I will readily admit that I was opposed to playing Christian Ponder this week against the Packers. I tend to be more conservative when it comes to quarterback development, and if you commit to sitting a QB and letting him learn I believe that you should stick to that and not rush him into the starting role before he is ready. The Vikings don’t exactly have a beautiful track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks (the last one they developed that amounted to anything was Daunte Culpepper if I remember correctly, unless you’re one of the few Tarvaris Jackson fans left) so it’s hard for me to trust their judgement on playing Ponder this early in his rookie season. I had my reasons, and I thought they were legitimate. Why play your rookie quarterback in his first start of his career against the defending Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers, especially when they love to apply pressure off the edge with interesting blitz packages?
Shows what I know.
Ponder didn’t have an insane stat sheet at the end of the game, completing only 13/32 passes for 219 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He had a QB rating of 59.2, and threw a couple of passes that could have been potential turnovers. The Vikings couldn’t complete the comeback against the Packers, and the Vikings limped to a 1-6 record on the season.
But somehow, that all doesn’t seem to matter.
I haven’t watched every single Vikings game this season, but it’s safe to say they looked like a different team than they did previously. They fought throughout the entire game, they didn’t look like absolute garbage in the second half (though they did struggle in the 3rd quarter as Green Bay adjusted to take away Ponder’s roll-out plays that accounted for so much of their success in the first half) and Ponder gave the Vikings a significant spark on offense. It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the year, but I have to give the Vikings credit: They were in the right when they chose to start Ponder today.
Had McNabb started the offense would have had no confidence, it would have been the same vanilla play-calling, and McNabb’s seemingly disinterested attitude would have continued to permeate through the offense and the rest of the team. Instead, Ponder’s excitement and up-tempo attitude became contagious and the team seemed to be fighting harder than they did in other weeks. I was very impressed by this, and it was actually fun to watch the Vikings on offense today. That’s not something that I’ve said often when watching them in previous weeks.
Adrian Peterson had a great game against a very good rushing defense, and while you have to give credit to the Vikings offensive line and blocking schemes, it’s hard not to argue that a lot of it had to do with Ponder. McNabb struggled to stretch the field vertically and I have seen him get sacked so many times off of play-action I’m not sure he even expected to throw the ball after he turned around to scan the field anymore. Ponder was only sacked twice tonight, which says a lot about the game-plan the Vikings had (AKA, get the ball out early and let Ponder use his mobility to extend plays outside of the pocket) but it also speaks to Ponder’s ability to process information and how ready he was to play this game.
Now, this wasn’t just about Ponder. Ultimately, Ponder and the Vikings lost and that had everything to do with Aaron Rodgers. It has been said time and time again, but he is without a doubt the best quarterback in the NFL right now. The things he is doing right now are just out of this world. At one point Rodgers had thrown three incompletions in the first half. Two of them were a result of dropped passes that should have been caught, and the other was a spike. He was unbelievable in this game and it was really something amazing to watch. He hasn’t had a QB rating under 100 yet this year and he had one of his best games of the season against the Vikings. You have to feel for the Vikings because their defense was just not up to the task of slowing him down, especially in the secondary.
Overall I was obviously incredibly impressed with Rodgers, but Ponder really impressed me because the Vikings offense just looked totally different. It looked like he was unleashing some of their potential whereas McNabb was holding them back in previous starts. Again, I didn’t think Ponder should play in this game because I like to be conservative with QB development, but it is clear that he was ready to start. The Vikings absolutely made the right decision playing him in this game. It will be interesting to see how he does the rest of the year, particularly when teams make a concerted effort to take away so much of his passing outside of the pocket (especially on designed roll-outs).
Thanks for reading!