Vikings have QB decision to make if Christian Ponder can’t play

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Another week and Minnesota Vikings
coach Leslie Frazier has another decision to make at quarterback.

Ever since Christian Ponder fractured a rib in Week 3, it’s
been a weekly topic for Frazier. After starts by Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman,
Frazier ended up back on Ponder. The questions and decisions persisted.

Frazier has a different type of decision to make this week.
The choice this week comes down simply to health for Frazier, as he said it did
in Week 4 when Cassel filled in for Ponder and in Week 8 when Ponder returned
to the starting lineup in place of Freeman, who had a concussion.

Ponder, for his part, looked last week as if he might be
putting the weekly decision to rest. He was 17- of-21 passing for 174 yards and
led two touchdown drives in the second half as Minnesota came from behind to
beat Washington. Then he dislocated his left shoulder while diving for the end
zone and missed the rest of the game.

The injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, which leaves
open the possibility Ponder could still play Sunday at Seattle, and leaves
Frazier, or the team’s medical staff, with yet another decision.

“Probably have to take a look at and just see if he can
function,” Frazier said Monday. “You don’t want to put him in harm’s
way. If he can’t protect himself you wouldn’t want to put him out there. So
we’ll have a better when we come back on Wednesday and start practicing. He’s
made progress, which is encouraging. We’ll have to see how much progress he
makes in the next couple of days and moving on to Thursday and Friday as
well.”

Health is the factor this week, and the task won’t be easy
for any quarterback. Seattle has the league’s third-ranked defense in total
yards allowed (289 per game), points allowed (15.9 per game) and second in
passing yards (178 per game). The Seahawks are fifth in the league in sacks,
fourth in forced fumbles and tied for the lead with 13 interceptions.

If Ponder can’t go, the starting job would fall again to
Cassel or Freeman.

Cassel is the veteran option, who has played in tough
environments like Seattle in the past and entered for Ponder as the backup on
Thursday. Yet, Frazier’s comments after the game seem as if they look at Cassel
as the top backup option, and only as a backup.

In his one game for Minnesota, Freeman struggled with
accuracy, completing 20 of 53 passes and didn’t look ready to play just two
weeks after signing with the Vikings. He suffered a concussion and has now been
the third quarterback for the past several weeks.

Freeman has been working with coaches to acclimate and learn
the offense. But a road game against Seattle’s defense, with the notoriously
loud Seattle crowd, would be a tough return to the lineup.

Frazier said last week Ponder has “no reason to look
over his shoulder” when it comes to being the starting quarterback.
Ponder’s play last Thursday made the choice more about health than whether the
team might take another look at Freeman. At least for now, Frazier seems set
with Ponder.

Ponder also feels set as the starter. He said he felt better
Monday and plans to test the injury later in the week to see if he can play.

“The thing with this injury is, it’s not really going
to hinder anything,” Ponder said. “It’s not hindering my throwing
motion or anything. It’s just going to be taking a hit or something, and we
don’t have fear that it’s going to get worse. It’s just going to be able to
handle the pain, and if I can do it, then I’ll play.”

The extra days of rest after playing Thursday definitely aid
Ponder, along with the injury not being to his throwing shoulder. The Vikings
will test Ponder’s strength and range of motion during the week, without a true
gauge to how the shoulder will respond because the team doesn’t tackle during
practice.

Frazier called the strength tests with athletic trainers
“most pertinent” for Ponder and said he’d likely need to see Ponder
practice Thursday to have a chance to play Sunday.

“That Thursday practice is pretty important because we
go through everything that we introduced on Wednesday, plus third-down,
red-zone, the whole nine yards,” Frazier said. “So, that one is
pretty important. You like to get some work on that Thursday if you
could.”

Ponder is optimistic he’ll play. If he can’t, Frazier has
another decision to make.

“That’s the proverbial question,” Frazier said.
“We got two other capable guys that are capable of starting for us and
doing a good job. So one of those two guys will end up being the starter if he
can’t go.”

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter