This won't stop until Ponder makes it stop. - Hannah Foslien
Defenses have figured Christian Ponder out. It's up to him to do something about that.
You know the scene. If you don't, you're not a true American. Intrepid heroes Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia are about to escape the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon, but the evil Darth Vader is on his way and could stop them. Super badass uber-hero Obi-Wan Kenobi decides to intervene, challenging Vader to a duel to give them time to escape.
Just before sacrificing himself so that the good guys don't have to bother waiting for him and can get on their merry ways, Obi-Wan gives Vader an ominous warning:
"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."
Then Vader strikes him down.
Despite the fact that, as a child, I found the whole "more powerful than you could possibly imagine" bit actually equating simply becoming a shimmery ghost that gives Luke guidance counselor style advice kind of anticlimactic, the scene, and that particular line, was undoubtedly awesome. And right now, our intrepid hero Christian Ponder needs to tap into that level of awesomeness.
ProFootballTalk has a story that states that defenses have "figured Ponder out". I don't think that's particularly earth shattering to Vikings fans; we've all figured out that defenses have figured him out. The formula is unfortunately simple: put consistent pressure on Ponder, and things will go awry. It doesn't even have to be constant blitzing and doesn't have to equal constant sacks... just keep the pressure. Right now our offense revolves around two things: handing the ball to Adrian Peterson, and dumping it off to Percy Harvin. The mind-numbingly simple formula works because those two are YAC (well, ‘after handoff' for Peterson) masters. In theory we also have Jerome Simpson to stretch the field and prevent stacked boxes (the logical counter to our above formula), but that really hasn't been working out that great so far.
The problem is that, without Simpson really doing much to ‘keep defenses honest', stacking the box also provides defenses the ability to keep constant pressure on Ponder. Our ‘dink and dunk it right to the endzone' strategy is falling apart because defenses understand that if they keep 9-10 guys inside the first down marker, we're not going to go far. Essentially, defenses are playing red-zone style defense the whole way, and we've proven- even in some of our better moments- that we're not always the best in that area.
Ponder can change that. He can change all of that. As much as Harvin and Peterson can be counted on to do something awesome at least once or twice a game apiece, it all comes down to Ponder being able to rattle a defense's nerves and shake them off of their game. Defensive coordinators can essentially just accept that between Harvin/ Peterson, we might score one TD and maybe a FG or two. And so long as the opposing team has an offense that can outscore that, then they don't have to worry too much about it.
Because if they can just pressure Ponder, even not necessarily all that well, then they'll be fine.
And so we come full circle here. (See the reference? SEE IT?!) Ponder must look the defense in the eye, and warn them: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." He's got to punish defenses for their pressure. He's got to make them pay every single time they blitz. Right now, if he does that, then the opposing D will become scrambled. Their simplistic game planning will fall apart, just like the 49er's vaunted D did. Ponder has to get hit, get up, and then throw the ball to someone other than Harvin. I don't care if it's to Simpson, to Kyle Rudolph, or to any of our other various WRs. I don't care if it's a medium pass or a long pass. He's just got to hop up as quick as he can and strike as quick and hard as he can thereafter.
And then the next time he gets hit or pressured, do it again.
He could also break off a few decent scrambles, but I really don't want that too much because of course the natural injury concerns. And honestly I'm not sure that's enough. Teams are aware that Ponder is a decent threat to scramble. It won't impress them and they'll know that's not a solid game plan for Ponder that he can perform constantly. They might get annoyed if he breaks off a decent run to the sidelines that picks up the first down, but it won't shake them.
Early in the season Ponder claimed he played better when he was "angry". The problem is the pressures, the hits, the sacks, they're not making him angry: they're making him timid. Now I can hear some of you rolling your eyes at this right now and saying "well Kyle, what would you do in that situation?". Oh G-d! If I were being constantly rushed by NFL linemen, I'd curl up into a fetal position and start sobbing uncontrollably. You'd probably have to put me on the IR list for shell-shock, and that would likely be before the ball was actually even snapped. But I'm not an NFL quarterback, I'm not a first-round pick. Ponder is.
Is this all within Ponder's ability? No, not necessarily. The O-line does need to do its job to protect him: if a guy sacks Ponder within a second of the ball being snapped there's not crap he can do about it. And his receivers do need to get open, and make the catch. If Simpson can't get separation and Rudolph drops a pass, there's not crap Ponder can do about that, either. But there's no doubt that defenses are getting into Ponder's head, making him timid. And the only way for that to stop is for Ponder to react differently, and to punish them for their insolence. And there is crap Ponder can do about that.
Let them strike him down. And let him then rise, and become more powerful than they could possibly imagine.