After watching the Vikings offense struggle against a poor Chicago Bears defense, there was the obvious frustration with the consistent check down passes thrown by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
There could be several causes for this stale offense; is the offense losing at the line of scrimmage? Do the receivers struggle to gain separation in the secondary? Do defenses not respect the Viking’s ability to run the football, essentially selling out to stopping the pass?
Although all of these issues likely contribute to a quarterback struggling at times, I wanted to see if Bridgewater was leaving plays on the field. I went back and took a look at 10 plays from last week’s game in Chicago in hopes of diagnosing the lack of offensive production.
Play 1: 3rd & 14 @ Chicago 4
Bridgewater checks down to McKinnon for7 yards. This play is designed to only allow safe, short throws in hopes of remaining in field goal territory. A sack would have likely taken theVikings out of field goal territory, therefore the drop back is quick, as is Bridgewater’s decision as to where to go with the ball. You’ll notice, the only route that goes beyond the sticks is Jarius Wright’s go route across the top of the screen. This isn’t an example of Bridgewater panicking and checking down, this is the only play to be made.
Play 2: 3rd & 7 @ Minnesota 41
The Bears initially show double A gap pressure, but that shouldn’t be Bridgewater’s final read. The Bears do bring a delayed A gap blitz, something Viking fans should be familiar with as we’ve seen Anthony Barr run similar blitzes frequently. Teddy hits on the crossing pattern short of the first down, but does miss two open receivers crossing the middle of the field well past the first down markers. Some additional patience in the pocket would pay dividends here, as I’m sure Bridgewater would have seen the open receivers down field. I don’t necessarily blame Bridgewater for his accelerated internal clock as he’s been knocked around enough to earn the right to make his reads quickly.
Play 3: 3rd & 7 deep in Minnesota territory
The ball needs to come out quickly when stacked against your own goal line. Bridgewater does miss a receiver running open as he crosses the 20 yard line. Bridgewater doesn’t have the cleanest pocket to work with, but looks to have the space to climb and drive the ball deep to the middle of the field.
When looking back at these plays, I’m really surprised and happy that offensive coordinator Norv Turner is giving Bridgewater the opportunity to throw the ball down field. He’s not necessarily catering the playbook to a rookie quarterback. As a result, Bridgewater will have his struggles at times, but will learn a lot from these situations. You can’t exactly hate the decision Bridgewater makes, the last thing you want is a turnover deep in your own territory. Bridgewater chooses to live to play another down.
Play 4: 1st & 10 @ Minnesota 31
Teddy makes a quick read here and does throw the ball down field. If you watch on the bottom of your screen, you’ll see Cordarrelle Patterson runs a heck of a route and does a nice job completely turning the corner back around. However, by the time he makes his final break, Bridgewater has already thrown the ball to the opposite sideline. I’m not sure Bridgewater looks Patterson’s way, but if he had, he would have an easy throw to the sideline for a 1st down. Instead, Bridgewater nearly throws a pick to the opposite sideline.
Play 5: 3rd & 7ish @ Minnesota 2
This might be my favorite throw by Bridgewater from the entire game. After seeing something at the line of scrimmage, Bridgewater makes an adjustment to the play call and connects with Charles Johnson on a slant pattern for a 1st down. I love the confidence Bridgewater had at the line of scrimmage, the confident throw and accurate window he fits the ball into. When can he trust the wide receiver to be in the right place, Bridgewater is a much more confident quarterback.
Here, Bridgewater drives off his back leg and throws a really nice pass to Johnson. These are the throws the good quarterbacks make regularly, but the adjustment Bridgewater makes at the line of scrimmage is encouraging. He’s trusting himself, which is something we always wondered if Christian Ponder did enough of. Deep in your own territory, I like the guts it takes to make this adjustment and throw from a rookie quarterback.
