How Vikings can sustain success

Christian Ponder will need to step up for the Vikings to take the next step forward. Sam Riche/Getty Images

Try to figure out how the following group of quarterbacks is linked together: Joe Ferguson, Jeff Kemp, Scott Mitchell, Kyle Boller, Vince Young and Christian Ponder.

The jury is still out on Ponder, but otherwise this is like a casting call over a 30-year range for "The Extremely Average NFL Quarterbacks Club." You can't call any a disaster -- after all, to even become a full-time starter in the NFL pushes you above that level. But none of the above QBs ever maintained (or have yet to maintain) a level of passing success that could be considered elite, or close to it. Of course, plenty of QBs can say that. What really gives this group a common thread is that it consists of primary starters for teams on which a running back reached 2,000 yards in a season. Ferguson handed it off to O.J. Simpson in 1973 and, 40 seasons later, Ponder became the latest addition to the club while handing the ball to Adrian Peterson. And a couple of other things tie these QBs together during those seasons:

1. All their teams had a winning record during that 2,000-yard season.

2. During that season, none of these QBs was even near the NFL lead in performance or efficiency.

The 2,000-yard seasons and the QBs who were along for the ride confirm a lot about what we know about remarkable rushing totals -- they happen when teams can get leads, then hand the ball off to hold onto them. Minnesota in 2012 is a perfect case. Last year, the Vikings won 10 games, but in all 10 wins they entered the fourth quarter with the lead. But like last year's Vikings, none of these teams even sniffed a Super Bowl, which also confirms something we know about teams with average or worse QBs: For a team to become great, at some point the QB has to make plays.

There's one QB who belongs on the list as well, and it tells us a lot about what will be needed for the Vikings to take the next step from a winning team with a great running game and a pretty good defense to a great team. Terrell Davis also ran for 2,000 yards, and in 1998, led by John Elway in the playoffs, his Broncos won the Super Bowl. The thing is, that wasn't a great Elway. It was Elway's final season, and he missed four starts with injuries and threw for his lowest yardage total in 15 years. But he remained a major threat, and the Broncos relied on that during their playoff run.

If AP stays healthy, he will again do major damage in 2013. But if the Vikings are to take the next step as a team, and also limit the exposure of their running back, it's on Ponder to become a true threat and take on a greater level of responsibility for the team's success.