In his latest article for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Patrick Reusse talks about what a victory over Chicago on Sunday might have meant for the Minnesota Vikings and, more specifically, what it would have meant for quarterback Christian Ponder. There was one particular passage in the piece that I found revealing, and a part of the reason that, even after 28 NFL starts, we still don't know what the Vikings have at quarterback.
Check this out.
Ponder was running around like an athlete in control of the world. The offensive huddle and the Vikings sideline were ready to celebrate.
And when it reached third down at the Bears 4, Musgrave ordered Adrian Peterson up the gut, and the run was stonewalled, and the Vikings kicked a field goal, and they lost 31-30.
On Wednesday, Ponder conducted the starting quarterback's weekly media session at Winter Park and was asked: Did you have to option to check to a pass (on third down)?
"No, I did not," he said.
Okay. . .why not?
Why. . .the hell. . .not?
For all the lamenting that younger quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck have come into the league and "gotten it" right away while Ponder, allegedly, has not, I have to wonder. . .how much do their coaches limit their ability to change plays when the quarterback sees that something isn't going to work? On that third-and-goal play, everybody in the stadium. . .and, most importantly, the eleven guys on the field for the Bears' defense. . .knew that the ball was going to Adrian Peterson. But checking to a play-action pass or something wasn't even an option. It was going to be "slam Peterson into the line, defense be damned, and take the field goal."
This isn't to say that giving the ball to Adrian Peterson is a bad thing, mind you. Most of the time, it's not. But, really, the Chicago defense looked a lot like what happens when you pick the same play as your opponent in the original Tecmo Bowl on that play. That's never a good tihng.
We've been over this numerous times. . .this season is sink-or-swim for Christian Ponder. And if this team is ever going to find out exactly what it is that they have in #7, then they need to take the training wheels off and give Ponder a little bit of autonomy. Don't give me "he isn't smart enough," because that's garbage. I think we know damn well that he is.
I'd like to know exactly how much freedom Ponder has to audible at all in this offense. The more and more I watch, the more and more I'm getting a Brad Childress/Tarvaris Jackson vibe from the way the Vikings, and specifically offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, are handling Christian Ponder. Jackson had all the physical attributes you look for in a quarterback, but was basically given no freedom in the offense by Childress, and was coached to the point where he almost appeared to be scared to death to make a mistake. You can't have that from a quarterback in this league. Hell, part of me wants to see Ponder pull a Rade Butcher from Hoosiers and just start firing away despite what the play call is.
(A Tecmo Bowl reference AND a Hoosiers reference? What am I, Bill Simmons or something?)
The Minnesota Vikings are never going to truly know what they have at the quarterback position until they give Christian Ponder the freedom that most quarterbacks have and see what happens. If he has what it takes to be the long-term answer for this team, that will sort itself out. And if he doesn't, that will sort itself out, too. But if they're not willing to do that, I personally won't be convinced that Ponder is a bigger problem than the guy calling the plays.