By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Minnesota Vikings are playing old-school football in 2013.
Not because they have the game’s most dominant running back in Adrian Peterson and they have an offense that is based on the running game.
They are an old-school team because they have the patience to let their quarterback develop. Instead of demanding that their young quarterback Christian Ponder must be successful right away, the Vikings are willing to let Ponder develop his skills and take his time.
Ponder is in his third year with the Vikings and his second full season as the starting quarterback. Unlike Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks or Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, who were sensational in their rookie seasons last year, Ponder has struggled badly since he has been asked to get behind center for the Vikings.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman saw how successful that trio of rookie quarterbacks was last year and he swallowed hard. He also saw how Ponder struggled for the Vikings last year, completing 300-of-483 passes for 2,935 yards with 12 TDs and 18 interceptions. Nevertheless, he decided to give Ponder another chance to become the Vikings starting quarterback this year.
Head coach Leslie Frazier did not have much say in the matter. The Vikings did not provide much in the way of competition since Matt Cassel is a legitimate backup and little else.
That means that if the Vikings are going to be successful, Ponder is going to have to lead them. Ponder was selected with the 12th pick of the 2011 draft. Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert were taken before him, while Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were drafted after Ponder.
Ponder was not expected to play as a rookie because the Vikings had veteran Donovan McNabb in the lineup. However, McNabb did not belong in the NFL in 2011, and Ponder replaced him prior to the seventh game of the season. Ponder threw for 1,853 yards as a rookie and had a 13-13 TD-interception ratio.
It was a fairly non-descript season for a rookie, but there was no reason to panic since he was taking over from a veteran who could no longer play.
The Vikings were 3-13 that season and they weren’t expected to be much better in 2012. However, they got off to a 4-2 start and Ponder was impressive.
He completed 144-of-210 passes for 1,434 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions in his first six games. He was completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and he ranked ahead of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning in that category.
Then the bottom fell out for Ponder.
Instead of throwing the ball downfield, he took dinking and dunking to an extreme. He average fewer than 5.0 yards per attempt in four of the next six games. He would throw just seven touchdown passes over the next nine games, while throwing eight interceptions.
Opposing defenses basically yawned when Ponder dropped back in the pocket. They were unconcerned with his passing because they knew he was too timid to attack.
That did not change until the final game of the regular season when Ponder emerged from his cocoon and threw for 234 yards and three TD passes as the Vikings beat the Packers and made the playoffs.
But during a nine-game span from Week 7 through 16, Ponder’s performance was halting at best and abominable at worst.
Still, Spielman decided that he was still the man for the Vikings. That’s good news for the Bears, who host the Vikings on Sunday.
There will be no mystery in this game for the Bears’ defense. They have to concern themselves with Peterson, who torched the Detroit Lions with a 78-yard TD run on his first carry of the year. They don’t have to worry about Ponder.
In his first game of the season, Ponder completed 18-of-28 passes for 236 yards with one TD and three interceptions.
He is the same quarterback he was last year and that means he is a liability in the pocket.
If Peterson can come forth with an explosive 200-yard effort, the Bears could be in trouble. If he does not, they should win this game with ease.
The Vikings are waiting for their quarterback to develop into a competent signal-caller. They are likely to wait a long time, because Ponder is not now and will not become an elite player.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.