The great Ponder diving debate

Christian Ponder (US Presswire)

Head-first or feet-first; diving or sliding? That was the great debate surrounding quarterback Christian Ponder after his scramble Friday night, a topic that continued into this week of practice.

In life, there are things some people do, but most people don't.

The weeding process on those activities is often pronounced. Some people ride motorcycles. Most people don't. They can't understand that experience because they've never done it themselves.

So it was that a group of reporters began critiquing the decision made by Christian Ponder to go head first on a first-quarter bootleg in Friday's win over Buffalo. The questions began to fly for both Ponder and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave as to whether it was a wise decision.

"I think all quarterbacks have to make a determination of which is better, feet-first or head-first," Musgrave said. "No matter what they decide to do from being around different fellows, I know Drew Brees and John Elway were big head-first guys. Other guys are feet-first. I know Aaron Rodgers does both, and I think it's a personal preference. What's really important when a quarterback runs is getting down in a timely manner as those defenders converge. You can maximize and squeeze out the last possible yard but at the same time maintain your health so you can line up for the next play."

Musgrave defended Ponder's decision because, had Ponder slid feet first, he wouldn't have picked up the first down on a third-and-2 play from the 4-yard line. By league rule, when a quarterback slides feet first, he can't be hit by defenders, but is ruled down when he starts his slide, not when contact is made.

"The other night I thought Christian did a good job because he was aware of the situation," Musgrave said. "It wasn't third-and-goal from the 4 or 5 (yard line), it was just third-and-2. He got himself down in a timely manner. Rather than pushing that line where sometimes that line between being healthy and getting all the yards you want, sometimes it's almost indistinguishable. He got himself down in a timely manner and got us that first down. If he would've had to get in the end zone then it would've gotten a little more sticky, as we can imagine."

Ponder was aware of the situation as well as the consequence of going head first. It was a risk-reward decision made instantaneously on the fly. In the end, it seemed the correct decision because it kept the drive alive and resulted in a Vikings touchdown one play later, but he knew that he was opening himself up to take a shot from a Bills defender. He just felt the risk was worth the reward in that situation.

"I know that I have a target on my back and they're going to try to get as many licks as possible, but I'm not too worried about it," Ponder said. "I think you almost try to give them your back more so than your helmet. I'm sure I'll get popped good at one point."

Asked if he was a head-first guy when he played, Musgrave said he didn't have to face that kind of a situation too often because, more times than not, he was on the sidelines, not in the game when those decisions were made.

"It was hard to do a lot of diving from the sidelines," the former Denver Broncos quarterback quipped. "I was over there in a very safe spot. In those preseason games at the end I always tried to. I wanted to emulate the way that John Elway would run it. It was always easy to keep my pads down. I always wanted a lot of forward lean and it just kinds turned out to be the tree timbering down."

In the end, it appeared to be much ado about nothing. Ponder didn't get injured, he did pick up the first down and the decision helped the Vikings score a touchdown rather than settle for a field goal. Considering his decision had to be made in a split second, it is difficult to second-guess the move because it came so fast and he had the first down sticks in sight and knew where he had to get.


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.


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