In Wednesday’s key matchup, we delve into Sunday’s meeting between struggling Vikings QB Christian Ponder and a banged-up Bears defense.
Key matchup: Vikings QB Christian Ponder vs. Bears defense
It does not sound like the Vikings are particularly optimistic about WR Percy Harvin’s chances of playing through torn ligaments in left ankle Sunday, so QB Christian Ponder probably will be without his best weapon in the passing game once again.
That is good news for a Bears defense that could use some this week.
It might seem that the Vikings are catching the Bears’ defense at the right time given the unit’s injury situation. MLB Brian Urlacher is out with a hamstring strain and might not play again this season. CB Tim Jennings (shoulder), the league leader in interceptions, also could be out Sunday, and Chicago’s “D” sputtered vs. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson last week.
Minnesota’s offense is not the same without Harvin, though, and Ponder, who has 22 starts under his belt, has looked more like part of the problem than the solution lately.
A Packers defense that was playing without two of its star defenders — Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson — did not have much of a problem limiting the Ponder-led passing game in Week 13 in a game in which Ponder was not sacked.
The concern in Minnesota is that Ponder is making the same poor decisions with the ball this season that he did as a rookie last season, and even a weakened Bears defense will be able to make him pay for mistakes if he keeps making them.
When the Vikings visited the Bears in Week 12, Harvin did not play and Ponder hit the skids, completing 51 percent of his passes for only 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception (he also lost a fumble). Ponder took a step back from that performance in his latest outing, when he threw for 119 yards, one TD and two INTs (41.9 passer rating) at Green Bay.
Pressure is rising on Ponder to finish strong in the final quarter of the season and put to rest doubts about whether he is a long-term solution at quarterback. If he plays a clean game and makes a few plays vs. Chicago with Minnesota trying to keep its playoff hopes alive, it could go a long way toward easing concerns about the lack of progress he has shown of late.
With the unimpressive group of Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, Jarius Wright and Devin Aromashodu making up his WR corps, the Vikings could look to attack the middle of the Urlacher-less Bears defense and feature TE Kyle Rudolph. The Bears might anticipate them doing exactly that after Rudolph made five catches for 55 yards and a TD against them in Week 12. They will account for Rudolph and might try to lure Ponder into taking some shots outside and downfield, where he has not been effective.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson keeps producing gaudy numbers in his remarkable season, but it has not been enough for the Vikings to win either of the past two games.
Ponder has to be smarter and more productive Sunday for the outcome to be different vs. the Bears.