NFL Week One.
Christian Ponder’s five biggest problems:
1) Bill Musgrave. I think we have a large enough sample size to make a few judgments about Mr. Musgrave’s offensive game-calling. The word baffling comes immediately to mind, but let’s dig deeper. He seems to be following what I’ll call the “Costanza Method”. When a course of action makes a reasonable amount of sense just do the opposite no matter how absurd it may initially seem. 4th and inches with the league MVP averaging 6 yards per carry? Give it to the backup. 3rd and 1 against an all pro front seven? Naked bootleg left against the quarterback’s natural throwing motion. Playing a team with immovable DTs named Fairley and Suh? Continuously try to pound the ground game right at them. Why test the edge? Because it might work?! No, you haven’t been paying attention. Try again. We are leaving Cordarrelle Patterson on the bench most of the game because using him to spread the defense does what? That’s right. It makes too much fucking sense.
2) Leslie Frazier. The word from the ivory tower at Winter Park is that Ponder is not allowed to audible or change anything at the line of scrimmage or make menu suggestions for the team cafeteria. Have you ever seen him so much as call a timeout on a crucial down because he didn’t like the matchups? No. No, you haven’t. This may just be in keeping with the Vikings’ recent history of avoiding in-game adjustments as a matter of strict principle. A Viking head coach hasn’t made a meaningful half time adjustment since Brad Childress changed his underwear during the 2009 NFC Championship game. You almost successfully forgot about that game, didn’t you? You just replayed the whole nightmare in your head, right? You’re sarcastically welcome. Mike Tice stabbing himself in the eye with a stubby pencil is the most dynamic shift in offensive strategy we have seen here since the Moss-Carter era.
3) He doesn’t just throw ugly, telegraphed, wobbly interceptions. He throws ugly, telegraphed, wobbly interceptions at the worst possible moment. After this many starts and this many opportunities to show improvement one can only surmise that he wilts like a daisy under pressure because he is a born loser. Even his greatest moment as a Viking on a crucial 4th quarter third down was an overthrow to a wide open receiver who made a leaping fingertip catch to keep a drive alive so AP could be carried off the field on national television. And that’s the best play of his career. He choked in college and he’s choking here and he’ll always choke. He’ll likely die by asphyxiating himself somehow unless Adrian Peterson is there to perform the Heimlich or cut the lego out of his trachea with his laser vision. Yes, of course he has laser vision.
4) He turns his back to the line of scrimmage a LOT. Some of this is even part of the play design. It’s as if the coaching staff is actively trying to make everything harder for him. The Vikings brain trust seems to think that eighty percent of passing plays should be play action that takes longer to develop than the routes the receivers are running. It also appears, after a season and a half of watching Ponder fail to get better at it, that they think the best way for the QB to perform play action is to fake the hand off and then take at least four steps back with his head down. They also seem to think that you cannot run these plays from the gun. It must be what they think or they would just teach him another way because it’s not that complicated. Now, the secret sauce of this style of play action is for it to take a minimum of three and half seconds because you definitely want the QB to have less than one second to decide where to throw the ball before the whole thing turns to shit in his hands. That way, when he does throw the ball he will be rushing his motion and he’ll find himself awkwardly off balance for silly and easily avoidable reasons. Watch good quarterbacks play fake. Their first action is usually to scan the initial movement of the DBs and LBs after snap for a nearly imperceptible moment. They turn to the RB briefly and quickly fake the hand off, but return to scanning the field immediately. They know that they don’t need the LBs to stand still for so long that they actually freeze like statues. It’s just a figure of speech. Freezing them for one tentative misstep is all it takes to free a TE or WR. This is also something that can be coached. Well, not here, but places with real coaches.
Watch his footwork in the pocket. His first step away from pressure is almost always backwards and, if it isn’t backwards, it is blindly forward into a wall of Defensive Tackles. He has the opposite of poise. It’s like he’s one scary dream away from bringing back Tarvaris Jackson’s patented panic-jump pass. I imagine him whispering the plays in the huddle in a quivering voice so that his teammates have to lean in closer to hear him as they look at each other with resigned indifference.
5) Inaccuracy. Even when he manages to see what’s going on in front of him because he’s facing the right direction he misses easy throws. Kind of an important part of playing quarterback, throwing. The Vikings lose a lot of YAC yards because he’s throwing behind guys on timing routes. They’re timing routes, man. You should practice that. Oh, you do? Well then you just suck at it.