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Updated: October 15, 2013 7:21AM
There are a lot of good things about the Vikings. Of course, there’s all-world running back Adrian Peterson. But there’s also a solid, underrated defense, a star defensive end in Jared Allen and some emerging young players on both sides of the ball.
But something is missing.
“The thing about [Christian] Ponder is that he’s got Adrian Peterson helping him out, to take off the pressure,” Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea said. “If Ponder was a great quarterback, they would do really, really well.”
But that’s not a knock on Ponder by Paea. He’s one of multiple Bears players who said they’ve seen an improved Ponder on film.
But it’s the truth. The Vikings are counting on Ponder to get much better in his third season as the Bears hope coach Marc Trestman and Co. can harness Jay Cutler’s franchise-quarterback-like talents.
It’s possible that the final playoff spot in the NFC comes down to the Vikings and the Bears again. With Cutler over Ponder, the Bears seem not only to have a decided edge for their game Sunday against the Vikings but also for the season with both teams coming off 10-6 campaigns.
Unlike last year, when the Vikings advanced over the Bears, Cutler is in better hands. It seems more likely that Trestman will be able to exploit Cutler’s talents in the pass-happy NFL than the Vikings will be able to lean on Ponder.
In a way, Ponder’s job might actually be more on the line than Cutler’s — and Cutler’s contract expires after this season. For all of Cutler’s critics out there, Ponder’s place in Minnesota should be reminder that things could always be worse. Ponder doesn’t have to be perfect, but he has to be much better than his three-interception performance in the Vikings’ 34-24 loss against the Lions last week.
“[Ponder’s] gotten better,” Bears safety Major Wright said. “[But] he’s just a developing quarterback. “
There are a lot of similarities between the Bears and Vikings. Both teams have solid veterans and have had an influx of youth. They have similar defensive schemes and difference-making defensive ends. Running back is a strength for both, and they each have big, pass-catching tight ends in Kyle Rudolph and Martellus Bennett who wreak havoc over the middle.
Cutler also can relate to Ponder — and not just because they have famous TV wives, Samantha Ponder and Kristin Cavallari.
“Everyone has got to win right now,” said Cutler, a first-round pick as was Ponder. “It’s just kind of the league we’re in. There’s no real leeway for quarterbacks for a couple years to learn the system. You’ve got to do it now, especially him coming off getting to the playoffs last year and leading that team and A.P. playing the way he did.
“They were expected to come out and put up, probably, some big numbers and be successful. But he’ll bounce back. That’s just the team that they are. They’ve got good coaches. They’ve got good players. We’ll get their best punch Sunday.”
The Bears do see some progress in Ponder. Paea said the goal is keep Ponder in the pocket, to frustrate him there and not allow him to extend drives with his feet. In that regard, Wright said Ponder is performing better within the pocket.
“We’ve got to hit him,” Paea said.
It’s on the Bears to continue to make Ponder look bad. Going 2-0 and making the Vikings 0-2 could become an insurmountable difference.
“The media, people kind of jump on [Ponder] and harp on him, but you forget, they were a playoff team last year,” linebacker D.J. Williams said. “He has a strong arm. He can make all the throws. It’s up to us to distract him and put guys in his face and try and make him make those mistakes.”