VIKINGS: Sizing up Sunday Ponder-vs.-Newton matchup

ST. PAUL Christian Ponder got an up-close look at Cam Newton's physical prowess over the summer while the two worked out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Ponder, the Vikings' starting quarterback, is an adequate athlete for a quarterback, runs t...

Ponder gives Bears cornerback stiff arm
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) gives a stiff arm to Chicago Bears cornerback D.J. Moore (30) during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. The Bears won 39-10. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


Christian Ponder got an up-close look at Cam Newton's physical prowess over the summer while the two worked out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Ponder, the Vikings' starting quarterback, is an adequate athlete for a quarterback, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and can scramble for first downs, when necessary. But he quickly learned his speed paled in comparison to what Newton can do with his 6-foot-5, 248-pound frame.

"With how big he is and how fast he is, he really is a physical freak," said the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Ponder of the Carolina Panthers' starter. "I'd like to say I'm as athletic as him, but probably not."

Their distinctly unique styles will be on display when the rookies meet again Sunday in Charlotte, Ponder as the poised signal caller with a penchant for throwing on the move, Newton with the ability to outrun defensive backs or use his explosive arm to throw past them.


The players intersect as their teams are rebuilding around them, absorbing the pain of a combined 3-11 record between them while watching a promising future unfold each week.

Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, commanded the starting job from Week 1 and hasn't disappointed despite nine interceptions in seven games.

Newton is running into the record books with seven rushing touchdowns, tying the most by a rookie quarterback since the NFL merger in 1970. He wins with his arm, too. His 2,103 yards passing ranks fourth in the league, behind the NFL's elite - Tom Brady (2,163), Aaron Rodgers (2,372) and Drew Brees (2,477).

Under Newton's watch, the Panthers have more offensive touchdowns through seven games (18) than all of last year (17).

"He's an outstanding talent coming out of college, and I can't say I'm really surprised how he's played," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I really can't. He's going to be a great quarterback in the National Football League."

The Vikings opted to groom their rookie from the practice field while 13-year veteran Donovan McNabb began the season as the starter. But the experiment fizzled through six games as McNabb struggled to convert third downs and failed to generate big gains downfield.

For all Ponder's struggles with accuracy in his debut Sunday against the Packers -- 13 of 32 passing, 40.6 percent -- he excelled in the areas in which McNabb struggled. Ponder completed 56 percent of his third-down throws and averaged 16.8 yards per completion. Twelve of his completions went for first downs.

"I call him Ponderosa. That's my guy, man," Newton told local reporters about Ponder. "He's a good guy, and his work ethic is unbelievable."


That Ponder responded to two third-quarter interceptions with 96 passing yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter injected life into the Vikings' offense.

"He showed that mental toughness that you have to have to succeed in our league," Frazier said. "That was displayed in college as well. He had some tough times, but he bounced back and he didn't seem to get (confused) by difficult situations. That's something you can't measure necessarily through a 40 (yard dash time) or vertical jump at the combine. That's something internal that a guy has to have."

Though Ponder lacks the experience of Newton, below is a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two quarterbacks, with help from Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson.


If there's one area in which Ponder can gain an early advantage, it's here. Newton's 60.3 completion rate can be deceiving.

"Every now and then his passes won't go anywhere near the receiver, for no apparent reason," Monson said.

Whether Ponder can develop consistent accuracy is uncertain, but Monson noted Ponder "made more good throws than bad throws" against Green Bay, missing badly on only a few passes.

Arm strength


Ponder has adequate arm strength, but Newton carries a "serious arm" that's hard to compete with, Monson said.

"He can throw a ball 45 yards without setting his feet," he said.

But as Ponder jokingly noted at his Wednesday news conference, the Vikings trust Ponder to go downfield "because I have a rocket arm."


There's really no contest here, to no fault of Ponder. Newton has the elusiveness to dodge linebackers and the physical strength to fend off linemen.

Ponder can escape the pocket and throw on the run. He just can't break tackles the way Newton can.

"He's looking like a man out there," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said of Newton.



Both quarterbacks are willing to take risks, resulting in a fair share of interceptions. The two have combined for 11 interceptions through eight games, but in return they give their teams an aggressive vertical attack.

Carolina and Minnesota both have balanced running games that help keep defenses honest.

"We know that's going to have to be part of our game, especially when they are putting seven in the box," Ponder said. "We're going to have to take pressure off the run game and put pressure on the defense that has to cover the pass. Big plays are important to us."


This is another area where Ponder, over time, might develop an edge over Newton.

Vikings coaches noted how Ponder was unfazed on the sidelines after his two interceptions, a clear sign the spotlight wasn't too big for him.

But Newton flourishes in this area as well.

"He's shown the ability to make difficult throws at crucial times," Monson said.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

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