball down the road. Start building chemistry now so we can fire on all cylinders next year and reclaim the NFC North.

5. So what if the unthinkable happens? What if we start Ponder and he turns out to be the second coming of Tim Couch or Akili Smith? The answer is we become the worst team in the NFL. This may be the best thing that ever happened to us for one simple reason: Andrew Luck. If Ponder succeeds and we win a bunch of games this year, that’s FANTASTIC. If we struggle but see steady improvement from Ponder, that’s ok too, we’ll get a nice high pick to take a blue chip OT like Kalil out of USC and try to give Ponder and Peterson a better O-Line to work with. If we tank the season, we get Andrew Luck, the best QB prospect to come out of college since… ever. He does it all, he’s got the talent, the athleticism, the intangibles, everything. He could be the next Manning or Brady, he’s that good. And we have a legitimate shot at him being our new franchise quarterback if Ponder proves that he isn’t. And if Ponder does show that he should be our QB, but we still manage to lose games enough games to get the 1stoverall, think of what we could get in a trade for him. The Julio Jones trade would pale in comparison. We’re talking multiple high 1st round picks, and with them we could reload our roster in just a couple of years, revamping our offensive line with blue chip talent, and getting a REAL deep threat to complement Harvin and Rudolph in the passing game. Think Cowboys after the Herschel Walker trade! Or we take Luck and build a dynasty around him. Either way works for me.

5 Reasons the Vikings Shouldn’t Start Ponder:

1. Donovan McNabb is not the problem. We knew exactly what we were getting when we signed him and that is exactly what Donovan has done here. His completion percentage is right where it’s been throughout his entire (successful) career. Take Bernard Berrian out of the equation (2 catches with 15 targets), and McNabb’s accuracy jump to 66%. The Vikings problems extend throughout the entire team, penalties at bad times, a lack of huge plays, and plain old blown assignments. He has no deep threat to keep defenses honest, making him force throws into tight windows while on the run from defenders our O-Line can’t stop. Teams stack defenders into the box creating heavy traffic difficult for our receivers to fight through. We don’t have a guy that can go up for the jump ball, we have precise route running receivers, and McNabb doesn’t have time to step into the throw and deliver a strike on target.

2. As soon as McNabb gets pulled, Frazier sends a clear message to his veteran laden roster. We are in rebuilding mode. They don’t want to hear that, they want to win, right now. They’re football players, not investors, they play to win. Always have, always will. It’s in their blood, and it will hurt everyone in the locker room if the switch is made. Everything the coach has said about this team will have proven to be wrong, and hurt Frazier’s credibility in the locker room. These are HIS guys, the team he won over with a steady hand at the end of last season and through the lockout. His calm demeanor guided them through rough spots before and he needs to lead through this rough patch too. The Vikings are a better team than their record shows, and they need to be patient and wait for the breaks to come to them. Minimizing mistakes and playing fundamental football. He needs to show his players that he cares about their success right now. The average career length in the NFL is only a few short years for the majority of players, they don’t have the luxury of saying “there’s always next year”, this team needs to know their coach backs them RIGHT NOW. There is no panic button for Leslie Frazier, and he has an opportunity here to show players his quality as a coach and set the tone for our franchise for years to come.

3. Ponder will get eaten alive. Our O-Line just isn’t getting it done. Phil Loadholt has been embarrassing the last few weeks and I never thought I’d say it but I miss Bryant McKinnie terribly over Charlie Johnson. McNabb is running for his life in the backfield and it’s a rare sight to see him with a clean pocket. Teams will blitz even more with Ponder back there, and while Ponder does have some wheels on him, he’s going to take more than his fair share of hits. Look at our schedule over the next few weeks. Week 6: Bears – Julius Peppers, Week 7: Packers – Clay Matthews, Week 8: Panthers – Charles Johnson, Week 9: Packers again…. You get the idea? Later on in the season he’ll have to face Suh and the Redksins Orakpo. Do you really want the future of our franchise plastered across the turf all season? Or do you go ahead and let our Band-Aid QB get crushed while our future stays safe on the sideline learning the system without Suh and Matthews breathing down his neck?

4. Ponder doesn’t need the pressure of trying to revive our franchise this season. It’s a common saying in NFL circles that the most popular player on a team is its 2nd string QB. By forcing Ponder into action this early in the season, fans will be looking for him to do better than McNabb, and I fear that is unlikely to happen, as McNabb is honestly the best chance we have to win right now. If we wait until later when the season is already truly lost, fans will accept that this is just to get him some reps in the regular season and prep him for next year. Cam Newton has set some ridiculously high expectations for a rookie QB right now, Dalton has been holding his own as well, but we don’t want to hail Ponder as the savior of the franchise this year and put pressure on him to win games right now. Let him get his lumps later when he can feel free to grow in the system without having to worry about carrying the expectations of the fan base to win games. This is going to sound bad but it rings true, once we start doing bad enough, fans are going to start rooting for us to lose a little bit (it doesn’t make you a bad fan) so that we can secure the services of a few premier talents early in the draft.

5. The final reason that we don’t start Ponder is this. We are truly just a key plays away from being a very good football team. Let’s be honest, all four of our losses were painful, not because we were dominated, but because we let the other team win. We played phenomenal football against three play-off caliber teams in the first half of each, and we honestly looked like the better team. You can go back on tape and see that it’s just a handful of plays, a few penalties at the worst possible times, which have kept us from being competitive in our division. Think about it, if we managed to hold onto our leads for the first 3 games of the season and won them, even with a terrible game against the Chiefs (Any team can win any game any given Sunday, it’s what makes football so special), we would be 3-1 and second in the division, with a tie-breaker over the lions. Who knows, maybe if we reeled in those first 3 wins we beat the hapless Chiefs. You can’t convince me that they have a more talented team. There are breaks in every football game that can totally change the outcome; we haven’t gotten any of those breaks yet. In the future who knows, anything can happen. It’s already been a strange year in so many ways, who says we can’t make the playoffs? What if Stafford remembers he’s made of glass and gets hurt? What if something happens to Rodgers? There’s a lot of football left to play this year and they don’t give out the Lombardi trophy in October, let’s wait a while and see if this talented roster can play up to its level for four quarters. SKOL VIKINGS!!!

So What I Think the Vikings Should Do:
Capitalize on McNabb’s struggles. The next time he has a poor outing in the first half and the offense sputters, pull him at half time. You can pacify the veterans on the roster by justifying that you’re willing to try everything to win, even if it’s taking a chance on a rookie over a struggling vet. You don’t want to pull McNabb when he isn’t the problem, which shows that you quit on this year’s team and are playing towards next year. Nope, the ultimate solution is to be patient and wait for McNabb to fail enough to justify putting in Ponder. The ideal situation is to put in Ponder as legitimate starter at quarterback. Not as a QB we’re just kicking the tires on. When Ponder takes over the huddle it needs to be HIS huddle. They need to believe that he has a chance to do something special. Do you really want our roster looking at the rest of this season as a glorified preseason? That it’s just practice for next year and they can’t really win games? That’s not setting up Ponder for success. At some point of course we’ll have to play Ponder no matter what McNabb does unless he takes us on some ridiculous winning streak. But I just think it would be better to have favorable conditions for him to enter in. Ponder will play this year, but patience will serve us better in the short and long term.

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