USA TODAY Sports
So, a couple of weeks ago, after the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, I wrote a rather lengthy article about how I was incorrect in my assessment of quarterback Christian Ponder. It was something done largely out of frustration after a hard-fought loss to a division rival in a game that was, in every way, a winnable football game.
After further review. . .I think that I was wrong about being wrong. And I say that largely because I can't get past how abysmal the Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver corps is.
Recall in that game against the Packers that the Vikings didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until there was about two and a half minutes left in the football game. Yes, Christian Ponder played a bad game in that contest, but the receivers. . .as they've been all season. . .were every bit as bad. While Ponder has gotten better in the past two games, victories over the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams, he still hasn't really lit things up, despite playing with the world's greatest running back.
So, I started looking around at some numbers, and I found a few things that surprised me a bit.
Thus far in the 2012 NFL season, Christian Ponder has thrown every pass for the Minnesota Vikings. Through 14 games, he has put the ball in the air 425 times, which gives the Vikings the 29th-highest total in the National Football League. The only three teams with fewer pass attempts are the Washington Redskins (400), the San Francisco 49ers (371), and the Seattle Seahawks (364).
Not coincidentally, the only three teams in the National Football League that average more yards rushing per game than the Minnesota Vikings are. . .the Washington Redskins (164.8 yards/game), the San Francisco 49ers (162.9), and the Seattle Seahawks (160.7). The Vikings are at 160.2, if you're scoring at home. The Seahawks have the second-most rushing attempts in the NFL (467), while the Redskins (449) and 49ers (436) are fourth and fifth, respectively. The Vikings only rank eighth in that category with 407 rushing attempts.
The Niners, Redskins, and Seahawks, like the Vikings, have a young quarterback in charge of the offense. The Niners have turned things over to second-year man Colin Kaepernick, while the Redskins and Seahawks have rookies in charge with Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Given the level of support they're receiving in the rushing game, Ponder, Wilson, Griffin III, and Kaepernick are being asked to do essentially the same things. . .lean on the run game, and make plays when you're asked to make plays.
While Ponder has made some plays in those situations, it obviously isn't as many as he needs to or as many as Viking fans would like. However, now that Percy Harvin. . .the only receiver on the roster with any chance of beating coverage on a regular basis. . .is on the shelf, what's he working with? Yes, Kyle Rudolph has done big things at the tight end spot, as we told you he would all off-season, but other than that. . .what is there?
If you look at the three teams I've been looking at in this piece so far, look at what they have at the receiver position. Washington has Santana Moss (who, yes, even at 206 years old is more of a threat than anything the Vikings currently have at the wide receiver spot), and Leonard Hankerson has come on quite nicely in his second year. The 49ers have Michael Crabtree, who is underrated, and Mario Manningham, who impressed enough people to get a big contract in the off-season. Seattle has Sidney Rice, who we're all familiar with, and Golden Tate, he of the Immaculate Deception or whatever you want to call what happened back in Week 3.
Do the Vikings have anyone that would currently be so much as a #3 option on any of those teams? How about on any other team in the National Football League? Hell, would Jerry Kill swap out his receivers for what the Vikings currently have?
(Okay, that last one was a bit facetious, but you get what I'm saying.)
This Vikings' receiving corps might be the worst I've ever seen. This is "2006 Vikings after Marcus Robinson got cut on Christmas Eve" levels of awful. And as such, I have flip-flopped. . .which I don't believe is a crime or anything. . .and gotten back on the Ponder bandwagon. Or, at the very least, onto the bandwagon that says it's too early to judge him at this point. If he plays badly, I'll say so, but it won't mean that it's time to throw him out on his ear or anything like that.
Could Christian Ponder still have a rough couple of games to end the 2012 season? It's entirely possible. . .hell, it might even be likely. But given the complete dearth of options in the free agent market this year (including such luminaries as Matt Moore, Jason Campbell, and Drew Stanton) and the lack of a "can't miss" prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft (whom the Vikings wouldn't be in any position to draft anyway, as they're projected to pick somewhere between 17th and 20th), it looks like the direction the Vikings are going to have to take is to stick with Christian Ponder at quarterback and attempt to give him some players on the outside that are significantly more capable than what they're putting out there now.
So, yes. . .I was wrong to say I was wrong. Now, hopefully, Christian Ponder can go out and start proving some other folks wrong as well.