We’ve had a full weekend to absorb what transpired at Lambeau Field on Thursday, and what we keep coming back to is this: when and how did things become THIS bad for Christian Ponder?
This was a guy who, as a first-round pick in 2011, showed some promise as a rookie. This is a guy who in his second year — with ample help from Adrian Peterson and others — started all 16 games for a team that made the playoffs.
(As an aside: Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave probably should have been given lifetime contracts, in retrospect, for that miracle).
This was a guy who started to fall apart last year, but even throughout the comical QB carousel there remained a notion that the team’s defensive woes were a bigger problem and that a few stops at critical times might have made his season look better.
How did that guy become what we saw Thursday? Or the larger question: Was Ponder always the same QB from the first snap he took through Thursday’s debacle, and we’ve just been viewing him through different lenses — first optimism, then true evaluation, and now pessimism?
From here, it looks like this: Ponder’s skill set, however you might define it, never evolved. He was skittish and prone to run as a rookie, and he still is today. He never had the vision required to be an elite quarterback.
What he did have, at a certain point, was the ability to play within himself and a confidence that came from winning (2012). In the must-have final game of that regular season, Ponder was very good against the Packers and led the Vikings on the game-winning field goal drive that clinched their playoff berth.
Last season stripped him of some of that confidence, but it’s hard to say what the trigger was — his poor play, the diminished play of the offensive line around him, the constant shuffling in and out of different quarterbacks, or some combination of all those things?
What we do know is this: In 2014, any confidence he once had, on the field, appears to be gone. Relegated to a third-string role on a team that now has a new QB of the future and at least started the season with a clear quarterback pecking order, Ponder knew exactly where he stood and he played like it on Thursday.
You can blame the Vikings for not realizing that a once-mediocre QB stripped of his confidence would turn in that kind of Thursday performance if his number was ever called. And you can blame Ponder for failing to rise to the occasion of at least being average.
@MasterStrib Zim has 10 days do you see him making any changes in starting lineup? If so who? #VikingsST
— Brian Wagner (@13121Wagner) October 6, 2014
It’s difficult to make lineup changes when you’re already relying on backups, so I don’t expect any demotions. The Vikings have lost a few significant players through five weeks, including running back Adrian Peterson, tight end Kyle Rudolph, linebacker Chad Greenway, right guard Brandon Fusco and possibly safety Harrison Smith. When you look at the roster, there aren’t many places where you can necessarily say a change would be an upgrade.
The one possible position is at strong safety, where head coach Mike Zimmer was honest about Robert Blanton’s performance this season, “He can be better.” Before everyone grabs their pitchforks on Twitter, demanding for Andrew Sendejo to start at strong safety, Smith’s status is unknown at this point for Sunday’s matchup against the Lions. He was on crutches and in a walking boot on Friday, the day after the Packers game. Sendejo, who has only received two snaps at safety this season, would start at free safety and the Vikings would stick with Blanton if Smith can’t play.
…On a side note that deals a little with lineup changes, some have suggested that Zimmer should simplify his defense after allowing 42 points to the Packers. I highly doubt Zimmer will make such a drastic move to alter his scheme in his first season as head coach. This is the year he must set the foundation for his defensive scheme. There are changes teams make weekly to properly prepare for opponents but altering the scheme at this point of Zimmer’s tenure would not be a smart move. It takes time to get players not only acclimated to a scheme but also for a franchise to bring in the right personnel over a period of time. I think it’s very narrow-minded to blame the inconsistency on defense to the complexity of the scheme. I don’t think head coaches and defensive coordinator design plays where receivers and tight ends are running down the field unaccounted for.
@MasterStrib when can we just expect Greenway back in the lineup #VikingsST
— Josh Zimmer (@JZimmer_57) October 6, 2014
I’m really not sure. Just a guess though, I’d be surprised if he does play. He still seems to be coping with pain from the rib injury. Greenway said it’s hard to do small things like laugh, cough and sneeze. The long break should help with the recovery process because Greenway needs time more than anything else to heal. He was pretty emphatic that he couldn’t play even if the Packers game was slated on a Sunday. Given the severity of the injury, he may need a little more time.
@MasterStrib You surprised at the NFC North records of other teams up to this point? #VikingsST
— Adam Weart (@adamweart) October 6, 2014
It’s been difficult trying to get a feel for all four teams. The Vikings and Bears are tied for last at 2-3, while the Packers and Lions sit atop the division at 3-2. Each team has its fair share of flaws, which could make for an interesting race up to the final game of the season.
The biggest surprise has been the Lions defense. They’ve always had a good front four, but they’re currently first in total defense allowing 282.4 yards a game. They’re second in points allowed as well, allowing 15.8 points a game. I’m not sure anyone expected that.
@MasterStrib Will there be a documentary about the Strib writer trip to Lambeau? #VikingsST
— Judd Zulgad’s Hoodie (@JZHoodie) October 6, 2014
Thankfully, no. What happens in Green Bay for a 22-hour period, stays in Green Bay.
Though our deputy sports editor, Chris Carr, made this visual, and it’s…yeah, it’s something.
Hey @chipscoggins are you sure you have enough leg room back there? Looks snug. pic.twitter.com/SQLqisxWS0
— Chris Carr (@pacecarr) October 2, 2014