Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has a long way to go to prove he can be an effective NFL quarterback, but he surely showed some signs that he may get there on Sunday. Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported before the Vikings game in Chicago that Ponder is on a short leash.
After the game, in a report from Ben Goessling of ESPN, head coach Leslie Frazier indicated that he never thought of benching his quarterback.
Really? Not even after he threw another interception that resulted in a Bears touchdown?
Surely, for a second, Frazier was contemplating warming up Matt Cassel—after all, why would you sign a capable backup like Cassel if not to occasionally use him?
After a very rough six quarters to open the season, it appeared that something clicked for Ponder in the second half against the Bears. Hopefully there will be some carryover into this week's game against the Browns.
At halftime in Chicago, the Vikings were trailing 24-21. Ponder led the Vikings' offense to three long scoring drives in their four possessions. Unfortunately, all three resulted in only field goals.
The nine straight points gave the Vikings a six-point lead with 3:05 left in the game—more than enough time for Jay Cutler and the Bears.
In the first half, Ponder was only 6-of-14 for 81 yards on five drives. He threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, but he finished the first half with a 20-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
During the final 30 minutes, he found his groove and was 10-of-16 for 146 yards. He also appeared to be a little more comfortable in the pocket in the second half than he was in the first six quarters of the season.
Here's a look at a couple of plays from the Detroit game. The first is one of Ponder's three interceptions against the Lions.
The Vikings are lined up in a two-receiver set with Adrian Peterson lined up in the I-formation.
On a 1st-and-10, Ponder drops back, fakes the handoff to Peterson and drops back looking downfield.
He's nine yards from the line of scrimmage and has a five-yard cushion between himself and the oncoming rush.
Ponder cannot find a receiver. He runs out of time and the pressure forces him outside—unfortunately to his left. He appears to be running with the intent to get outside and either run for positive yardage or throw the ball away.
Instead the Lions defense cuts off his escape 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage. As he tries to throw the ball across his body, Ponder is hit and the ball floats into the arms of linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
The problem on this play is either Ponder struggles to progress through his receivers, or he takes too long to pull the trigger.
On this next play, the Vikings use the same formation.
Again, Ponder takes the snap and fakes the handoff to Peterson. It holds the linebackers for a split second to allow the receivers to get downfield.
On this play, the offensive line does a good job of creating a shell for a pocket.
Ponder, however, doesn't even give a glance downfield. He immediately flees the pocket, running to his right—at least on this play he's moving in the right direction to make a throw on the run.
Unfortunately, by running out of the pocket, Ponder has cut the field in half—unless he makes another bad decision to throw across his body again. With three defenders in front of him, Ponder has no option but to run out of bounds.
The result of the play is a sack for no yards.
On this play Ponder appeared to make up his mind that he was going to run before the play even had an opportunity to develop. At least on this play, the Vikings kept the ball and the offense got to huddle up.
As the Chicago game progressed, Ponder seemed to find his comfort zone in the pocket—especially in the second half as pointed out earlier.
On this play, the Vikings are in a bunch formation with four receivers and Peterson standing next to Ponder in the shotgun. The Bears are committed to stopping the run, even on this formation, with 10 defenders within a couple of yards of the line of scrimmage.
Receiving the snap five yards from the line of scrimmage, Ponder drops another two yards with his eyes downfield. The offensive line does a nice job of creating a pocket for Ponder to operate in.
Perhaps someone gave him some advice and told Ponder to throw the ball to the Vikings' major free-agent acquisition. He locks onto Jennings and makes a quick decision, throwing the ball to Jennings.
The result is a pass that travels no more than two yards past the line of scrimmage, but in the hands of Jennings it gains 22 yards.
On this play, Ponder stays in the pocket and makes a quick decision that resulted in some very positive yardage.
Here's another play that demonstrates how a decisive Ponder results in a positive gain.
On another 3rd-and-3 play, the Vikings line up with four receivers with Ponder under center and Peterson alone in the backfield. It's an in-between distance, and with Peterson in the backfield, the Bears have to honor both the run and the pass.
Again it's a play-action pass with the fake to Peterson and Ponder looking downfield.
Ponder drops back seven yards, and the offensive line does a very good job of providing a pocket for him. Ponder is locking in on Jennings, his favorite target in this game.
Ponder makes a quick decision and throws the ball downfield to Jennings.
The ball is placed almost perfectly. Jennings catches it at the 10-yard line.
The success that Ponder showed in the second half against the Bears comes down to a couple of things—quick decision-making by him and enough protection by the offensive line to allow him to find his receivers.
In these examples, the success comes with Ponder staying in the pocket instead of bailing out and trying to make something happen on a broken play. Perhaps it took some time for Ponder to get the feel of the pressure in the pocket—another good reason he should have played more in the preseason.
Now the question is—which Christian Ponder will show up against the Browns?