Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Chat OT: What in the world can the Vikings do with Christian Ponder?

Posted by: under On the road, Vikings, Packers, Super Bowl, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Sage Rosenfels Updated: November 7, 2012 - 9:54 AM

If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers. And surprise, surprise, there’s a lot of Christian Ponder talk still percolating …

Question 1: Ponder needs to sit. At 5-4, why risk wasting a whole season? Bench him and let Webb take over. How long will Frazier wait? Is he really prepared to go 5-11 with Ponder at QB? Ponder can compete for the job again next year.

Question 2: Why not play Webb? I get that we need to see how Ponder handles things but we still have a shot at the playoffs. Anything can happen in the playoffs. So why not play Webb?

We need a nickname for these people, don’t we? Webbies? Webb-sters? Something.

Anyway, let’s get to the flaws in the premise that “anything can happen in the playoffs.” The greatest thing that’s happened to the NFL in recent years has been the surge of teams that are mediocre for a while, get hot in January and then win the Super Bowl. Shoot, the 2010 Packers were 8-6 on Christmas day, almost missed the playoffs and then won it all. Last year’s Giants? They lost five times between Nov. 13 and Dec. 18, then rallied from a 7-7 record to win the Super Bowl.

Overall, wild card teams have won the Super Bowl five times in the 21st century. So that’s created the idea that any team can win the Super Bowl every year.

Great for fan interest. Dangerous for realistic expectations.

And so if, at any point this season, you truly believed the Vikings had everything it took to win a Super Bowl this year, let me just tell you that you were nuts. Plain and simple.

And if you think that Joe Webb is suddenly an upper-echelon quarterback that rights this ship for the rest of the season, well, yeah, you’re probably being too hopeful.

We’ll get more into Webb here shortly. But just understand that this season was never ever ever supposed to be about chasing this year’s Super Bowl. It was supposed to be about building for the future and developing a nucleus of young players.

Paramount to that was finding out what exactly the Vikings have in Ponder and whether he’s truly wired to lead them to a bright, bright future. Things certainly don’t look good right now. But it’s only proper and fair and logical for the future plans to give him the rest of this season to prove exactly what he is.

Question 3: I completely understand why we cannot go to Webb. We have to see if Ponder is our guy for sure and he will be the starter all season. BUT when will the Vikes know what route to take? Ponder looks worse every week. He looks scared to throw, scared to get sacked, very hesitant. And when he does throw, it is often inaccurate. He’s nowhere near what we saw in Weeks 1-4. You can blame a poor receiving corps and shaky protection all you want. But the biggest problem is Ponder. How can he right the ship? Confidence isn't in the coaching mechanics handbook.

Yeah. That’s why this is going to be such a tough, tough stretch. Because there aren’t very many easy ways to restore confidence that’s been shot. It comes down to the individual, most times, pulling himself out of the funk. Coaches can try to dial up high-percentage throws that build confidence. Like in the Tennessee game, after Ponder threw interceptions on back-to-back passes, the rest of the game was a lesson in restoring confidence with short throws that allowed Ponder to hit his stride again with easy throws. But the big problem now is that the Vikings have only succeeded with short passes all season. So now defenses have the book on that. And they haven’t adjusted with the plays they’ve called or the throws Ponder has made to take advantage of a field that should be wide open a lot with defenses crowding the box. Worst of all, Ponder is now missing – and sometimes badly – on short, easy throws.

Question 4: We all know Mr. Ponder has been awful for a few games now, with Seattle being the worst. My concern, as possibly indicated by Percy on the sidelines, that his teammates have lost confidence in Mr. Ponder. Do you have any way of gauging that? Also, why not find some way to use Webb? Anything.

Overall, Ponder is a likable enough guy who teammates want to succeed for many reasons. He’s smart. He’s personable. He’s driven. Heck, he is best friends with his center and his top tight end. So naturally he’s going to have a lot of support within the locker room. Even Adrian Peterson, who has the most reason to be upset, has publicly voiced his support, which is all you can do at a time like this. But if Ponder’s struggles worsen, the frustration will soon bubble up. And when your top receiver (Percy Harvin) is yelling at the head coach and making veiled comments after the game that he’s behind Ponder because “he’s who the staff picked,” you start to wonder how fast internal confidence could erode.

As for getting Webb involved somehow, someway, I’m OK with this suggestion. No, you don’t make him the starter now. But for a guy this athletic, this dynamic, this explosive, it seems strange that the Vikings haven’t found anything for him to do other than take one kneel-down handoff to close of the Titans game. When the Vikings were winning and playing well offensively, you don’t mess with success. But now? The offense is clearly disjointed and frustrated and needs a spark. Webb has been Mr. Spark at times. There has to be something they can find for him to do.

Question 5: Ok ... Let’s assume the Viking keep struggling and finish with a top-10 pick next year... Who are the top three QBs coming out next year?

