Ponder should be healthy after Minnesota's bye week, but that doesn't mean that he should see the field.
The National Football League couldn’t have picked a worse week to give the Minnesota Vikings a bye.
In what was Christian Ponder’s first week on the bench in 2013, Matt Cassel gave Vikings fans exactly what they’ve been hoping for from the quarterback position — an error-free, Week 4 performance: 16-25 passing (64 percent completion percentage), 248 yards, two touchdowns.
No interceptions. No turnovers. 123.4 quarterback rating.
But now, instead of what would likely be a second straight start for Cassel if the Vikings played this week, Minnesota will have Week 5 off, and head coach Leslie Frazier will have more than enough time to assess his current quarterback situation.
Which is exactly the reason why this bye week makes me nervous.
Ponder missed the Pittsburgh game because of a fractured rib he sustained in a Week 3 match up against the Browns, a game that the Vikings lost in shocking fashion in front of their home fans, bringing their already disappointing record to 0-3.
Ponder’s performance in that game: 25/42 passing (59 percent completion percentage), 228 yards, no touchdowns, one interception.
In three starts, Ponder has amassed just 691 passing yards. His 65.9 quarterback rating ranks fourth to last in the league, putting him just ahead of Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden (62.0), Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman (59.0) and Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert (30.9).
All three of those quarterbacks that Ponder has outperformed this season have since been benched.
But for some reason, Ponder is still Minnesota’s starting quarterback even after the team’s win in London, according to Frazier.
"Our quarterback is Christian Ponder," the Vikings head coach told ESPN.com’s Ben Gossling after Sunday’s win in London, while also acknowledging that the team will have a lot to consider during the bye week.
Fine, you admit that you have some things to think about, but why in the world is our quarterback situation on that list?
I’ll admit, Matt Cassel isn’t a pro-bowler. Hell, he isn’t even a top-ten quarterback in this conference. But, in my opinion, there is absolutely no valid argument to suggest that Christian Ponder is the better option for this team after Cassel’s output last week.
Cassel isn’t flashy. He isn’t quite the playmaker that Ponder is in terms of what he can do with his feet, but that isn’t what the Vikings need.
Yet here we are, still trying to pretend that Christian Ponder has what it takes to be an NFL quarterback, still giving weight to the possibility that his unfortunate tenure could continue against the Panthers in Week 6.
I’m all for giving young players a chance to perform, to prove themselves even after a string of early, unconvincing performances. But this nonsense needs to stop, especially if the Vikings hope to make their 2013 campaign a respectable one.
Right now, Minnesota needs a quarterback that doesn’t make mistakes, a competitor that keeps defenses honest, a performer that possesses the poise in the pocket to get the ball to the team’s best players with consistency, and Matt Cassel is that guy for the Vikings going forward, at least for this season.
Take a look at Greg Jennings’ stats last week against the Steelers if you don’t believe me.
Jennings racked up a mere 160 yards through Minnesota’s first three games on 11 receptions, averaging just a shade over 14 yards per catch. We’re paying this guy 45 million dollars over the next five years, and in order to get the best out of him, we need a QB that can get him the ball.
Cassel did just that in London last Sunday.
Jennings’ stats against Pittsburgh:
30.7 yards per reception, highlighted by a sublime 16-yard catch from Matt Cassel with 5:11 left in the third quarter to give the Vikings a two-touchdown lead, a throw that we would have undoubtedly gone begging with Ponder at the helm.
This isn’t even to mention that Jennings wasn’t our leading receiver. Jerome Simpson also chipped in to the Vikings’ victory with his second 100-yard performance of the season.
I’ve said it before. Ponder has his flashes, moments that make hopeful Vikings fans believe that he can do the job for us at quarterback. But games like the one we saw last weekend in London prove just how good Minnesota can be with a competent player at the quarterback position.
Having that player creates so many more options for this team.
Adrian Peterson had his best game of the season against Pittsburgh. You think that was a coincidence?
It wasn’t. I think it had everything to do with that fact that Matt Cassel was giving the Steelers something to think about down field, which opened the box up for Peterson, who used those opening to showcase exactly why he is the best running back in the league: 140 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, two touchdowns, all that coming against a Pittsburgh defense who despite their 0-4 record ranks fifth in the NFL in total rush defense this season.
Peterson’s yards-per-carry average during the team’s first three games, all games in which Ponder started: 4.2.
So, again, why is our quarterback conversation still a topic of conversation for Leslie Frazier and these Minnesota Vikings?
If Cassel continues to start and proves to be a disappointment, just as Ponder has been, then fine, play whoever you want at QB, Leslie. But you’re a fool if you think that Ponder’s re-emergence from injury puts the Vikings in a better position to win in Week 6. I hope that you’re post-game comments about Ponder on Sunday were strictly PR-motivated. But if they weren’t, at least know that your job is in just as much jeopardy as Ponder’s if you decide to put No. 7 back in the line-up.
As a Vikings fan, and a die-hard one at that, I’m hoping that Matt Cassel stays in at quarterback for the Vikings (as though you couldn’t already tell). At the end of the day, he gives us the best chance to win, week in and week out.
Stability at the quarterback position can only spell out good things for the Vikings (remember Favre?), a team which I believe can compete with any team in the league.
We’ve had a bad start. Sure. But this offense can score on anyone if AP is given the chance to let loose.
Cassel gives us that chance to succeed.
Let’s hope he’s given the opportunity to prove himself.