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Updated: September 18th, 2013 11:11pm
Zulgad: Vikings show lack of faith in Ponder's decision-making ability

Zulgad: Vikings show lack of faith in Ponder's decision-making ability

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

A lack of faith in Christian Ponder's abilities appear to exist both inside and outside the walls of Winter Park these days.

How else do you explain the fact the Minnesota Vikings quarterback approached the line of scrimmage last Sunday facing a third-and-goal from the Chicago Bears' 4-yard line with any decision-making abilities taken out of his hands?

Ponder admitted as much Wednesday, when asked if he had the option to check from a run to a pass on the play. "No, I did not," he said.

In four words, Ponder spoke volumes about how offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave views him.

The play call, which has been much discussed this week, was for running back Adrian Peterson to get the ball. Peterson is an all-world player, but when everyone in the stadium knows you are going to touch the ball in that situation it makes life difficult.

And the Bears made Peterson's life extremely difficult.

He went to the left side of the line and was stuffed for no gain. Blair Walsh then kicked a 22-yard field goal to give the Vikings a six-point lead with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left.

Minnesota failed to retain that advantage and lost the game on Jay Cutler's 16-yard scoring pass to tight end Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds remaining.

While it was interesting Ponder acknowledged he did not have the option to change to a pass, he did play the role of good employee when asked about the play itself.

"We have the best running back in the league," Ponder said. "Again, we wanted points on the board. We didn't want anything crazy to happen. We wanted to keep the clock running or force them to take a timeout. So if we incomplete a ball, the clock stops and they don't need to take a timeout."

"You know, unfortunately, Monday morning quarterback, it's easy to look back and think that we could've done things differently, but I wouldn't expect that if it happens this week that we would change that. I mean, Adrian can make plays all the time, and he does a great job of it."

But here's what is confusing about Musgrave's decision not to allow Ponder to have the option to check from a run to a pass. Despite all of Ponder's shortcomings as a quarterback, the one thing he has going for him is intelligence.

So why not allow him to approach the line of scrimmage, study the defensive alignment, and then adjust accordingly. We're talking about making a check, not an audible. An audible would give Ponder the ability to change everything, a check just means he has options and can use the best one as he sees fit.

By giving Ponder no real option other than to hand the ball to Peterson, Musgrave showed zero faith in his quarterback and ends up looking no different than when Brad Childress was making sure everything was done his way. If the Vikings aren't going to utilize Ponder's brain power why are they playing him?

This is in no way saying that Ponder is a better option than Peterson, but the ball wasn't at the 1-yard line, meaning this was no sure thing, and one has to think that going play-action to Peterson, rolling Ponder right and then having him throw toward tight end Kyle Rudolph in the end zone would have made sense.

Especially since Ponder had overcome a terrible first half (six of 14 for 81 yards with a touchdown that went to Rudolph and an interception that was returned for a touchdown) to play a very respectable second half (10 of 16 for 146 yards.)

So why not free up Ponder to make a decision?

There is a chance the answer comes from the play before Peterson was stuffed. That was a second-and-4 from the Chicago 4.

On the play, Ponder does play fake to Peterson, rolls right and overthrows Rudolph in the end zone. The tight end was covered by Bears linebacker James Anderson.

The play call was not a bad one, even if the execution was off.

Was a replica of that play worth trying again on third down? Perhaps it wasn't, but taking away the freedom from the quarterback to at least assess the situation and make a decision doesn't exactly speak volumes for the confidence that exists in his ability to do his job effectively.

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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