I know, I know. Why should I even try, right? The fan uproar over Christian Ponder right now is at a fevered pitch. The head editor at Daily Norsemen, and most of the other staff writers have all given up on Ponder. "You're on your own now kid" they said. Well, let me try to sprinkle a bit of optimism onto the situation, and do my best to quell the uprising.
I could throw the usual arguments out there for why we should continue to start Christian Ponder, even after losing 5 of the past 6 games:
-He's young and needs time to develop
-It's not his fault the WRs not named Harvin suck
-It's not his fault we don't have a serviceable starting RG
-It's not his fault the defense has collapsed at key moments in recent losses
But, you know what? I'm not going to make those arguments this time. While I do think there is some truth to them all, I'm going to use the "big picture" argument, and talk about expectations. I went digging into the archives prior to this season, and I found this little gem from Eric back in July. It highlights some of Spielman's quotes and statistical comparisons between Ponder's rookie year and Drew Brees and Eli Manning. That's not really the part I want to draw your attention to. Instead, check out some of these comments (names removed to protect the innocent) from the post that I think illustrate what a lot of fan expectations were like heading into this season:
I think what may help him most is consistency at the coaching level. Lot of good young quarterbacks end up with three coordinators in as many years. Jury may be out on Leslie and crew but if they play their cards right this team can be really competitve in the next two years and in the hunt for a superbowl before the new stadium is built!
8-8 this year and ponder has a better second year than Brees did his second year.
6-10 and we
willwe will surprise a division opponent late in the year. If Ponder can learn to adjust his cadence instead of just walking under center and yelling, "Blue 80, Blue 80, set hut", we will see vast improvement on his pre-snap reads, post-snap progression and give ole’ Loadholt a half second more to protect.
Keep in mind that it was Musgrave's first year too
Which I’m hoping explains some of the, lest face it, embarrassing second half collapses. To many new pieces and to little preparation during the off season doomed this team as much as inexperience or injury. I’m not expecting the playoffs this year, but the Vikings are nowhere near as bad a team as everyone seems to think. Plus, historically, they seem to flourish in the role of underdog. With a year under their collective belts, more talent at key positions, and a full off season, I don’t think 7-9 is completely out of line.
Hard not to root for this kid.
From many accounts he has bulked up in the off-season, and by every account he is sharp as a tack. In this tough division, it’s really hard to tell how this team, with so many new faces, is going to gel. What a weird schedule we have. Thru the first 11 weeks we only face 1interdivision opponent (Detroit twice). After that is goes Chicago, G.B., Chi, St. Louis, Texas, then finish at G.B. So suffice it to say that if we can get on an early roll, that’s going to be big if we want to see a winning record. Hard to say what might happen but this is going to be a fun season.
I guess it could be considered bashing him but I did say I am willing to give him two years
It is just that I am not going to ignore things that have occurred and try and brush them under the rug as if they did not happen.
I can live with his play and only hope he plays all the games or at least 14 or more. I know it is very tough to do which is why Favre and Manning are pretty incredible for starting all of those games.
I think he is a cool dude and obviously very very smart. I just do not think he has earned the right to comment about AP and his recovery or talk about the draft (stupid on many levels), etc.
Anyway, there are many more comments like these on the thread. But to boil it down, it seems like prior to the start of the season many of our expectations of Ponder and the Vikings 2012 season were:
1. Not likely to make the playoffs. 7-9 or 8-8 was the best case scenario fan's view (although main stream media and several of us here, including me, had us worse)
3. Many were willing to give Ponder the benefit of the doubt in 2012. In fact, some went so far as to say they'd give him a full 2 years to develop.
So, my question is, what the heck happened to all that preseason talk? Why has everyone suddenly changed their tune on what they expect of the Vikings and Christian Ponder? Furthermore, I don't get the fan outrage after the Green Bay game (well, I do, but I think it's misplaced). Sure, Ponder had two costly interceptions that arguably cost us the game. But what did everyone expect? Prior to the GB game last week, this is what we knew about Christian Ponder:
Ponder at home: 5-1
Ponder on the road: 1-4
Ponder QB Rating at home: 88.1
Ponder QB Rating on the road:75.8
Ponder AVG Stat Line at Home: 19 of 30 for 209 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
Ponder AVG Stat Line on the road: 22 of 36 for 186 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
When you factor in the game he had last year against against Green Bay in Lambeau Field, in which he put up the following numbers, it really begs the question, what did you expect?
