Even the most optimistic of people did not expect the Minnesota Vikings to win 10 games in 2012, but that is just what they did on their way to a surprising playoff berth. Quarterback Christian Ponder missed the team’s Wild Card Round loss to the Green Bay Packers with an injury to his throwing arm, and backup Joe Webb was clearly overmatched.
Ponder drew praise for his play during Minnesota’s four-game winning streak to end the regular season, and rightfully so since he threw just one interception and completed over 60 percent of his passes (60-for-99) during that stretch. Ponder also played solidly as the Viking started the season 4-1, but his struggles through the middle of the season, including three games where he failed to reach 100 yards through the air, prove he still has a long way to go in order to become one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
The Vikings addressed their need for a more capable backup quarterback by signing Matt Cassel in free agency. He has not played well over the last couple seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, with injuries playing a role, but with 62 starts on his resume he should be able to fill in capably if Ponder is injured or struggles again.
Cassel is not expected to compete with Ponder for the starting job, but it’s worth wondering if the Vikings would change course if Ponder really struggles in preseason games. For now Ponder is the clear-cut starter under center, with only a significant injury likely to change that at all.
The outside expectations surrounding the Vikings in 2013 will be significant as they look to repeat or build on last year’s success, and the expectations for Ponder will rise in kind. The addition of wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson via free agency and April’s draft respectively has bolstered the talent level around him, while also serving to eliminate the excuse that a lack of capable wide receivers has hampered Ponder’s progress.
Building chemistry with the veteran Jennings in particular will be a big key for Ponder in 2013, and it may be now or never for the fourth quarterback selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. If he does not perform well and the team’s record reflects that, the Vikings can be expected to look another direction for a quarterback in 2014.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.