Does Percy Harvin’s absence buy Christian Ponder more time?
Twice this season, Christian Ponder has been held under 65 yards passing in a game. He has thrown for fewer yards this season (2,305) than any other 12-game starter. Ponder’s second-year struggles — and especially some horrid interceptions, like one he fired in the end zone last Sunday — have doomed the Vikings at times, as a 4-1 start has withered away to a 6-6 record.
But in light of the news that Percy Harvin has been placed on injured reserve, thus ending his 2012 season, it’s worth … uh … pondering this question:
To whom exactly is Christian Ponder supposed to throw the ball?
Harvin was a terrific option when he was healthy, but he’s now missed three games (and will wind up sitting out seven). Jerome Simpson, expected to provide an absent vertical threat, was suspended for Weeks 1-3, then dealt with back and leg issues that slowed him during the middle portion of Minnesota’s schedule.
The rest of Minnesota’s receiver depth chart is a hodgepodge of nondescript options: Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, Jarius Wright (who was inactive until Harvin suffered his ankle injury) and Stephen Burton. Which player is the go-to option there? Who amongst that group can stretch the field against defenses stacked up to stop Adrian Peterson?
The Vikings’ conservative play calling and Ponder’s refusal to take shots downfield have no doubt helped stymie this offense — Ponder has completed just six passes thrown deeper than 20 yards all season, according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s still hard to feel like Ponder has been given a fair shake.
Minnesota used the No. 12 overall pick in the 2011 draft on Ponder, expecting him to become a franchise QB. So far, the returns have been frustrating, with Ponder posting an 8-14 overall record.
He did come out of the gate scorching this season, hitting on more than 68 percent of his passes (84 for 123) over the first four weeks. Ponder also did not fire an interception until Week 5, though he also did not have a TD pass in Week 1 or Week 4. Long story short, Ponder showed enough early in 2012 to have the Vikings excited; to make the franchise think that they had been right in committing so much to him.
Are the Vikings willing to throw all that out the window, before they truly commit to surrounding Ponder with viable talent out wide?
Harvin, assuming he returns to form after potential ankle surgery, still has one year left on his contract — he requested a trade last summer, you might remember, so his future is a bit murky. Still, if he’s back and 100 percent, there are few playmakers in the league like him.
Ponder also has developed a solid rapport with tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has 45 catches and eight touchdowns, while benefiting via play-action from the attention Peterson draws.
One of the obvious missions for the Vikings this coming offseason is to find another weapon at receiver. That will be the case, regardless of whether Ponder is still entrenched as the starter in 2013 or not.
Closing the book on Ponder now, however, may be premature unless an elite option presents itself at quarterback. The Vikings have not done Ponder any favors, after all, by asking him to throw to a depleted and severely underwhelming stockpile of receivers.