Deep trouble: Numbers say Ponder can't throw it deep


(Photo by Gameday Gold)

You won't listen to an expert talk or write about the 2013 Vikings' chances without first mentioning Christian Ponder's name.

The latest observation comes from Football Outsiders, which sums up the Vikings' offensive ineptitude into one paragraph.

It doesn't take a lot of digging to figure out Christian Ponder's main issue as a quarterback: an inability to consistently connect on deep passes. At Florida State, Ponder could neatly be divided into two different prospects. There's the junior who was averaging 8.2 yards per attempt before he separated his throwing shoulder on a vicious hit by Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel, and there's the senior who averaged 6.8 yards per attempt and struggled through constant nagging injuries. Ponder's NFL play has resembled the senior season vintage. We marked the Vikings with 22 completions and five pass interference penalties on Ponder's 77 passes that travelled 15 or more yards past the line of scrimmage ("deep" passes, from here on). That's good for a DVOA of 10.7%, which sounds nice until you realize that the average DVOA on deep passes fluctuates somewhere between 45% and 65% on a seasonal basis. We have pass distance data for the past eight years. In that time Ponder was one of just 41 quarterbacks to post a DVOA below 20% on deep passes in more than 50 attempts.

In simpler terms, Football Outsiders concludes that Ponder is 35%-55% worse than the average NFL QB at completing passes 15+ yards down the field.

Ponder, after struggling much of last season, has struggled this preseason. It's been tough to give a true critique of Ponder because NFL MVP Adrian Peterson hasn't played (outside of two fake handoffs).

"He's a big part of this offense," Ponder said of Peterson, according to the Pioneer Press. "We understand he's ready to go, and once he gets in there against Detroit we won't miss a beat. We wanted to get some other people involved in our offense, and we didn't want to get him hurt."

Ponder didn't have the weapons to be fairly judged last season, either. But now that the core of the Vikings' offense includes Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Peterson, Ponder's true NFL judgement day is soon to come.

Here's how the statistical based website defines DVOA: "DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback."

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