RandBall: Pondering a QB change (and Andrew Luck)

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • October 3, 2011 - 9:09 AM


Hey, who's that guy? I don't know, but he might be better than both of us.

Hey, who's that guy? I don't know, but he might be better than both of us.

Leslie Frazier might think otherwise, but now is the time for the Vikings to make the switch from Donovan McNabb to Christian Ponder as the team's starting QB. Why?


1) Let's look at McNabb: His overall numbers are hardly terrible: 680 yards, four TD passes, two INTs and an 80.9 rating through four games. His past three games, in fact, have been almost identical: a little over 200 yards pasing and a rating in the mid-to-upper-80s. On a team that made three more critical plays ever game, he might be doing just fine.

The problem is, he has very often been the one not making those critical plays. The defense can take its share of the blame, too, but the bottom line is McNabb has been close to awful when it matters most. On third down passes in the second half of games this season, he has just 3 completions in 17 attempts. With a chance to at least temporarily salvage the season and silence a few critics yesterday in the fourth quarter, McNabb fired four consecutive incompletions to end any hope of a victory over the winless Chiefs. There is no consistent rhythm to this offense from drive-to-drive. There is no sense that players want to rally around their quarterback. And there is no gut feeling that a big play will be made when it is needed the most.

2) Timing. You are 0-4. You are about to come back to Mall of America Field to face a surly fan base (and perhaps a fan base that has had more than just a couple of Surly beers to drink). If you start McNabb again, everything he does poorly will be scrutinized and booed. If you start Ponder, everything he does well will be enthusiastically cheered. It's just the nature of the New Guy Phenomenon. If political leaders are worried about a season going into the tank with a rookie QB, they should be more worried about the sourness and bitterness that comes from watching a team with an aging QB march on a treadmill for three hours, only to remain stuck at the same losing spot. The season can sputter very easily either way. If you want butts in the seats to avoid blackouts and keep some semblance of stadium momentum going, switching to the rookie is your better bet. This week, you are playing Arizona, which is an OK team that is 26th overall in pass defense in terms of total yards allowed. This isn't the '85 Bears. It's the perfect situation to make the switch.

3) Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are already playing at a very high level as rookie QBs. Blaine Gabbert struggled some yesterday, but he didn't embarrass himself. Playing Ponder has the potential to work out on the field, win or lose. If he progesses and looks sharp, allowing the Vikings to win a handful of games this season, then there is hope for the future. If he looks completely overwhelmed and overmatched -- and really, based on recent QBs who have made the leap in their first year, we should expect rookie mistakes but not complete helplessness -- it would allow the Vikings to bottom out, which isn't always a bad thing. It would be particularly beneficial this year because ...

4) We are not ones to play the "tank the season and get a high draft pick" card. Ever. But we are suggesting in this case that the best course of action -- playing Ponder, starting next week -- could lead, if it didn't work out in 2011 on the field, to the unique opportunity to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick next year. Drafting another QB in the first round would be odd. It's only been done by three teams in NFL history, based on some research we did this morning:

The 1982-83 Colts took Art Schlichter and John Elway back-to-back (No. 4 overall, then No. 1 overall). Schlichter was soon after banned by the NFL for gambling; Elway forced his way out via trade.

The 1956-57 49ers took Earl Morrall and then John Brodie (No. 2 overall then No. 3 overall). They traded Morrall in 1957; Brodie stuck around for a long career.

The 1962-64 Rams actually took three QBs in a row in the first round, even though Matt Millen was not their general manager: Roman Gabriel, Terry Baker, Bill Munson (No. 2 overall, No. 1 overall, No. 7 overall). Gabriel QBed the Rams for several years; Baker was converted into a running back and lasted just three seasons; Munson split time for a couple of seasons with Gabriel before heading to Detroit in 1968. Baker, by the way, was born in Pine River. ONE OF US.
In any event, regardless of how they would get there, if the Vikings do get the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, they absolutely have to select Luck. The smartest path to 2012 is not winning 5-6 games with McNabb, finding out nothing about your future QB, and inviting more fan apathy. It's rolling the dice with this year's rookie and hoping he shows enough promise to bring optimism -- all the while knowing that if he flops enough there is another QB potentially waiting in the wings. What if Ponder is just good enough to elevate the Vikings to 5 victories (and out of reach for the No. 1 pick), but not good enough to make you feel optimistic about 2012? Let's not talk about that right now.

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