It was not necessarily surprising that the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but another dismal performance from quarterback Christian Ponder (11-for-22 for 63 yards, one interception) has led to questions as whether he should remain the team’s starting quarterback. Head coach Leslie Frazier remains adamant that he is not considering benching Ponder, and since Minnesota’s offensive issues in recent weeks go beyond Ponder that looks like the right move.
The backup quarterback is often the most popular player on an NFL team, and many fans would like to see Ponder benched in favor of Joe Webb heading into Week 10 against the Detroit Lions. But is it really time for the Vikings to turn to Webb as their starting quarterback?
Webb has only seen action in one game so far this season, and has not attempted a pass. He did start two games under center late in his rookie season after being drafted in the sixth round (199th overall) in 2010, and played the majority of last year’s regular season finale against the Chicago Bears. Webb coincidentally has played extensively in two games against the Lions thus far in his career and has been reasonably productive in those two contests, including a 100-yard rushing game and two total touchdowns in mid-December last season after taking over for an injured Ponder.
The team has committed to developing Webb as a quarterback, but he did play wide receiver some in college at Alabama-Birmingham and has the size (6’4″, 220 lbs.) to at least theoretically be used at that spot. Given the Vikings’ shortcomings at wide receiver, it would seem to make sense to get him some practice time there with the idea of getting him on the field more.
In any case Webb is not an upgrade over Ponder as a passer, though he does offer difference-making potential as a runner that few other quarterbacks around the league can offer. But the Vikings’ offense would resemble a modified Wildcat system with Webb at the helm for a whole game, and the shortcomings in areas beyond the quarterback may even be magnified with Ponder on the bench.
I am not an advocate of mixing Webb in under center for a series or two in the middle of games to attempt to spark something, but if Ponder struggles early next week against Detroit it would be reasonable for Frazier to consider allowing Webb to start the second half.
Staying the course is not likely to help the Vikings’ offense turn things around, so something has to change over and above pulling the plug on Ponder for anything other than an injury. It would behoove the offensive coaching staff to try to convince Frazier to allow Webb to be used as an all-purpose weapon, even if he has some perceived shortcomings as a pass catcher. In fact, if Percy Harvin (left ankle) is out or at all limited against the Lions next Sunday I’d like to see Webb used as a kickoff returner.