QB Christian Ponder, Free agent

HT: 6-2, WT: 229, Born: 2-25-1988, College: Florida State, Drafted: Round 1, Pick 12

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2014 Schedule

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2013 Game Summaries

Week 1 - Ponder continues to struggle to get the ball downfield, often appearing to look for his short options most of the time. Last season Ponder threw the ball under ten yards 75% of the time. Sunday was better,out of 28 passes, 13 were under ten yards (not counting sacks of course). The 46% percent is better than the overwhelming number from 2012. Some of Ponder's mistakes,such as his first interception at the 14 minute mark of the second quarter. Ponder got the ball out quickly to Jerome Simpson, only to have the pass go off Simpson's hands and right to outside linebacker DeAndre Levy. It could have been worse,Levy returned it for a touchdown but had the score nullified by a penalty by Ndamukong Suh. The Vikings then immediately picked off Matt Stafford and got the ball back. To his credit, Ponder rebounded well and went back to Simpson many times,including two passes later when he hit Simpson on a 44 yard completion which drew a pass interference flag. That said, Ponder continues to make some baffling decisions. He was nearly picked off on a short pass to Jarius Wright which Lions cornerback Bill Bentley should have picked off and taken to the house. On that play, Ponder stared down Wright,something you can catch him doing quite often throughout a game. He then was intercepted on a pass late in the second quarter. With 2:22 to go, Ponder dropped back on a pass only to find a jailbreak along his offensive line. Ponder scrambled briefly and then went to throw the ball the ball away, but his arm was hit by Ndamukong Suh and Ponder was unable to get the ball out of bounds and the short pass was intercepted. The pass probably never should have been thrown as Ponder was on the move and had to throw the ball across his body. As much as a quarterback might hate to do it, on 1st & 10 you have to protect the ball and perhaps take the sack. Ponder's accuracy was also an issue. He threw a ball low and behind Greg Jennings, who made a beautiful effort to reel the pass in and wildly overthrew tight end John Carlson at 6:55 of the third quarter. Ponder also ended his game with a poor throw to tight end Kyle Rudolph which was intercepted. That's not to say Ponder didn't have some nice moments. At 3:34 of the third quarter, he had a wide open Jerome Simpson while he hit on a 44 yard pass. He overthrew Simpson just a tad, but it was an otherwise nice throw. At the end of the day though, Ponder still looks like he has a long way to go to become a reliable NFL quarterback.

Week 2 - This game featured two very different halves of football from Christian Ponder with one commonality and it's one which defenses are well aware of. The more you apply pressure to Ponder the worse he plays. That may seem accurate to say about any quarterback but the best and most resilient bounce back and continue to take chances. Ponder, as this game progressed, stopped throwing longer passes and started regressing to bad habits. The first quarter featured a quarterback (and offensive coordinator) who took some chances, stretching the field and trying to challenge the Chicago Bears' defense. Then the offensive line began to falter a bit and Ponder began to make some bad decisions. At 14:43 of the second quarter, Ponder watched the pocket collapse around him and defensive end Corey Wooten began to close in on him. Without access to the All-22 coach's film it's impossible to tell how well covered the receivers are but clearly Ponder sees nothing he likes and dumps the ball to fullback Zach Line who is well covered by linebacker Lance Briggs. The ball rebounded off Line and was very nearly picked off. After a short pass to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson which went nowhere, Ponder drops back to pass again. After four seconds, the pocket implodes and Ponder panics, scrambling to get out of the pocket, falling and throwing the ball underhand towards Toby Gerhart. It's a terrible toss, sailing behind and past Gerhart and nearly intercepted by Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. On the next series, Ponder drops back on a first-and-ten play and completely stares down his target, receiver Jerome Simpson and then compounds the issue by throwing the pass later than he should have. Of course, cornerback Charles Tillman reads that, picks the ball off and easily takes the ball back for a touchdown. As badly as Ponder played the first half, he was able to bounce back and play much better in the second. As his offensive line played better and gave him more time, Ponder looked more confident and delivered better balls. The gameplan still seemed conservative though, with far more short passes relying on the receiver to get extra yards than efforts to get the ball deep. Considering the cornerback tandem for the Bears, that was probably wise, but there's no point in having Greg Jennings or Jerome Simpson if you're going to limit the playbook. Ponder showed some real guts on two critical scrambles for first downs as well. The first was on a fourth down where Ponder dropped back with a play-action fake the defense didn't bite on. With nobody open, Ponder saw a running land and scrambled for a first, taking a big shot from Tillman. The second run was on a third-and-two play with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter with the game tied. On the play, Ponder dropped back and immediately saw no options to throw to. He scrambled left, trying to stretch the defense and head for the first down marker. Had Rudolph held his block a bit longer, perhaps Ponder would have made it. He was close enough to get the call at first, but the play was reviewed and reversed. Still it was another gutsy run which resulted in a big hit. While Ponder continues to struggle overall, many of his flaws seem fixable-if the team can be patient and the offensive line kicks its play up a notch. His second half, which was much more effective than the first, still had some bumps due to pressure from the Bears but shows he can improve his play.

