Key matchup: Bucs defense vs. Vikings QB Christian Ponder

Dan Parr
Pro Football Weekly
Ponder struggling but will not be benched by Vikings

In today's Key Matchup, we consider the opportunity awaiting Vikings QB Christian Ponder, who has a chance to end his slump against the Buccaneers.

Key matchup: Buccaneers defense vs. Vikings QB Christian Ponder

While they have had major issues defending the pass, the Buccaneers have held their ground vs. the run. They rank third in the league in rushing defense and are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry.

In fact, Tampa Bay has been stout vs. the run in all but one game (vs. the Redskins) this season and even managed to keep Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (12-40-0), who entered his meeting with the Bucs as the league leader in rushing yards, in check a couple weeks ago.

In other words — struggling Vikings QB Christian Ponder is going to have to make some plays Thursday night when Minnesota hosts Tampa Bay.

Considering that the Bucs rank 31st in the league vs. the pass, this game would seem to be tailor-made for Ponder to break out of the funk that has plagued him of late. Yet, given the second-year quarterback’s recent performance, it’s worth wondering if he will be able to slice up the Bucs’ secondary as well as other signalcallers have this season.

The Vikings were able to hold on for a win over the Cardinals in Week Seven despite another disappointing performance by Ponder. After he avoided throwing an interception in each of the first four games of the season, Ponder has been picked off six times, including two vs. Arizona, in the past three games. Ponder threw for a season-low 58 yards on Sunday and completed only 8-of-17 passes.

Adrian Peterson (153 rushing yards) and the running game carried the offense against the Cardinals. As resurgent as he has been, Peterson might find the sledding more difficult against the Bucs. Redskins RB Alfred Morris is the only back to break the 100-yard mark vs. Tampa Bay this season, and five of the six teams Tampa Bay has faced failed to hit the century mark rushing when confronted with head coach Greg Schiano’s defense.

Ponder has to get back on track, and he should start by not forcing passes and being more willing to throw the ball away. Despite their woes against the pass, the Bucs have been opportunistic — they have more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes allowed (eight). DB Ronde Barber, who has three picks in six games, is about as adept as any defender at reading the quarterback's eyes, and Tampa Bay’s corners will jump routes if they see a play to be made.

There will be a temptation to air it out against the Bucs, but Ponder has to handle the opportunity with great care Thursday night.