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Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, has struggled through his past five starts, but coach Leslie Frazier still backs him.

McKenna Ewen, Star Tribune

Scoggins: Evaluating Ponder needs to extend over entire season

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • November 6, 2012 - 11:46 AM

Leslie Frazier isn't benching quarterback Christian Ponder, or apparently even considering it. The Vikings coach reiterated that again Monday, his third such public declaration in the past week.

"No, I haven't really thought about pulling him from a game or taking him out for a series or anything like that," Frazier said.

That admission probably makes a healthy segment of fans' blood boil. But it's also the right decision, at least in regards to a permanent quarterback change.

As popular as Joe Webb stands in the eyes of Vikings faithful right now, the organization must stick with its plan to evaluate Ponder over the course of this season. Good, bad or horrific.

No matter how poorly Ponder performs -- and it can't get much worse -- the Vikings can't pull the plug on him now. That would undermine the very thing they're trying to determine this season: Is Ponder a franchise quarterback?

At present, the camp that votes "yes" to that question probably can be counted on one hand. But as unlikely as it seems based on his recent play, what if Ponder pulls himself together and turns around his season? What if he regains his confidence and starts playing like he did early in the season?

Of course, he also could continue to look entirely overwhelmed, but that's precisely the point. The Vikings need to evaluate Ponder for an entire season, see how he reacts in good times and bad, before deciding if they want to proceed with him as their quarterback of the future.

If team officials decide at season's end that Ponder is not their guy or isn't capable of leading this franchise to better days, that would represent a seismic swing-and-miss by General Manager Rick Spielman and the scouting department, and they should be held accountable. But they need more evidence than 19 career starts in order to make that call.

The organization already has decided that Joe Webb isn't a long-term answer at quarterback. Whether you agree with that premise or not, the Vikings have invested heavily in Ponder, so they need to give him every chance to succeed. Or fail.

That's not to suggest Webb can't or shouldn't be used in relief. Sunday was a perfect opportunity. The combination of Ponder's erratic play and gimpy knee gave Frazier an ideal situation to make a change. Why not put Webb in the game and see if he can give you a spark? Ponder's development is critical, but they're trying to win a game, too.

The Vikings still can adhere to their Ponder Plan, even if Webb ignites a comeback. Maybe that opens a can of worms and creates some self-doubt in Ponder's mind, but that's Frazier's job to manage those delicate situations. Besides, this is precisely what can happen when an organization tethers its future to a young quarterback. Sometimes it gets messy.

This is not meant to dump all of the offense's ineptitude on Ponder. Everyone shares ownership when things are this bad. That includes his line, receivers and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

But Ponder shoulders the heaviest load by virtue of his position, and he just looks completely lost right now. What on Earth happened to the quarterback we saw early in the season? The guy who played mostly error-free and made good decisions, the guy who oozed confidence and gave everyone reason to feel optimistic about his future.

In his past five starts, Ponder has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six). He's been sacked 15 times. He's passed for 58 and 63 yards in two of his past three games. He hasn't posted a passer rating higher than 87.6.

The entire passing game is a mess right now. Ponder looks alternately tentative and jumpy in the pocket. Outside of Percy Harvin, his receivers are unreliable. His pass protection leaves a lot to be desired. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is nonexistent. Other than that ...

This is an important week for Ponder. The heat around him is rising, and the "Play Joe Webb" chorus is in full throat. The Vikings need to stick with their plan, though, as they attempt to answer one big, overriding question at the heart of their rebuilding project.

One way or the other.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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