Christian Ponder Must Improve Downfield Passing


October 14, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) throws the ball during warms ups prior to the Vikings

It’s no secret that Christian Ponder had a rough game on Sunday for those that watched. He was upstaged on the road by phenom Robert Griffin III in what was only the Vikings second loss of the season. Looking at the box score it didn’t look all that bad to finish with 35 of 51 for 352 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions; however box scores don’t tell the whole story (unless you’re paid to write on the Vikings for the Star Tribune). We went back to re-watch the game and compiled our observations with the data at Pro Football Focus to notice that the two dynamic offensive threats in Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin make Ponder look a heck of a lot better than the quarterback actually played on Sunday.

How much better? Well of Percy’s 133 receiving yards, a massive total of 98 yards were generated after the catch (that’s not a typo) and his longest reception of the day went for only 23 yards. Adrian finished second on the team with 7 receptions on 8 targets (extremely impressive for a running back) racking up 50 yards with 53 of them being after the catch. Note the numbers are skewed on screen passes considering yards don’t count until the ball crosses the line of scrimmage in comparison to simply catching the ball. Looking at the Vikings entire receiving stats 246 yards total were generated after the catch, which equates to nearly 2/3rds of Ponder’s production for the day. Yes, one could argue that it’s a quarterback’s job to distribute the ball amongst his finest playmakers and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better duo than Harvin/Peterson; however it’s fair to wonder if defenses will key on those two playmakers making the offense more one-dimensional. The old “Lets put in the 8 box on Adrian and/or bracket cover Harvin to make the team beat us elsewhere”… kind of a daunting thought and opposing defenses may bring it sooner rather than later.

So how did Ponder fare when throwing the ball farther than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage? Not so good. Awful actually… 4 of 10 for only 80 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. Much was made of Jerome Simpson’s addition to the offense; however he wasn’t active with Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu bringing next to nothing to the offense from a vertical standpoint. In comparison, RG3 was 5-7 for 93 yards on throws greater than 10 yards against an improved Vikings secondary.

As of right now, we’ll take a 4-2 Ponder in 2012 and accept the fact that there’s going to be growing pains with him this season. However, if he’s to be the quarterback of the Vikings present and distant future he can’t solely rely on his playmakers doing all the damage on screens and quick outs. So far Leslie Frazier has preached on having a balanced team and that includes doing damage downfield. That’s just the reality.

Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig