Ponder under pressure? Not often, not good

Surprisingly, Christian Ponder hasn't faced the blitz as often as many quarterbacks this year, but that's been changing lately – for good reason. Inside is a look at the numbers and the reaction from him and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Christian Ponder might not get blitzed too often against a Seattle team that hasn't been as aggressive sending extra pass rushers, and that's a good thing for the Vikings.

Ponder has been blitzed only 9.1 times per game on average, which, surprisingly, is fifth-least among the top 20 rated quarterbacks in the NFL this year. His performance under those conditions, however, is 17th among the top 20.

"That's going to be part of the process with Christian and our whole offense is getting better when they blitz, and when they don't blitz completing a high rate of passes and making some plays," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "That's part of the deal, part of the process."

Overall, Ponder is the 16th-rated passer in the league, completing 65.3 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions for an 85.8 rating. All of those numbers drop, however, when he faces the blitz. When he is blitzed, Ponder has completed 54.8 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a 75.3 rating.

The more Ponder struggles against the blitz, the more he is likely to see it and it increased in the last two games against blitz-reliant defenses like Tampa Bay and Arizona.

"We've been seeing a lot of pressure. I've got to do a better job of getting the ball out of my hands. I think teams have realized that," he said. "My biggest thing is I can't take a negative play. We would rather throw the ball away and get it out of my hands than take a sack on first down or throw an interception. We're always looking to have positive plays and limit the negative plays. We're going to get things clicking. We faced two great defenses the past two weeks and obviously we're going to face another one this week, but we're going to keep improving."

Ponder is right about getting the ball out of his hands quicker. Despite being the fifth-least blitzed quarterback among the top 20, he is the only one that has been sacked 10 times on blitzes.

The counter to beating the blitz is simple, Musgrave said.

"Make plays in the run and pass game. That would be what you want to do to beat that," Musgrave said. "I think they (Tampa Bay) blitzed about as much as other people did. We hit them a couple times, they definitely hit us a couple of times."

Musgrave admitted that the Vikings' next opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, don't blitz as often as most defenses.

Seven of the top 20 rated quarterbacks have a passer rating above 100 when blitzed. Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III leads the way with a 133.1 rating while facing the blitz, which is one of the reasons he is blitzed the least of any of those quarterback, an average of only 5.1 times per game. (Just ask the Vikings what happens when blitzing him, as he rattled off a game-clinching 76-yard touchdown run when the Vikings tried to blitz him.) The 49ers' Alex Smith is next-best against the blitz with a rating of 123.4 while being blitzed an average of nine times a game, while the Packers' Aaron Rodgers is third with a 121.7 rating while facing 11 blitzes per game.

Musgrave said Ponder is doing well at keeping his confidence up despite his struggles lately. Ponder has thrown seven interceptions in the last four games.

"I think he's on top of that. I think he's a terrific athlete, as we know, and this process right now that we're going through is definitely a difficult stage and we're working as hard and as fast as we can to get through this stage, but it's part of the process of a young QB and a young offense," Musgrave said.

Musgrave has been through the development of a young quarterback before as the position coach when the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan in 2008. Musgrave was in Atlanta through 2010 and saw Ryan improve his touchdown totals every year and improve his passer rating in every year since his second season. This year, Ryan is third in passer rating at 103.0 and has a nearly identical rating when blitzed. Like Ponder, he hasn't been blitzed much (on average, 9.6 times per game), but he has a 103.7 rating under those conditions.

"You've got to keep working," Musgrave said of what he learned from helping develop Ryan. "You've got to keep working hard and remain focused on the opponent each and every week and work as hard as you can and come out the other end better off for it."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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