Extra Points: Tanking for Teddy takes a Ponderous turn
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - So, who exactly was tanking for Teddy on Sunday?
When the Cleveland Browns traded running back Trent Richardson -- the third overall pick in 2012 -- to the Colts for a No. 1 pick in 2014 earlier in the week, a lot of the media started calling the plan Tanking For Teddy.
As in Louisville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the expected No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft.
After all, trades are rare in the NFL and dealing players who were selected in the top five 17 months out is a non-starter. Sure, your average GM might already know the guy they picked can't play by that point but admitting a mistake by giving up on a high-profile selection is taboo, something Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman in intimately familiar with.
It's a new regime in Cleveland, however, not the one who actually selected Richardson or the team's other first-round choice in '12, quarterback Brandon Weeden.
And the current group, led by CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi, doesn't like either player so they did kind of raise the white flag after an 0-2 start and a thumb injury to Weeden.
Problem is rookie Browns head coach Rod Chudzinski didn't get the memo or at least didn't read it, pulling out all the stops in Cleveland's 31-27 road win over hapless Minnesota and Spielman's biggest mistake, Christian Ponder, on Sunday.
Chud skipped over veteran backup Jason Campbell and inserted third-stringer Brian Hoyer, who threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including a a 7- yard TD pass to Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left, against a Leslie Frazier- led Vikings defense which is so antiquated it belongs in the Smithsonian.
Cameron caught six passes for 66 yards and three scores for Cleveland, which executed successful punt- and field goal-fakes in the contest, while Josh Gordon returned from suspension to haul in 10 balls for 146 yards and a score.
It was a complete meltdown in every aspect for the Vikings, a playoff team from a year ago which probably doesn't need to adopt a tanking philosophy because its own is so adept at losing games.
Make no mistake Hoyer is clearly not an NFL-ready quarterback at this stage and there will be at market correction for him next week when he takes on Cincinnati but the Browns probably could have used Bernie Kosar and still threw for three bills against a Vikings defense which came in allowing 440 yards per game (28th in the NFL) and 32.5 points (30th).
Minnesota's reliance on the cover-2 as its base defense is really starting to be exploited in a league skewed toward offense. Rule changes and increased emphasis on flagging big hits in the secondary have made "playing coverage" in the NFL almost impossible but Frazier seems years behind the curve on the subject.
On paper the Vikings have two very good pass rushing ends in Jared Allen and Brian Robison along with plenty of talent in the back seven. Harrison Smith was a Pro Bowl-level safety as a rookie in 2012, and cornerbacks like Chris Cook, who was injured early on Sunday, Josh Robinson and first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes have the talent and athleticism to excel in a more aggressive scheme.
The team's reliance on zone coverage, however, breeds indecision among young players. Meanwhile, like most young defensive backs, Minnesota's DBs are awful tacklers so even when they do keep things in front of them, it often results in a back or receiver shaking off a tackler or two for a first down.
Frazier's lightly-regarded defensive coordinator Alan Williams also has little feel on gameday.
Take Sunday for example, the Vikings pass rush wasn't getting home in the first half and Hoyer looked like his old mentor, Tom Brady, while shredding the Vikings' base cover-2 looks.
To his credit Williams dialed up the blitz early and often throughout the second half and Hoyer was rendered ineffective until the game-winning drive of course when he reverted back to what is an ugly default setting.
Only when it was too late did Williams go back to aggression and it didn't work as the blitz didn't get home and Smith -- perhaps Williams' only plus player these days -- let Cameron get his outside shoulder for an easy TD.
Right now Frazier and Williams are pounding the square peg in the round hole and even their effective players are starting to lose confidence as they watch the opposition move up and down the field with relative ease.
And we haven't even addressed the elephant in the room when it comes to the Vikings, an organization which has inexplicably married themselves to a quarterback who simply can't play at the NFL level.
At some point this season you may see the first 11-man front in defensive football history as teams devise ways to stop Adrian Peterson with nary a worry over Ponder's ability to beat them with a downfield throw.
A mechanical mess, Ponder is still staring down receivers like a raw rookie 29 starts into his NFL career. He continues to slide out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble instead of stepping up into it and he needs receivers to run virtually perfect routes, otherwise he's always a threat to throw the pick-six.
Despite all of that Frazier and Spielman fall on their swords week after week defending Ponder, hoping against hope that the light will finally go on for the Florida State product.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is more jittery than a cat in a room filled with rocking chairs when calling plays, taking the cautious approach to everything in an attempt to limit Ponder's game-changing mistakes.
And Musgrave's concerns are more than valid. He's already scaled things back to the point that the Vikings offense is more conservative than Sean Hannity yet Ponder continues to give it away at an alarming rate, turning it over on two more occasions against Cleveland.
Musgrave must have called the same roll out to the right side 10 different times against the Browns because Ponder can't execute anything else.
The embattled signal caller's most egregious error on Sunday, however, was a run of the mill incompletion on 3rd-and-4 from the Minnesota 20 with 3 1/2 minutes left. Greg Jennings was wide open on a simple corner route for a first down and Ponder flashed the control of Steve Blass or Rink Ankiel, throwing it high and outside.
An easy conversion was missed and the rest was history. The Browns got the ball back and Hoyer -- in just his second career start -- was everything Ponder wasn't.
"All 22 guys and special teams, we can play better, especially the offense," Ponder understated. "We have to fix it, otherwise we're going to be 0-16."
If Ponder is allowed under center again next week when Minnesota plays the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, the Vikings will be the team tanking for Teddy whether they know it or not.
09/22 18:32:23 ET