COMMENTARY | Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is the most scrutinized player on the team, and with good reason. Last season, Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings were carried by MVP running back Adrian Peterson to a 10-6 record.
Now entering his third season in the league, Christian Ponder will need to improve on a mediocre 2012 season. Ponder finished the 2012 season ranking 21st in quarterback rating, just ahead of division rival Matthew Stafford.
Here are three things Christian Ponder must do against the Detroit Lions to give the Vikings a chance to leave Ford Field with a victory.
Have Confidence / Trust Receivers
For the first time in his career, Christian Ponder will be surrounded by a legitimate receiving corps. Rather than throwing behind the line of scrimmage to Percy Harvin, Ponder will be able to work with new weapons and a revamped receiving corps. With the new receivers, confidence is at an all time high for the young quarterback.
"I'm just fully confident in what I'm doing," Ponder said in his first press conference of the regular season. "With the pieces that we brought in around me this year, it's going to make my job easier."
Last season, the Vikings had a less than stellar group of receivers and no real threats for Ponder to work with outside running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikings, led by general manager Rick Spielman, made it a priority to upgrade the receiver position before the start of the 2013 season. Upgrade they did. The Vikings ended up drafting one of the most talented receiver in the 2013 draft -- Cordarrelle Patterson -- as well as signing veteran receiver Greg Jennings.
With the offensive weapons equipped, Ponder has to trust his receivers, but more importantly, himself. He has the ability to make all NFL caliber throws, now he has to prove that he can do it consistently.
If the Vikings want to walk out of Detroit with a quick road win, Ponder will have to be a competent game manager. By no means do the Vikings need him to throw for an obscene amount of yards or heave the ball down field. Instead, the Vikings need him to take care of the ball, be a leader of the offense, and make timely throws to open receivers. He will still need to take his shots, but if the play isn't there, he will need to either throw the ball away or make something happen with his feet.
In the Vikings' third preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, Ponder threw an interception and lost a costly fumble. The interception was purely on Stephen Burton, who randomly stopped in the middle of his route. But the lost fumble was due to the unawareness of Ponder while in the pocket. In order to come out on top against the Lions it will be important for Ponder to protect the football and limit the turnovers, especially against the ferocious pass rush of the Detroit Lions.
Ponder did an exceptional job In the two games against the Lions last season as he committed no turnovers, but struggled in the preseason as he fumbled twice and also threw two interceptions.
Convert on Third Down
One of the biggest keys to the game for the Vikings will be converting on third down situations. In the 2012 season Ponder ranked 13th in the league in third down conversion percentage (38.98%). If the Vikings plan on leaving Ford Field with a season-opening win they will need to establish Peterson early and often, and convert on third down, sustaining as many long drives as possible.
In the two games against the Lions last season, the Vikings converted on a measly 7-of-27 third down attempts (25.9%). Luckily, thanks to special teams, the Vikings walked away with two wins against an underachieving Lions team. Both the Lions and Vikings have made positive steps in improving their rosters this offseason, meaning Ponder and the Vikings must convert at a better rate on third down this season as winning the special teams battle alone won't equate to a win.
The Detroit Lions' defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, will be ready to feast on any given opportunities, especially any third-and-long situations. Ponder will need to stay poised in the pocket and take some shots in order to move the chains.
Dennis Parsons is a Minnesota-area sportswriter covering the Minnesota Vikings for Vikings Central. He previously covered all Minnesota professional sports teams for Minnesota Sports News Nightly . You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @Parsons_VC.
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