Week 3 - While Christian Ponder continues to show no signs that he can be the franchise quarterback the Minnesota Vikings need, the truth is somewhat more complex. What else can you say when the offensive line is playing so much worse than expected and allows him to get sacked six times and hit a total of eight times? Young quarterbacks don’t traditionally flourish under those conditions. It’s also not beneficial to have him throw it 42 times against a good Cleveland Browns defense, even if the defense had been struggling the last few weeks. To start the game, Ponder actually looked good. He showed good poise in the pocket on his second pass of the game, a 27-yard throw to Greg Jennings along the sideline where Jennings found open space between the corner and the safety. While the pressure was massive, there was at least one Browns player coming at him when he threw the ball but he didn’t bail out of the pocket as he often does. He did wait too long to deliver a pass to tight end John Carlson in the end zone early in that same first quarter, which ended up batted down by cornerback Buster Skrine. Carlson was wide open for some time but Ponder didn’t see him until Skrine was already heading back towards the end zone. Towards the end of the first quarter, the offensive line started to struggle and Ponder began rushing his throws, overthrowing several players by a wide margin and not waiting for plays to develop. His interception was very much a throw in this vein. On the play, taking place late in the second quarter, Ponder had Jerome Simpson open on a crossing route but missed linebacker Craig Robertson dropping back into coverage. The ball was thrown too low and tipped by Robertson, flying up and into the hands of safety TJ Ward. At normal speed, the throw also looked like it would be late getting to Simpson anyway, though slow motion seems to be less clear. This has been the pattern for Ponder in his time as quarterback for the Vikings - he starts out well, starts to get pressured and then sees his accuracy plummet. This time out wasn’t a complete disaster but he also doesn’t seem to be capable of making that one needed play to turn things around either.

Week 8 - After a Cordarrelle Patterson 109-yard kickoff return, Christian Ponder and the offense didn’t see the ball until there was just 5:19 left in the first quarter. On the very first play, Ponder drops back to pass and sees his main targets all well-covered. He does not, however, see fullback Jerome Felton wide open in the flat, instead pulling down the ball and bailing from the pocket. The moment he pulls down the ball, Ponder stops looking for a receiver and stops looking downfield. In case we had forgotten, Ponder appears to stop his progressions after his initial read and is more than happy to just run. Of course, this is better than when he forces the ball, and as he didn’t turn it over Sunday, that’s an improvement. Still, it’s the little things and this continues to be an issue for Ponder—he has his initial read and seems to be perfectly content to bail if it’s not open. He lacks patience, which might also play into his issues going vertical. Overall, Ponder threw a lot of inaccurate balls as well. On one with 7:45 left in the first half, he threw a screen to Greg Jennings which was five yards behind Jennings. It’s safe to wonder what each player thought the play was since Jennings took off on a route. Ponder also made his fair share of plays which were quite good, such as a 17-yard reception by Kyle Rudolph. Ponder was under pressure in the backfield, saw his big tight end had a step on the coverage and tossed the ball into the air where only Rudolph was going to reach it. Ponder would later essentially sack himself late in the first half. On the play, a 1st & 10 down on the Vikings’ 23 yard line, Ponder takes the snap and drops back. It’s not totally clear what the coverage is, and the pocket does collapse, but it seems as if wide receiver Jarius Wright had inside position on his defender and could have come back for the ball. On the end zone angle, Rudolph is open—or at least more open than he was on the earlier throw we broke down. Instead Ponder takes a step forward, tucks the ball and—instead of trying to run out of the pocket to gain yards or extend the play hunches down to give himself up for the hit. Ponder had two bigger plays—one to Patterson, a 17-yard throw which Ponder put up high where only Patterson could get it with a fingertip pass. He did appear to stare down Patterson on that play, but the rookie found the open space in Green Bay’s zone. The other longer pass was an 18-yard strike to Jerome Simpson—his only catch of the day. Simpson ran a nice route, finding open space between the linebackers and the safety. Overall though, Ponder threw a lot of short passes on what seems to be his primary read each time.

