There is no question what the hottest topic of Vikings Training Camp is. It's Christian Ponder. The QB is under a microscope simply because his is viewed by fans as the weakest link. A weak player at football's most important position is certainly a huge problem to have.
I myself think the Ponder book is pretty clear. The goal is for a more consistent quarterback. Ponder has shown flashes of good play, but not enough in the last two years to generate confidence. His WR corps, deep ball accuracy, and turnovers all come secondary to simply have a consistent and known commodity at the QB position.
Last year Ponder started the season by playing well. He stuck within the limits of the offensive system that Bill Musgrave set for him. He used his top weapons often. He limited turnovers. In turn the Vikings started hot out of the gates. Then we started to see major growing pains. My guess is that either Musgrave opened up the playbook too quickly, or that Ponder got too confident. In any event, the result was a tumultuous middle of the season, only saved by Ponder's return to normalcy.
In 2012 when Ponder has a QB Rating below 80, the Vikings went 3-4. When he rose above the 80 QB rating, the team was 7-2. Therefore, that is my personal goal for Ponder this year. He needs to post an average QB rating above 80 (like he did last year). More importantly though, he needs to post a rating above 80 in 12 of 16 games.
Note that an 80 QB rating is not great. It reflects an average but positive QB performance. That being said, consistently having such a game is a lofty goal. In 2012, seven QBs achieved the level 80 rating consistently, and Ponder cannot yet be considered in the same class as any of them.
Super Bowl Comparisons
I believe that a consistent 80 rating from Ponder will result in a deep playoff run for the Vikings. Here are five reasons why:
- Eli Manning's 2007 - Tough to believe such a year ended in a championship. Eli's was not great, but he was consistent. The giants knew what they had in their QB, so they leaned on their RB and defense to win. Note that this was Eli's fourth season.
- Ben Roethlisberger's 2005 - Big Ben posted a stellar efficiency, but low yardage total's during his second year in the league. Again, the Steelers had a stud D and legit rushing attack to rely on. Ben's completion percentage was not that high, but he had an awesome TD:INT ratio.
- Brad Johnson's 2002 - Good ol' Brad. He was capable of putting up big numbers, but you certainly never expected him to. Johnson's yardage compares to Ponder's 2012. Look at the TD:INT ratio. Also note that this was the best year of Brad Johnson's career.
- Tom Brady's 2001 - The wonder kid just didn't start out so wonderful. A rookie at the time, the Patriots smartly looked to their other strengths. This season is almost identical to Ponder's 2012. A very average playoff run.
- Trent Dilfer's 2000 - Ponder's biggest draft day critic is also guilty of a pretty average career. Dilfer's 2000 was laughably bad whether you're looking at his yardage totals, his QB rating, or his TD:INT ratio. Should Dilfer really be considered an "expert"?
So there it is, and that is why Ponder needs to "aim at 80." I believe he is more than capable of this, and I also believe that Ponder's ceiling is somewhere between Trent Dilfer and Tom Brady. An 80 QB rating, when taken individually, will not silence the naysayers. Moreover, Ponder will certainly have some "stinkers" in 2013, as every QB does. When he is on though, look for above 80. I challenge you to take that as a good sign, especially if he consistently achieves it.