Christian Ponder Can Relate to Teddy Bridgewater, But Teddy Has It Tougher


Teddy Bridgewater makes his first career start this weekend, and to say the rookie is being dropped into a less-than-ideal situation would be understating the matter just a tad.

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Never mind that Bridgewater is being rushed into service weeks earlier than the Vikings would have preferred. That seems the least of his worries at this point.

After three games, question marks abound for the Vikings offense. What is going on with left tackle Matt Kalil? Can Vlad Ducasse step up in place of right guard Brandon Fusco?

Who will replace the production of injured tight end Kyle Rudolph? Will Cordarrelle Patterson start to show up as a receiver? Can the Vikings get their running game going without Adrian Peterson?

With Matt Cassel on IR, Teddy Bridgewater is the man now tasked with leading this offense. Behind Bridgewater on the depth chart, and beside him on the sideline, is a man who knows exactly what it feels like to be dropped into the deep end with little experience.

Christian Ponder, when it was his turn to take over the Vikings, dealt with a set of circumstances similar to what Bridgewater is now facing. As tough as Ponder had it in 2011, I would argue Bridgewater actually has it worse.

Ponder made his starting debut at home against the Packers on October 23, 2011. Like Bridgewater, he had gotten his feet wet the week before when he entered a game in relief of Donovan McNabb.

Unlike Bridgewater, Ponder got to sit and watch for a full five games before being thrown into the fray. The Vikings’ plan that year certainly was not for Donovan McNabb to be terrible, but the veteran’s ineffectiveness forced them to turn to Ponder sooner than they would have liked.

When Ponder did take the field, at least he could look behind him and see Adrian Peterson. That’s a luxury the Vikings thought Bridgewater would have, but obviously it didn’t turn out that way.

In terms of overall offensive weaponry, even the most charitable of observers would have a hard time arguing that Bridgewater has it much better than Ponder.

It’s true that Christian really didn’t have much receiver-wise beyond Percy Harvin, while Bridgewater has a solid veteran in Greg Jennings and an emerging Harvin-like weapon in Cordarrelle Patterson. But Jennings is aging and, to be perfectly frank, Patterson has not been performing the way we had hoped.

Questions are popping up about Patterson’s route running and physicality at the line. It remains to be seen whether he can expand his game beyond the X-factor role. He is not truly Harvin-like in his ability to impact a game.

The Vikings offense was far from being a well-oiled machine when Ponder took over in 2011, but the Peterson and Harvin factors helped compensate. Bridgewater doesn’t have those crutches to lean on. He doesn’t have Kyle Rudolph either, and will have to make it work with an array of no-name tight ends. At least Ponder had Visanthe Shiancoe.

Pass protection is also an issue for Bridgewater and the Vikings in 2014. Matt Kalil has been a turnstile at left tackle, and right guard is a problem too with Brandon Fusco going on IR.

Many complained in 2011 about lack of protection for Ponder, and certainly that offensive line was far from impregnable, but Bridgewater faces at least equal uncertainty with his blockers.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom for Bridgewater of course. If he has one advantage over 2011 Ponder, it’s the man calling the shots for the offense.

We can complain all we want about Norv Turner’s in-game playcalling, his non-use of Cordarrelle Patterson, his violently skewed pass-to-run ratio, but there’s no questioning his track-record as a QB guru. He certainly has a more legit reputation in that area than Ponder’s OC in 2011, the legendary Bill Musgrave.

All these Vikings issues, the O-line, the lack of receiving weapons, the lack of Peterson, will make it easy for fans to excuse any struggles Bridgewater may face. But you can bet Bridgewater himself won’t use those same excuses.

And if things get frustrating for Teddy, at least he knows he has someone he can turn to on the sidelines who has himself been put through the same wringer. Christian Ponder flopped as a quarterback, but he can still pay dividends for the Vikings by providing their newest rookie QB with a shoulder to lean on.