Week 9 - The Vikings and Christian Ponder opened the game with a no-huddle, up-tempo offense with three straight plays, two for positive games and one which ended up with Ponder scrambling. The Vikings made sure the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t focus on one player by having Ponder target five different receivers in the first half dozen plays. On Ponder’s scramble—the third play of the game, it appears that he pulled the ball down and scrambled too early. On the end-zone camera angle, Ponder is clearly looking to his right and misses Greg Jennings on a slant towards the middle of the field. A linebacker has dropped into coverage, but there is enough room to lead Jennings and avoid the ball being picked, but Ponder—as he often does—makes his one read, sees the receiver to his right covered and ditches the pocket. At other times his mobility was an asset as he was able to scramble and extend a play, while keeping his eyes downfield—something he struggles with at times. In fact his running ability allowed him to score at the end of the second quarter to give the Vikings the lead. On the play, Ponder dropped back to pass but while he had Adrian Peterson open on a screen, he chose to pull the ball down and run for the touchdown. Once he got past the line of scrimmage, there was a huge gap between the next defenders and Ponder had time to make a move, juke a defender and get into the end zone pretty much untouched. It was quick thinking on Ponder’s part, something which he was good at for the most part in the first half. We saw a lot of very quick decisions by Ponder which for the most part were pretty effective. Ponder continues to miss some wide open targets, such as a wide open John Carlson at the end of the first where the tight end was uncovered on a screen play and Ponder threw it well over his head. Ponder threw a large portion of his passes short, so much so that the Dallas Cowboys would leave the receivers on a screen a pretty big cushion because they could close quickly. Still, Ponder and the Vikings were able to dink and dunk their way down the field. The two biggest mistakes Ponder made Sunday were a fumble in the end zone and a fourth quarter interception. The fumble was on partially his fault—you have to make quick decisions in your own end (especially your end zone) and Ponder took too long (he held the football about 3.5 seconds), resulting in the strip-sack and touchdown. On the other hand, right tackle J’Marcus Webb didn’t hold his block on Dallas defensive end George Selvie, who got around Webb too quickly. If Ponder had sensed the rush and gotten the ball out quickly or if Webb had held the defender another second or two, the fumble doesn’t happen. Ponder needs to speed things up, but he also needs more from his offensive line—an issue all year. The interception was just a badly thrown ball which Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick read immediately as Ponder once again appeared to stare his receiver down. The ball was also underthrown but had Ponder looked the defender off even a little, Jennings would have had time to make a play on it. Still, you can see what the Vikings like about Ponder in moments like the 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. On the play, Ponder dropped back and did a good job going through his progressions, finding Rudolph and delivering a very crisp pass where Rudolph had the best chance to catch it while the defense had less of a chance of making a play. Rudolph made an extraordinary effort to get the last ten yards for the touchdown, but it was a very good pass to get him the ball. If Ponder can do more of that over the last half of the season, and less of the waffling, hesitation and inaccuracy, he may yet get this job for the 2013 NFL season.

Week 10 - This was one of Christian Ponder’s best games as an NFL starter, which is a shame since he had to leave in the third quarter with a dislocated shoulder. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that it is being considered a minor injury though, and Ponder could start in Week 11 against a tough Seattle Seahawks team. The game itself got off to a rough start for Ponder though, as he took a sack on his second drop back by holding the ball just a second too long. The very next play, Ponder went deep but the pass was hideously underthrown and intercepted. Receiver Greg Jennings ran a vertical route but was very well covered and even had the ball not been underthrown, the chances of completing the pass were slim anyway. This was another case where Ponder only had eyes for his primary receiver—he had two other receivers (Cordarrelle Patterson to his right and Jerome Simpson to his left) wide open for what would have been big gains. There were two Washington safeties very deep—going long to a very well-covered receiver with safety help over the top was just a bad decision. This is the consistent issue with Ponder, even on completed passes. Throw after throw, Ponder chooses to fit the ball into well covered guys and misses wide open receivers. He has to learn to stick with his progressions otherwise he will never become a franchise quarterback. Ponder did settle down as the game went on and had a very successful evening, but overall the “first read” lock is an issue regardless and happened all game. He did a great job threading a pass to Patterson for a two-yard touchdown in the second quarter. On the play, Ponder ran to his right immediately after the snap, running parallel to the route Patterson goes out on. Ponder makes a nice throw on the run, just over one defender’s head and into Patterson’s hands. Ponder was injured with a minute to go in the third quarter on a scramble to the one yard line. It was 1st-and-10 on the Washington 15-yard line. As is a consistent issue with Ponder, his first read wasn’t open so he bailed out of the pocket. He had time, it was first down and he could have waited a few more seconds. There were receivers breaking free. Once he began to run, he never kept looking for a receiver downfield, he just ran. It was a gutsy run and he nearly extended his arm enough for a touchdown but fell just short. It’s the type of run that you have to admire on the one hand, but also showed a lot of his flaws. It’s possible Ponder might start next week, so the Vikings could get more of a look at him and make a final decision going into the offseason.

