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Updated: September 15th, 2013 7:50am
Zulgad: Bill Musgrave can choose to show today that Ponder is his guy

Zulgad: Bill Musgrave can choose to show today that Ponder is his guy

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Only one game into the season, the Minnesota Vikings could provide a real tip as to how dedicated they are to making sure Christian Ponder remains their quarterback.

Ponder's poor performance in a season-opening loss at Detroit last weekend was a topic of great discussion, especially since many (including the Vikings) had been hoping he would resemble the guy who played very well in his final three games of 2012 and not look like the quarterback who struggled in the middle of the year.

Ponder, though, completed 18 of 28 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and a below average 63.1 passer rating in a 34-24 defeat.

The Lions gave up a 78-yard touchdown run to Adrian Peterson on the Vikings' first play from scrimmage and then did everything in their power to slow Peterson. Mission accomplished.

The Pro Bowl running back gained only 15 yards on his final 17 carries.

The Lions'defensive approach – which will be a common one again this year – meant this was Ponder's game to take control.

He did no such thing.

As has been so often the case, part of the issue was that Ponder seemed to have his confidence shaken and he never recovered. Ponder's shortcomings include the fact that if things don't go well early he seems to begin over thinking things and slowing himself down.

Pocket awareness means reacting quickly. But there are times Ponder appears incapable.

This is where Sunday's game plan against Chicago comes into play.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave proved in the Vikings' playoff loss last season at Green Bay that his desire is to run the offensive scheme he wants and not worry about who is playing quarterback. It's something Brad Childress was guilty of on many occasions during his time as Vikings coach.

How else do you explain Musgrave using read-option a few times with Joe Webb early, something that seemed to be working, but then deciding it would be best to go away from that and make Webb run the offense as Musgrave felt it should look?

If the Vikings really want Ponder to succeed on Sunday, Musgrave won't be allowed to run what he wants. He will have been told to draw up a game plan that features Peterson (duh) but also plays to Ponder's strengths.

This isn't rocket science either. What we're saying is that if Musgrave and the Vikings want to see Ponder establish something, the best way to do it would be to make sure he completes a few high-percentage passes early. That he's allowed to roll right, something he's good at doing, and use his feet.

Targeting tight end Kyle Rudolph would be a good start. Getting rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson more than five snaps, the number he had in Detroit, and letting him create off some short routes might not be a bad idea.

Ponder has athletic ability that when utilized can make him look like a decent NFL quarterback. Not great, but decent.

If Musgrave doesn't care about how Ponder does, then he should have the wide receivers run quick out routes. On these, an insecure Ponder is sure to stare down his target and telegraph a pass to the opportunistic Bears defense. Basically, it is Ponder playing the role of Tarvaris Jackson.

Of course, what's interesting about these scenarios is there are likely many Vikings fans who are hoping Musgrave does keep the entire playbook open and rolls the dice.

The feeling among these folks is that Ponder isn't the long-term answer at quarterback and the sooner Matt Cassel takes over the better. Would Ponder be removed if the Vikings start 0-2 and he struggles again Sunday?

Nobody can answer that question.

What we do know is that Musgrave could attempt to give his quarterback some help in the confidence department on Sunday. That would be a good idea for those at Winter Park who want to see Ponder succeed.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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