Christian Ponder (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
Christian Ponder will be the starting quarterback for the second straight game, Leslie Frazier announced Friday. Plus, a secondary already struggling to contain good passing offenses will be limited by injuries. The Cowboys have some big stars they have ruled out or doubtful, too.
Leslie Frazier announced what was becoming more apparent with each passing day this week: Christian Ponder will be the Vikings’ starting quarterback Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Frazier has said throughout the week that he would hold off until Friday with an announcement, but Ponder was usually first in line during quarterback and offensive drills this week.
“I felt like trying to pick the guy you feel like will give you the best chance to be successful on Sunday, and we think that’s Christian,” Frazier said.
Frazier said on Monday the decision would come down to Ponder or Josh Freeman. A backup for Ponder hasn’t yet been announced to the players.
Ponder started the first three games of the season before a rib injury and ineffectiveness sidelined him for the next two games.
“It’s a competition every week and it’s going to make all of us better. I think the whole team is handling it pretty well,” he said. “My focus is preparing like I was the starter every week anyways. I’m glad I’m out there this week.”
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released Freeman in early October, the Vikings pounced at the opportunity for the 2009 first-round draft pick and started him two weeks after he signed. He completed only 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Frazier said he had no regrets starting Freeman two weeks after he arrived in Minnesota.
“We had a good plan going in for where he was at that time. As I said the day after the game, we really don’t have any regrets with the decision we made,” Frazier said. “We felt like everything we knew and the way he prepared that it was the right decision. It’s easy to have 20-20 in hindsight, but I know why we made the decision and felt comfortable with it at the time.”
Freeman’s 40.9 quarterback rating against the New York Giants was one of the worst of his career, and it’s easily the worst of the three quarterbacks on the Vikings roster. He suffered a concussion in that game and wasn’t cleared until last Friday, prompting the move to Ponder last Sunday night.
“Coming off the concussion and seeing (Freeman) work this week, that helps. You feel better about the fact that he was able to get some work in. We’ll see how it goes,” Frazier said.
Ponder returned to the starting role last week, completing 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. For the season, Ponder has completed 60.3 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and five interceptions and a 69.5 rating.
“As always, you’re hoping that a guy will have a great game and you don’t have to have these conversations going forward,” Frazier said. “I’m hoping he has a great game on Sunday and can lead us to victory and move on from there. It’s just like the rest of our season, it’s one game at a time for us right now.”
SHORT IN THE SECONDARY
The Vikings have an extensive list of injured players that Frazier ruled out for Sunday’s game and no unit was more affected than the secondary.
CB Chris Cook (hip) and S Jamarca Sanford (groin), both starters, didn’t practice all week and have been ruled out. Harrison Smith is out with turf toe until at least December, maybe for the rest of the season if surgery is required.
“We’re a little thinned out back there, particularly at safety,” Frazier said.
Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo will start at safety, but Frazier declined to name a starter at cornerback on the right side, opposite Josh Robinson.
For Cook, it is the second game he has missed this year and the 28th of his four-year career.
“We definitely need him to be on the field. It hurts us when he’s not on the field, one of your starters, but injuries happen and he’s one of those guys that has been banged up throughout his career here,” Frazier said. “You just have to deal with it.”
Cook said he was “real close” to being able to play this week.
“Early in the week, I was real frustrated. I came in on Wednesday and everybody was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why you so down and out?’ I was just letting it bother me. But it’s nothing that’s season-ending or career-ending, so I just let it go and I’m moving on. I’m smiling now.”
The Cowboys have the eighth-ranked passing offense in the NFL, highlighted by quarterback Tony Romo, who is the fifth-rated passer in the NFL. He has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,216 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 101.7 rating.
Romo is also the second-rated quarterback in the fourth quarter, completing 72.2 percent of his passes then for six touchdowns and one interception and a 121.4 rating.
The Cowboys’ leading receiver, Dez Bryant, is eighth in the NFL with 641 yards on 45 receptions and tied for second with eight receiving touchdowns.
Frazier said the Vikings could consider promoting Brandan Bishop from the practice squad.
The Vikings will also be without TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), DT Fred Evans (knee) and RB Matt Asiata, who has been gone this week dealing with the death of his father after an accident in Utah Monday.
RB Adrian Peterson was also held out of practice Friday. He has been dealing with a tight hamstring, but he will play Sunday and was ruled probable.
“That was more of my decision than anything going on with him physically,” Frazier said. “I want him to be ready to go on Sunday hoping that he’ll get some carries.”
For the Cowboys, CB Morris Claiborne (hamstring), LB Devonte Holloman (neck), G Brian Waters (elbow) and S J.J. Wilcox (knee) have been ruled out.
WR Miles Austin (hamstring) and DE DeMarcus Ware (thigh) are doubtful. S Danny McCray (hip/toe) is questionable and all others are probable.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.