Week 11 - Christian Ponder had looked more poised than ever before during the win over Washington in Week 10, but that was not the case against a relentless Seattle Seahawks front seven. After handing the ball off twice, Ponder then fumbled the ball away. Defensive end Cliff Avril just outmaneuvered right tackle Phil Loadholt and swatted the ball away before Ponder’s arm could come forward. Ponder settled down after that, doing a better job of sensing pressure and getting rid of the ball. And then the second half happened and Ponder completely fell apart. Ponder threw two interceptions before being benched in favor of Matt Cassel in the fourth quarter. Both interceptions were hard to watch, but the pick-six was the straw which broke the Leslie Frazier’s back. On the play, the Vikings sent out four wide receivers, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Cornerback Walter Thurmond III was on Jarius Wright as Wright started to run a “go” route. Meanwhile rookie Cordarrelle Patterson was running a short “in” and it appeared as though the defender covering him had backed way off—as if he might have bit on Patterson running a long route. However, it is clear that the Seahawks were in a zone and Thurmond was responsible for the area Patterson was entering. Ponder assumed Thurmond was going to leave with Wright and that the coverage was blown so Patterson was wide open. Thurmond was reading Ponder the entire way and Ponder—as is almost always the case—was staring his receiver down. Thurmond jumped the route and was gone for six points before you could shout “don’t throw that ball!” While there has been some improvement from Ponder, his continued inability to read a defense or see defenders makes him a complete liability under center for the Vikings. While the team has not decided on a quarterback for next week in Green Bay, the team can ill afford another disastrous outing like this.

Week 12 - Things didn’t start off well for Vikings quarterback as he was sacked in back-to-back plays on the very first drive of the game. That was the story of the game for Ponder, as he was sacked six times and under constant pressure from the Green Bay Packers defensive front. Despite this Ponder threw no interceptions and didn’t fumble the ball—a step up from the previous three games during which he had thrown four interceptions. If the Vikings were going to have a chance to beat the Packers, Ponder was going to have to play virtually mistake free and he did just that. His first half numbers weren’t remarkable—just 127-yards—but he completed 11 of 14 passes, which is a very good showing and that 78% completion percentage held up pretty well over the course of the game, ending up at 70%. The success of the offense depended on running back Adrian Peterson keeping the ball moving—the Vikings clearly didn’t want to require Ponder to win this game with his arm. Because the Packers needed to contain Peterson, Ponder was able to complete multiple passes in the vicinity of 21-30 yards, something he hasn’t always excelled at. His longest pass of the day was a 31-yard throw to Jerome Simpson. On the play, Simpson ran a sideline route down the field. Ponder saw he had a step on the coverage and threw the ball, in a high, arching pass. Simpson had to slow down and leap up to catch the ball over cornerback Tramon Williams, but was able to come down with the ball. His only touchdown came from a 12-yard pass to tight end Rhett Ellison. On the play, Ponder used a play-action fake and then rolled out to his right. Meanwhile, Ellison went on a short out route and Ponder threw him a short pass. Ellison turned it upfield and bulled his way into the end zone. Overall, Ponder played adequately and kept his mistakes to a minimum which was enough for the tie this week.

Week 13 - Christian Ponder left Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears near the end of the second quarter with a concussion, the result of being sandwiched between to Bears defenders. It may also have been a bit cumulative as Ponder was sacked twice and hit numerous times prior to that last one. While he was in the game, Ponder continually tried to force the ball to receiver Jerome Simpson to no avail. Five of Ponder’s eight passes were directed towards Simpson. Many of them were poorly thrown, but several of them were passes Simpson should have caught but dropped. Ponder didn’t look particularly effective in his time under center, much like the majority of the time we’ve seen him this season.