There is no question that the play of Christian Ponder was one of the major reasons that the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 to secure a playoff berth and a rematch in Green Bay six days later. Ponder threw for a season-high three touchdowns, did not throw an interception, and set a career high for a single-game passer rating at 120.2. Now that's all well and good, but is it truly a sign that he has stepped up his game, or was his performance a product of a friendly environment in the Metrodome?
Ponder's splits statistics indicate that is more likely to be the latter.
Here are Ponder's passing stats for the entire season:
That's not a spectacular line, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, his passer rating ranks 21st in the NFL, right in between fellow NFC North QBs Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. Now let's examine Ponder's stats at home vs. on the road:
Clearly, Ponder has been performing much better at home than on the road. The team's record is a reflection of this, as the Vikings are 7-1 at home this year compared to 3-5 on the road. Going off his passer rating, he's performing at a Tony Romo or Matt Schaub level at home - certainly those are quarterbacks who are successful and strong reasons why their teams were in contention for the playoffs. But on the road, Ponder regresses to Jake Locker-Brandon Weeden level, a pace far inferior to what Vikings fans would hope for.
Now that we know that he plays significantly better in the Metrodome than out, let's take a deeper look to see if the elements affect Ponder. He played four games outdoors this season: week 6 in Washington, week 9 in Seattle, week 12 in Chicago, and week 13 in Green Bay. Those four games see an even more unpleasant set of statistics for Ponder. In this case, let's look at the average numbers per game:
That's even more brutal than the home/road splits, and the Vikings' 0-4 record outdoors is no doubt related to Ponder's performance. His indoor rating is almost identical to his home rating, indicating that road conditions aren't necessarily affecting him as long as he's playing inside. It appears to be the outdoor conditions that are getting the best of him, as he is asked to throw more often and much less effective when he does. That passer rating is so bad that the last QB to put up a passer rating below Ponder's outdoor rating while still throwing enough passes to be eligible was Jimmy Clausen in 2010 for the Panthers. That's just awful.
Hopefully for Packers fans, Ponder's outdoor struggles will continue on Saturday night. I for one am hoping for 20 degrees with snow and wind.
Note that for the purposes of this study, I assumed Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and Reliant Stadium in Houston to be indoors, even though they technically have retractable roofs. I'm only concerned about situations where the elements are in play, and both of those stadiums are essentially "climate-controlled" for the sake of this examination.
Also, I need to say thanks to @BadgerNoonan for the inspiration on this look at the indoor/outdoor splits.