16 of 34 for 190 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT, QB Rating of 52.3
His other game against Green Bay at home last year (his 1st game as a starter in the NFL) wasn't much better. So, what we knew prior to the game last Sunday was, Christian Ponder hasn't been very good on the road this year, and he really sucked in his only game in Lambeau last year, and hasn't played well against Green Bay generally. And then Ponder goes out and sucks in Lambeau last Sunday. Wow...nobody saw that coming did they? So, as a result, the response and fan reaction was BENCH CHRISTIAN PONDER! RWARRR! HE SUCKS. I just have to say...calm down. He did exactly what we expected him to do. Maybe it was a little worse than we expected, but again...there was no Percy Harvin on the field, so temper those expectations.
So, where does that leave us? Well, the team is 6-6, and still alive in the playoff race, which is a lot better than many of us thought before the season started. In my opinion, Ponder is playing exactly as expected. We expected this team to be missing some pieces to make a playoff run, and SURPRISE, we still need better Linebackers, a starting Defensive Tackle and starting caliber Wide Receivers beyond Percy Harvin, and better depth at the cornerback position. We expected Ponder to improve over last year, and if you compare his first 10 starts last year to his first 10 starts this year, as I did in this fan post several weeks back, he's done exactly that.
I think it's safe to assume that we would have some ups and downs with Christian Ponder. The first 1/4 of the year was a major up (3-1 baby!), then the next quarter was mixed (2-2), and third quarter was bad (1-3). We're now about to start the 4th quarter of the season. If the ups and downs continue, I expect Ponder to improve and have some good games to finish out the year. And guess what, we have 2 homes, and a road game against a mediocre Rams team coming up. There's still room for hope and optimism. But even more than that, I want to have a full 16-game season with which to fully evaluate Ponder. I'm not ready to throw Ponder under the bus until he's had a full season as a starter. Anything else is premature. So, what do I expect heading into this week's battle against Chicago? Well, I expect the Home Game version of Ponder to show up, the one that has an 88 QB Rating, and the one that is 5-1. There's a chance Percy Harvin is back on the field this week, which would be huge as well. If we look at Ponder's historical performance against the Bears, it's not very encouraging though. Here are his cumulative stats against the Bears during his NFL career:
25 of 70 for 286 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT, QB Rating of 41.7
Now, I can't totally ignore the fact that Ponder has played poorly in 5 out of the last 6 games. As I said in a comment earlier in the week, I now have 1 foot on the Ponder train and 1 foot off of it. If Ponder continues to play poorly, then he'll play himself out of a starter's job, and potentially out of the NFL altogether. I am ok with that scenario if he continues to suck. But, like I said in another comment several weeks ago, my threshold for giving up on Ponder this season is only after 5 bad games in a row. He hasn't had 5 bad games in a row yet. It's getting close, which is why I'm starting to lose faith. But, I haven't lost it totally. And I haven't lost it totally because of all the stuff above. Ponder plays better at home, and with Percy Harvin on the field. Check out his stats with Percy Harvin on the field, compared to without:
Ponder in 11 games With Harvin: 182 of 284 for 1,805 yards, 10 TDs and 8 INTs, QB Rating: 81.96
Ponder in 3 games Without Harvin: 58 of 100 for 499 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs, QB Rating: 72.04
So, what is my expectation for Ponder this Sunday? Well, it largely hinges on whether Percy Harvin plays. If Harvin plays, then I expect him to have a pretty good game, and play well. If Harvin doesn't play, then my expectations are certainly going to be lowered. I think he should do better than he has historically done against the Bears, because it can't get much worse than that. But, if I had to make a prediction, I'd guess something like this:
16 of 28, 200 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, QB Rating: 76.48
What are your expectations for Ponder this weekend against Chicago?