Ponder reverts to old form with turnovers


Ponder reverts to old form with turnovers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Christian Ponder's decision-making, accuracy and ability to avoid the big mistake were three of the biggest keys to Minnesota's surprising 4-1 start to the season.

Along the way he even got away with a few shaky throws, thanks to a butter-fingered defensive back or a well-timed flag thrown by a replacement referee.

Both his magic and his luck ran out against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, and now the young Vikings quarterback has to regroup after two straight weeks of turnover-filled performances.

Ponder went the first four games without an interception, but has thrown four in the past two outings.

The Redskins returned one for a touchdown on Sunday, and he also fumbled a ball deep in Minnesota territory that led to another score in the Vikings' 38-26 loss in Washington.

``It's disappointing, for sure,'' Ponder said after the game. ``You never want to have those situations, but you just have to forget about it.''

One thing Vikings coaches are urging fans to remember is that Ponder is only in his second season, and first full one as the starter. They know that there are going to be days like that one as part of Ponder's learning curve. They just hope that they get fewer and farther between as the season goes on.

``No doubt about it, he's in his second season,'' coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. ``There' going to be some growing pains along the way. We know that. This is a part of the process with him, part of the evolution of being an NFL starter. And we grow as a team, he'll grow. But things like what happened yesterday could happen as he continues to gain more experience.''

Ponder completed 35 of 52 passes for 352 yards, two TDs, two interceptions and a fumble lost to the Redskins, a return to the error-prone performances he put up as a rookie.

His fumble set up a Redskins touchdown on the very next play and a poorly thrown ball in the fourth quarter was intercepted to thwart any chance of another late-game comeback.

The defeat wasn't all on his shoulders, of course. The Redskins put plenty of pressure on Ponder and had their safeties crowd the line of scrimmage to concentrate on stopping Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin while virtually ignoring the possibility of getting beat deep.

With speedster Jerome Simpson out with a back ailment, the Vikings were missing the field stretcher to keep defenses honest. Harvin is dynamic but does most of his damage underneath while Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu have had difficulty gaining separation down the field.

``We have some things in place,'' Frazier said. ``Now it's a matter of can we hit some of those big plays down the field? But as people continue to creep toward the line of scrimmage, you definitely want to be able to take some shots down the field.''

Simpson has been dealing with a back issue that causes numbness in his leg for about a week now. He said on Monday that he was surprised to be deactivated against the Redskins and that he expects to be on the field when the Vikings host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

``Me being a competitor I always want to play the game, play in the game, so I just have to go with his decision and what he thinks is best for the team,'' said Simpson, who missed the first three games because of a suspension.

Frazier said Simpson will be monitored in practice throughout the week before a decision is made.

``He's a competitor, which is what you appreciate about him,'' Frazier said. ``He wanted to be out there. But we'll see how it goes this week. He's a competitor. He wants to play. He wants to help our team win and we'll evaluate it this week.''

The last time the Vikings lost, they gathered themselves and reeled off three straight victories. They expect to rebound just as nicely after their second defeat and have faith that Ponder will start to turn things around as well.

``They did some things up front that we kind of practiced the opposite,'' Harvin said. ``They switched up a few things on us. So it clouded what he was seeing a little bit. At the same time, we all take responsibility. We just want to play a clean game.''


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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Safety

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Safety

Training camp opens in three days, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.


Additions: Troy Apke (drafted in the fourth round)
Departures: DeAngelo Hall (not re-signed)

Starters: D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson
Other roster locks: Apke
On the bubble: Deshazor Everett, Fish Smithson

How the safeties compare

To the rest of the NFL: The Redskins’ safeties have been a sore spot ever since the tragic loss of Sean Taylor in 2007, continually ranking as the worst units in the league year after year. That started to change last year with the signing of Swearinger and the drafting of Nicholson. They were major contributors to one of the league’s better defenses until injuries struck. Their depth is questionable as will be discussed below but the Redskins have a solid safety tandem at the top of the depth chart if they stay healthy. 

