Christian Ponder (Dave Martin/AP)
The last two seasons have provided a stark contrast in quarterback play for the Vikings. When Brett Favre was hot, so were the Vikings. But after Favre’s 2010 season, it would seem that playing Christian Ponder as a rookie would be an upgrade.
The buzz of what has been a long-delayed offseason of activity for the Vikings has centered on quarterback. With the inability to make a trade or sign a veteran free agent, the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in April’s draft. Since then, the question being asked is this: Can he potentially be a starter right out of the gate?
The Vikings were 12-4 in 2009 due in large part to a career year from Brett Favre. The team was 6-10 last year and finished last in the NFC North due in large part to Favre. In the 11 full games he played, he had six games with passer ratings lower than 72.0 (71.7, 44.3, 68.4, 46.9, 44.5 and 51.2). The Vikings lost five of those six games and took themselves out of legitimate postseason contention early, requiring them to run the table for the final six weeks of the season in late November.
It was a disaster of epic proportions. What Favre didn’t do was what he did so well in 2009 – manage the game and not take unnecessary risks that could take points off the board or, worse yet, make the costly turnover that gave the other team easy points.
A review of other NFL games from the 2010 season creates a reminder that that the league’s great quarterbacks of today – Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc. – all excel at game management. Whether it’s a team philosophy or a sign of the times with the athleticism of defenses, these guys are at their best when they are throwing five- and 10-yard darts – not long-distance bombs. The big plays happen every now and then, but, for the most part, they dink-and-dunk their way down the field for points.
That is exactly what the Vikings are looking for out of Ponder and it something he has excelled at as a college QB. He isn’t going to come in as a “gun-slinger.” In recent parlance, that phrase has come to describe guys like Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez and Philip Rivers – guys who can look brilliant in one game and throw back-breaking interceptions in the next. The difference between a 10-6 team and a 6-10 team can literally come down to a handful of plays in four games that turned wins into losses. Favre didn’t have many of those in 2009. He had a ton of them in 2010.
Ponder may take his lumps early, but most rookie starters do. But, unlike first-round gambles that have set franchises back, he is stepping into a situation that has been a recipe for success – leading a team that has a solid core group on both sides of the ball and a strong running game to take the heat off him. Sanchez had it. Joe Flacco had it. Matt Ryan had it. All of them have come to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in a short period of time. Aaron Rodgers was Favre’s caddy for three years and he has a championship ring after two years as a starter.
It can happen quickly if a young QB has confidence and an offense capable of running the ball. Flacco had Ray Rice and Willis McGahee behind him. Sanchez had Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. Ryan had Michael Turner. Ponder has Adrian Peterson, who could be better than what any of those other recent QB success stories have had.
While the Vikings could still get a veteran quarterback to mentor Ponder and replace him if he completely flames out in a game, barring anything unexpected – like acquiring a Donovan McNabb or Vince Young – the Vikings may as well let Ponder go out there and show what he can do right out of the gate.
Considering that the gambling world expects the Packers to repeat (they always do) and the Bears are the defending division champions, what real risk is there at starting Ponder immediately and getting a sense of what they have? Could it possibly be worse than what the Vikings got from the position last year?
The Vikings have to take it as a good sign that Sidney Rice will be among a group of Vikings players that will be practicing together in Bradenton, Fla. with teammates Ponder, Joe Webb, Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph. He may not be a member of the Vikings next year, but it’s encouraging to know that, if the team is willing to spend the kind of money it will take to keep him in purple, he has a lot of friends on the team and is a critical part of the Vikings offense.
One of the criticisms coming out on former coach Brad Childress is that his version of the West Coast Offense was too complicated, and had too much terminology and jargon that made it a little too easy for one or more players to blow an assignment. Bill Musgrave’s offense is said to be more straightforward in its style as well as the verbiage needed to call a play or audible out of it.
To the surprise of none, both the Vikings and Timberwolves rejected out of hand the proposal brought forth by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman late this week. Coleman’s proposal would force the Vikings to stay in Minneapolis, move the Timberwolves out of Minneapolis and into St. Paul and, rather than Ramsey County (in which St. Paul is the primary population center) paying a countywide tax for its portion of the stadium, drinkers throughout the state would pick up the tab with a two-cent tax on every alcoholic beverage consumed.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.