For better or for worse, the Minnesota Vikings are sticking with their quarterback.
Christian Ponder will be Minnesota's starting quarterback in 2013, despite the fact that the Vikings will pursue a new backup quarterback, as Joe Webb is ticketed for free agency. Webb and Ponder are two very different quarterbacks, and having a quarterback with the same skillset as Ponder as the backup is pivotal -- see Minnesota's Wild Card round loss to Green Bay as Exhibit A.
Webb completed 11-of-30 passes for 180 yards, with a touchdown and interception to his credit. When your quarterback completes just 36 percent of his passes, it's unlikely that you're going to win a game -- especially a playoff game at Lambeau Field.
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Needless to say, pursuing a quarterback who is similar to Ponder -- an accurate pocket passer -- is the right course of action, as Webb is a quarterback who will only succeed in a read-option offense.
The Vikings maintain that there will not be a quarterback competition this summer when training camp opens, and that Ponder is their quarterback. Per ESPN 1500:
"That would be the key," Frazier said. "If the guy comes in and has the mindset that 'I'm going to create a problem in the locker room' because he feels he should be the starter, that would not be a good fit. It needs to be a guy understands his role and could fit our team and be ready to go at a moment's notice."
It's a nice vote of confidence for the soon-to-be third-year quarterback, but is it necessarily the right move?
There's no question Ponder improved in his second season. Ponder's completion percentage went up from 54.3 to 62.1, and his quarterback rating went up from 70.1 to 81.2. Ponder's yards-per-attempt went down, however, from 6.37 to 6.08.
A deeper look into Ponder's numbers show that he may not continue to grow as an NFL quarterback. Ponder attempted 124 passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage, and completed 79.8 percent of them. Ponder only attempted 483 passes all season, and over 25% of them were thrown behind the line of scrimmage.
The bulk of Ponder's passes were thrown between 1-10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He attempted 210 passes in that range, completing 66.2 percent of them, with a quarterback rating of 89.6.
Those numbers are fine and dandy, but that's about where the pleasant numbers end. Ponder completed just 45.5 percent of his passes thrown between 11-20 yards downfield, and he was intercepted six times on 88 attempts in that range. Ponder's quarterback rating on passes in that range was a mere 53.7.
Worse, Ponder completed just 4-of-21 passes thrown between 21-30 yards -- a lowly 19 percent.
Of course, being an NFL quarterback isn't easy, and obviously, the farther downfield a quarterback throws, the worse his completion percentage will be -- but Ponder's downfield woes are cause for concern.
Carson Palmer, the NFL's 16th-rated passer last season, attempted 141 passes between 11-20 yards, and completed 48.2 percent of them -- only three percent better than Ponder. Palmer, however, attempted nearly double the amount of passes in that range, and only threw five interceptions (and he threw five touchdowns).
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford finished the season as the 18th-rated passer in the NFL and attempted 86 passes between 11-20 yards -- just two fewer than Ponder. Bradford, however, completed 51.2 percent of his passes in that range, while throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions, and posted a quarterback rating of 79.9.
Andy Dalton, who the Bengals took in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, completed 49-of-94 passes between 11-20 yards (52.1 percent), while throwing nine touchdowns and four interceptions -- good for a QB rating of 100.6. Sure, it helps to have A.J. Green, but it also helps to have Adrian Peterson as a running back, a luxury that Dalton doesn't have.
Ponder's downfield passing numbers are clearly below average, and for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, that simply won't suffice. Ponder has to improve, if for no other reason than to ease the burden on reigning NFL MVP, Adrian Peterson.
Anointing Ponder the starter by default could be a mistake. This year's free agent quarterback class is weak, but that doesn't mean that competition couldn't breed success. Matt Cassel proved in the past that he can be a capable quarterback and lead a team to the playoffs. Matt Moore has enjoyed success in limited playing time throughout his career.
Deflating Ponder's confidence could prove to be counterproductive, but to ignore Ponder's shortcomings and to already anoint him as the Week 1 starter seems to be shortsighted. It's quite possible that Ponder would beat out somebody like Cassel or Moore in a competition -- and it's also quite possible that the competition could drive Ponder to be a better quarterback.
The Vikings and Vikings fans will never know, however, since Ponder is Minnesota's quarterback -- for better or for worse.