To the 2017 Redskins: This depends on Nicholson’s health and how quickly Apke can get ready to contribute. The rookie’s speed could add a dimension that the defensive backfield doesn’t have but he has a lot of rough edges to smooth out. If he can round into form and play in some three-safety formations, the unit could be notably better than last year’s. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: By now, most of you have heard of Jay Gruden saying that Nicholson is the defensive equivalent of Jordan Reed because he changes what they can do when he is out there. His speed and tackling set him apart when he is out there. But there are legitimate concerns about his ability to stay on the field after a shoulder injury and a concussion kept him out of half of the games last year. If he can play, Nicholson has Pro Bowl potential. 

Most to prove: The Redskins are Swearinger’s fourth NFL team in five years in the NFL. He was cut by the Texans and the Bucs. The Cardinals put him on their practice squad for a week during the season before promoting him to the 53-man roster. Arizona made little effort to retain him when he became a free agent last year. Swearinger played well in Washington last year but he didn’t get much recognition. He wants to take the next step and show the teams that let him go that they made a big mistake. 

Rookie watch: We touched on Apke above. Some questioned the draft pick, which seemed to be based on the combine stopwatch that measured his 4.34 time in the 40. If Nicholson is healthy, Apke’s development will be an interesting side story. Should one of the starters miss multiple games, his ability to perform in the NFL will be critical. 

Bottom line:  There will be a lot of competition behind the starters. Apke seems safe because of his status as a fourth-round pick. The team values Everett as a special teams contributor and he started eight games last year. They also like Smithson and they brought him up to the 53-man roster late last year to make sure they could retain his rights. And Quin Blanding, an undrafted rookie who had a stellar career at Virginia, could work himself into the conversation for a roster spot if he performs in Richmond. If Nicholson plays, the outlook at safety could be much better in 2018 than it has been in over a decade. 


Gruden’s quote on Nicholson’s effect on the defense:

Montae I think is really an important piece. Very similar to the way Jordan Reed is on offense, Montae is on defense. He can cover so much ground.

2018 position outlook series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler


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Carmelo Anthony to sign with Rockets on minimum contract, report says

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Carmelo Anthony to sign with Rockets on minimum contract, report says

After over a week of speculation, it appears that Carmelo Anthony will indeed sign with the Houston Rockets, as a new report from the New York Times has confirmed Anthony's plans.

Marc Stein notes that Anthony will join the Rockets once he clears waivers and will sign a veteran minimum contract. Anthony will make about $1.8 million from the Rockets on top of the $27.9 million he received in his buyout from the Atlanta Hawks. Anthony was first traded from Oklahoma City to Atlanta.

Anthony teaming up with James Harden and Chris Paul is big news, though his acquisition does carry some risks. The Rockets had a good thing going last year, as they finished one win short of a berth in the NBA Finals. They were up 3-2 on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and lost the last two games after Paul got injured.

Adding Anthony, it would seem, could help push them over the top. But Anthony isn't the player he once was and there are questions about whether his style is conducive to winning. Anthony has traditionally been at his best when he's a large focus of the offense and he won't be in Houston.

Plus, the Rockets let some important players walk at Anthony's position. Trevor Ariza signed with the Suns and Luc Mbah Moute went to the Clippers. There will likely be a noticeable drop-off on defense.

There is a chance, however, that Anthony thrives in Houston's system. Head coach Mike D'Antoni has set up a structure of isolation ball while spacing the floor with three-point shooters. Anthony could succeed if he can make his possessions count and score more efficiently with less shots. Last year he wasn't able to do that, as he shot just 40.4 percent from the field, but he also wasn't operating in as lethal an offense as the Rockets.

Anthony going to the Rockets represents an interesting point in the career of a guy who will someday be in the Hall of Fame. This should be the best team he's ever played on and if things go right, he could rewrite some narratives about his inability to win in the playoffs.

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