It likely won’t be a strong quarterback class for the 2013 draft. There’s a possibility of only two first-rounders: West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson also should get a later first-round nod. If you’re looking for an underclassman who has some intrigue, give Tennessee’s Tyler Bray a look.

And if you want another Florida State quarterback, E.J. Manuel has some skills.

Question 6: What would Peterson have to do to be in contention for MVP?

Question 7: AP seems like such a team guy. How does he keep his motivation going through seasons like 2011 and now the slump this year? He's playing stronger than ever through these struggles.

Peterson is on pace for 1,700 rushing yards and more than 1,900 total yards. Coming off major knee surgery, he’s having one of the more remarkable seasons by a running back ever. And week by week, he just seems to be getting better, too. Which is a scary thought for opposing defenses. Still, in order to get serious MVP consideration, the Vikings will probably have to keep themselves in playoff contention into December. Which means Peterson may have to carry them there single-handedly.

As for his character and motivation? The guy has drive and focus and a positivity about him that is unrelenting. He has no time for negativity and instead channels his frustrations into working harder. He’s a unique individual and probably deserves more national acclaim for the way he’s playing right now.

Question 8: After a disastrous season do you think Percy will shop around or re-sign when the time comes?

Well, for starters, the Vikings have him under contract through the end of the 2013 season. So Harvin couldn’t become a free agent until March 2014. So shopping around isn’t something he’d be able to do for a while.

More than anything, before Harvin signs an extension with the Vikings, he should try to have a feel for what the situation will be around him for the long haul. And that means making an educated guess as to what the future holds for Ponder, Bill Musgrave and Leslie Frazier using that to decide if this is the situation he’d want to stay in.

Question 9: Based on preseason expectations, should we as fans be seeing the glass as “half-empty" or "half-full"?

Both? I mean, truthfully, if anyone was expecting a frustration-free season, they were delusional. I saw no one picking the Vikings to finish at .500. And right now they’re 5-4.

Scratch out two more wins and a 7-9 season and you’ve either hit or exceeded the preseason expectations of just about everybody, right?

So here are your reasons to feel “half-full” – the two first-round draft picks (Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith) look like hits and guys who can stabilize your offensive line and the back of the secondary until 2020; the franchise running back apparently did not suffer a career-threatening injury last Christmas Eve and appears to be as good as ever; the rookie kicker is a weapon; Percy Harvin is leading the NFL in catches.

And reasons to feel “half-empty”: Ponder is currently regressing; the run defense has sprung a huge leak; Chris Cook’s broken arm significantly weakened the secondary; clock management at the end of halves is often lacking; the receiving corps is marginal; Ponder is currently regressing; teams have figured out the Vikings’ weaknesses and are attacking them; and, oh yeah, Ponder is currently regressing.

Question 10: I'm expecting the Vikes to go winless the rest of the way. All their wins have been against poor teams – excluding the 49ers. Do you think that 49ers game was a fluke or is this team capable of playing that way again this year?

Well, clearly the “half-empty” crowd has a spokesman.

In beating the 49ers, the Vikings played a near-perfect game. They won the turnover battle. They played physical. Their quarterback managed the game well. The defense was nasty throughout. They limited their penalties.

Yes, I think they can deliver another performance like that this year. For certain.

But I also think it’d be naïve to think that would be the norm. Still, it wasn’t just the San Fran win that was impressive. They played pretty well in Detroit, especially on defense, winning a key division game on the road. They took an inferior Tennessee team and stomped on them early and never let up. Those performances happened within the past six weeks. I do think they’re capable of digging deep and winning at least one more game they’re not supposed to. The problem is, most of the games the rest of the way will be games they’re not supposed to win.

Question 11: In hindsight should the Vikings have kept Sage? He is more of a seasoned game-manager.

Yep, this is where I lose faith in the intelligence of people. Because there are people out there who think Sage Rosenfels would have the answer for this team. You know, the 34-year-old who, in 11 seasons, won a total of six games as an NFL starter. You know, the guy who not only couldn’t compete with Ponder for the starting job but failed to beat out Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, too. You know, the guy who made his last start in 2008. You know, the guy who has so much to offer that he’s not even on an NFL roster right now. You know, the guy with an 81.2 career quarterback rating. These are the kinds of questions that make me want to behave like Percy Harvin did when he went ballistic on the sidelines in Seattle. Speaking of which …

Question 12: Any insight on what really went on with Harvin being so fired up?

Neither Harvin nor Leslie Frazier would elaborate on what had the receiver so miffed late in the second quarter. They both gracefully explained it away by saying Percy just wants to win and was agitated by a promising drive that stalled late and resulted in a field goal. Harvin seemed most angered by a second down bubble screen pass that Ponder failed to complete. But even if that pass had been complete, Harvin may not have gained anything with Seattle having it read perfectly. So was Harvin angered by the bad throw? By the play call? By both? It’s hard to guess.

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
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