Vikings have QB decision to make if Christian Ponder can't play
Nov 12, 2013 at 12:30p ET
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.''
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