Christian Ponder (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
Christian Ponder expects to start against Seattle and hopes to reverse his performance from last year, when he said he “sucked.” But the best way to combat a tough Seahawks team is a strong running game, heightening the importance of an ailing Adrian Peterson.
Christian Ponder will get his fourth start in a row for the Vikings, barring anything unforeseen with the left, non-throwing shoulder he dislocated on Nov. 7.
Ponder has practiced at least in a limited capacity all week after suffering through a painful weekend during the shoulder’s worst days. Now, however, he would be surprised if he doesn’t start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
“My expectation is that I’m feeling good and I’ll be ready to go,” Ponder said after Friday’s practice. “But, again, that’s coach’s call and I’m hoping it’s me.”
Head coach Leslie Frazier confirmed that Ponder will start, barring any setback with his shoulder.
“The way he moved around today, he looked pretty good. Hopefully he’ll wake up tomorrow without any residual effects, negative effects, from today’s workload we gave him. But you never know,” Frazier said.
Ponder has been taking most of the first-team reps in practice this week, but the issue hasn’t been his throwing motion or being able to roll out. Because it’s his left shoulder, the biggest concern is how he will handle contact.
“They were poking around on it this morning. And there wasn’t too much pain. There was a little discomfort but it wasn’t too bad,” Ponder said.
Last year against the Seahawks, Ponder completed only 11 of 22 passes for 63 yards, his lowest output of the season. He had no touchdown passes and threw one interception, prompting him to a season-worst 37.3 passer rating.
“I feel like each game (this year) I’ve gotten better and better and this is another opportunity against a great team who I honestly sucked against last year. It’ll be a good opportunity and it’ll be fun. It’s always fun to play in games like this when everyone counts you out,” Ponder said.
“There’s a lot to improve on (from last year’s game). Missed throws and missed reads and getting out of the pocket early and stuff. It’s a game I watched to prepare for this game and just an opportunity to play a lot better than I did last year.”
RUNNING AT Seattle
The best chance to help Ponder might be to feature a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson.
Peterson didn’t practice Thursday and Friday because of a groin injury, but was listed as probable on the injury report, making him, by definition, a “virtual certainty” to play.
The Seahawks have the best kickoff coverage unit in the league, the second-best run offense and the third-best overall defense. It almost seems like a team without a weakness, or very few, as their 9-1 record would indicate.
But if the Vikings are able find a weakness to exploit Sunday at CenturyLink Field, it would be in the Seahawks’ ability to stop the run. It’s not that they are bad, but they are at least average there and the Vikings have a weapon to try to exploit that in Peterson.
Peterson is fourth in the league with 786 yards rushing and first with nine rushing touchdowns. Seattle, meanwhile, has the 15th-ranked rushing defense and has been streaky in giving up yards.
“We hope they play that way against us. We can’t count on it, though,” Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “People have gotten some yards on them. We’ll take the yards, but we want those to end up in points, too, so we fully intend to run it on them and see if we can have some success.”
After going consecutive games giving up 66 and 30 yards on the ground in October to the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks allowed 200 yards rushing to the St. Louis Rams and 205 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in consecutive games.
Peterson needs just one rushing touchdown to join Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (eight) and LaDainian Tomlinson (nine) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 10 touchdowns in at least seven different seasons.
Peterson already joined Jim Brown, Smith and Tomlinson as the only running backs in NFL history to register 750 yards and eight touchdowns or more in seven consecutive seasons to start a career.
Since entering NFL in 2007, Peterson leads the league with 9,635 yards rushing and 85 rushing touchdowns. He has rushed for 2,384 yards and 19 touchdowns in his last 19 games, averaging 125.5 yards per game, but so far this year, Peterson has only one 100-yard game in his last five outings and has only three 100-yard games on the year.
However, the last time he played against the Seahawks, he had 182 yards rushing (averaging 10.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
While Peterson and Ponder are both probable, DT Letroy Guion (chest) and TE Kyle Rudolph (foot) were both ruled out.
RB Matt Asiata (shoulder) is doubtful and DT Fred Evans (knee) and TE Rhett Ellison (ankle) are questionable. All others, including CB Chris Cook (hamstring), S Jamarca Sanford (groin) and WR Greg Jennings (Achilles), are probable.
With Guion out, Kevin Williams could see extended snaps at nose tackle once again.
“With Fred coming off an injury, not sure how many snaps we can actually give him. So we still have a plan to get Kevin in there at times,” Frazier said.
Frazier said the coaching staff would discuss the possibility of having all three quarterbacks active with Ponder’s health in question, but he declined to name the pecking order on the depth chart.
WR Jerome Simpson, charged with two counts of DWI this week, will travel to Seattle and play Sunday, Frazier said, but he might not start. The Vikings’ disciplinary options with Simpson are limited somewhat by the collective bargaining agreement.
“(The NFL has been) giving us some information as to how to proceed for this week, and we’ll learn more when we come back next week,” Frazier said. “So, we have an idea what we can and can’t do this week.”
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.