Christian Ponder: Week 2, at Chicago.
Ponder only got sacked once but spent much of the afternoon running for his life, as you could probably infer from the number of times he scrambled. Like the Vikings offense in general, Ponder got off to a very slow start but heated up significantly in the second half. Most of his incompletions were due to strong defense from the Bears and I actually charted more drops by Vikings receivers than inaccurate throws made by Ponder. His lone interception, the pick-six by Tim Jennings in the second quarter, was indeed a well-thrown ball – Jerome Simpson just failed to come back on the ball (kind of a cardinal sin for a deep comeback route) and Jennings made a great break on the ball. The Vikings may have now lost their first two games of the season to division opponents and already face an uphill battle to make it back to the playoffs, but there have at least been sustained stretches of quality play from Ponder in both games. If he plays at this level for the rest of the season, Minnesota won’t be looking for another quarterback in 2014.
Jay Cutler: Week 2, vs. Minnesota.
Cutler’s mechanics through the first two games of the season have been (for him) remarkably consistent and the result is just three incompletions due to errant accuracy thus far in 2013. Both interceptions Sunday were more due to questionable decision-making, an area Marc Trestman may need to wait a little longer for improvement if it ever comes at this point. The thrice-deflected interception by Kevin Williams in the end zone was obviously bad luck, but throwing the ball into traffic in the middle of the end zone opens the door for that type of misfortune to occur. And Cutler forced a deep throw down the field to Brandon Marshall in the third quarter in a mirror image of a play that worked for a 34-yard touchdown in the first – only this time, Harrison Smith had the deep half of the field covered and the ball should never have been thrown.
The sack-fumble in the second quarter by Jared Allen obviously wasn’t ideal ball security, either. But on virtually every other dropback, Cutler was excellent. His touchdown throw to Marshall and the game-winning touchdown toss to Martellus Bennett were both perfectly thrown passes down the field that only a handful of quarterbacks have the arm strength to complete. Through the early going this year, Cutler has greatly benefitted from the arrival of Bennett and the renewed emphasis on using Matt Forte as a receiver – the impact those two players have made in the first two games has lessened the burden on Marshall and shifted Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett to the complementary roles they’re better suited for. Cutler and the rest of the Bears offense have proven that they’re able to satisfactorily move the ball down the field at home in Trestman’s new offense. Now two road games at Pittsburgh and Detroit will test how the new system works in hostile environments.