Play 6: 3rd & 7 @ Chicago 26
The score is currently 14-10 and the Vikings had created some momentum offensively and are threatening to score in Bears territory. The internal clock might have gotten to Bridgewater yet again, as he chooses to connect with Jennings for 4 yards. If a bit more patient, Bridgewater would have seen Charles Johnson break open on a corner route near the 10 yard line.
Play 7: 1st & 10 @ Minnesota 40
Bridgewater connects with Patterson for 17 yards. Bridgewater looks decisive with his throw, but Patterson makes the play happen here with a nice catch on a high pass. The Vikings pick up nice yards here, but Bridgewater misses Greg Jennings coming open across the middle of the field with room to run, which might have accounted for more yards.
Play 8: 1st & 10 @ Chicago 44
Bridgewater connects with Patterson for 7 yards, but Patterson fails to pick up considerable yards after the catch. Again, it looks like Bridgewater might have missed Jennings open on the far sideline. At this point, I’m not sure if Teddy is just trying to get the ball out quickly or if he’s just comfortable with the reads he’s making, but there is absolutely room for some additional time in the pocket and letting the play develop.
Play 9: 2nd & 15 @ Chicago 25
Bridgewater moves up in the pocket well and I love seeing two hands on the ball. The last thing we need at this point is him to get stripped of the ball. Bridgewater makes a good read here and connects with Johnson for 21 yards and after being sacked on 1st down, prior to the 2 minute warning, the Vikings move into Bears territory with the game on the line. Captured a different view on this play because I think it shows the pocket presence Teddy displays on this particular play.
Play 10: 2nd & 4 @ Chicago 29
The fateful interception. As much as it pained me to watch again, I wanted to see if there were other options open. To be honest, I think Bridgewater did what he could here. It’s not the cleanest pocket, nor does he get a ton of time. With the game clocks malfunctioning, Teddy had no idea how much time was left.
He could have dropped it off to McKinnon for a short gain and the hope McKinnon can get out of bounds, but there is no guarantee. Somewhere in his memory, Teddy remembers making a previous mistake by lobbing a pass out of bounds on 4th down against the Redskins, and tries to take a shot down field to win the game. You can’t fault him for that. For what it’s worth, it does look like Johnson does slow up a bit, leaving Teddy hanging out to dry.
Observations and Takeaways:
It’s important to remember that I looked at 10 plays of Bridgewater’s very short career, of course there will be a mixed bag of results. Ultimately I think we’re seeing some very good things from Bridgewater, but there are times where I’d love to see him take some extra time in the pocket while letting the play develop a bit longer. By doing so, we might see the field open up more for our passing game.
It is also important to remember how easy it is to play armchair quarterback. Ultimately, I don’t have a great sense of what Bridgewater and his coaches feel like are safe and good throws. What looks to be an open receiver in my eyes, might be a terrible decision for a quarterback to make.
I think the Chicago game was simply an off day for the entire Vikings team. Bridgewater had been feasting on mid range completions up to this game. Prior to the Chicago game, Bridgewater was averaging 6.8 yards per completion, but struggled verse Chicago with a 5.6 yard average. I have no doubt that Bridgewater will bounce back and start pushing the ball down field consistently.
I will be honest, I was encouraged by what I saw when watching the all-22 footage. Previously, I was very concerned about the job wide receivers were doing creating space with their routes. On top of that, I was dumbfounded by what seemed like very plain play calling by Turner and his staff.
Ultimately, I found that the receivers are finding ways to get open, and that Patterson looked better with his routes than I originally suspected. On top of that, aside from protecting his rookie quarterback from making forced errors, Turner is giving Bridgewater a lot of freedom to make reads at the line of scrimmage and choose to make aggressive throws when comfortable doing so.
All in all, I think Bridgewater is well on his way for continued growth and development. At this time, however, I do think his internal clock isn’t doing him any favors. After being knocked around frequently because of poor offensive line play, Bridgewater is looking to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and isn’t focused on letting plays develop to their full potential. Again, I think that comes with time.