It is hard to believe that the Vikings ran for 243 yards against Seattle, yet still lost the game. It reminds me of one of my all time favorite stats: Under Glen Mason, the Gophers ran for 400 yards in a game twice…and lost both times. While the Gophers suffered more from a porous defense, the Vikings suffered from a non-existent passing game.
What happened to Christian Ponder? Through the first part of the season, he appeared to be cementing his place as the Vikings QB of the future. But the past few weeks he has looked just plain awful. While a good part of the blame does belong to the offensive line, Ponder still found ways earlier in the season to be effective with little protection. That is no longer the case.
Why can’t the Vikings even complete the most basic of passing plays? There are four options.
1. Ponder is not an NFL QB and just isn’t good enough.
2. This offensive line couldn’t block high school players much less NFL players.
3. The coaches play calling and scheme are not playing to the strengths of the players.
4. The WR are not getting open.
I don’t agree with #1, because Ponder has had several games where he has looked excellent; he has the skills to be at least an above average QB. I completely agree with #2, as Ponder is usually running for his life, and far too many times this season an opposing blitzer has gone untouched and crushed Ponder. There is also plenty of merit to #3, as when Ponder and the line are struggling, there are simple plays that can be called just to help establish some type of rhythm. (Kyle Rudolph, anyone? Hello?) And #4 also has some merit, although the WRs must be getting open at least some of the time.
All of these struggles in the passing game are doubly perplexing given how good the Vikings’ running game has been. A good running game is supposed to open the passing game and allow a team to run play action passes. But it appears that opposing teams are letting the Vikings get their rushing yards and forcing Ponder to beat them, which he just hasn’t been doing lately.
It seems as though the rest of the league has figured out what the Vikings tendencies and tells are, and it is time for the coaching staff to be creative in breaking those tendencies and mixing it up to keep opposing defenses guessing. I wouldn’t say Russell Wilson is a much better QB than Ponder, yet Seattle showed a creativity on offense (WR pass, multiple WR sets, delays, and misdirections) that kept the Vikings defense on their heels and allowed Wilson to get into a groove. The Vikings coaches have to find a way to get Ponder playing like he was earlier in the season.
The Vikes are 5-4 and still better than most people thought they were going to be, but the dream of playoffs some of us entertained a few weeks ago has faded fast. This Vikings team is still two offensive lineman, a WR, a LB, and a CB away from being a legitimate playoff team, so not making the playoffs wouldn’t be a big surprise nor a disappointment. But the huge question remains: “Is Christian Ponder the QB of the future?”
There are no other QBs on the roster that are the long term answer, so the Vikings best bet is to play out the season with Ponder and hope he gets his mojo back. If he does, great, they can draft for other positions. If not, it will be time to wheel and deal to move up and take another swing at a rookie QB. It’s really all they can do.