By Darren Page
General Manager Rick Spielman pushed in all his chips by trading back into the first round at the 32nd pick and selecting Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater showed the makeup of a quarterback bound for the top ten in his junior season. Then came his pro day. He was abysmal by pro day standards, spraying numerous balls well out of the reach of his receivers.
Reports surfaced of scouts and executives having concerns with Bridgewater’s hand size, frame, durability, and mental toughness. It was all a perfect storm for a perfect fall, right into Minnesota’s lap.
Teddy Bridgewater was my #1 rated quarterback before the draft and in a tier of his own above Blake Bortles. His pro day didn’t change that. A pro day is an event doctored to show off a quarterback’s skillset, but leaves out most of the mental processes of quarterback play. That’s important to remember. How much of quarterback play is mental? A lot.
Everything Teddy Bridgewater has shown on the playing field points to a quarterback who will have a long career as a starting quarterback in this league and who will be a catalyst for runs into the playoffs.
Let’s break Bridgewater down to ascertain the traits he possesses and what they mean as a quarterback under Norv and Scott Turner and with the Vikings’ offensive personnel.
I went to painstaking lengths to chart 18 quarterbacks from the 2014 draft class. The overall statistics that came out of it shine a bright light on Teddy Bridgewater.
The numbers go beyond box score statistics. An adjusted completion percentage is calculated by counting drops as completions and removing balls thrown-away or deflected at the line of scrimmage. The yards per attempt measure is also adjusted by removing drops and the anomaly plays previously mentioned.
Bridgewater charted out with the highest adjusted completion percentage in the following categories: grand total, beyond the line of scrimmage, 0-9 yards down the field, outside the hashes, and between the hashes. With a percentage of 90 in the 0-9 range, Bridgewater’s short game is incredible.
One of the more interesting outcomes is the difference between the numbers from his sophomore season and his junior season. Keep in mind that Bridgewater is still only 21 years old and will turn 22 in November.
Those are significant jumps in completion percentage across the board, including throws with which Bridgewater struggles the most (beyond 20 yards). The development arrow on Bridgewater is clearly point upward despite concerns that he’s maxed out as a quarterback prospect or can only reach certain heights.
Louisville coaches and the Vikings’ coaching staff have commended Bridgewater’s coachability. These statistical improvements are a piece of evidence in that direction, considering he had his breakout season as a sophomore. He then improved himself for a second straight season. A lot of college quarterbacks, even viable prospects, level off. Bridgewater didn’t and doesn’t look likely to just yet.
The stats are still more of a backdrop or a reference point for who Teddy Bridgewater is as a quarterback.
The first traits to examine include overall arm strength and velocity. Bridgewater has sufficient arm strength to make throws to all areas of the field. Nobody should have doubts about just how far he can throw the football. Doubts are mostly related to the spin of the ball and overall velocity.
Bridgewater’s ball tends to have a slight to significant wobble to it. Matt Waldman summed it up succinctly while mentioning Joe Montana, Steve McNair, and Philip Rivers (who Norv Turner coached, more on that later) as successful quarterbacks who didn’t throw many clean spirals.
This clip shows the way Bridgewater’s ball tends to spin in the air, though this throw may be looser than his average.
The wobbly ball can have a few different effects. The ball is more difficult for receivers to catch because the point of the ball has extra movement. Teddy Bridgewater’s receivers didn’t have an especially high drop rate, lower than many other quarterback prospects in fact. That doesn’t totally negate the point.
Effects on velocity are the bigger issues. Of course a tighter spiral means a ball that sails through the air better. Bridgewater’s wobble doesn’t drop his velocity to an insufficient level though. In fact, his passes cut through the air very well.
That is one example of many throws that are put on a rope to their destinations. Bridgewater’s throws aren’t going to set records on a radar gun. That’s okay. His throws don’t die in the air, reaching receivers at a proper height instead. Louisville receivers rarely had to dig balls out of the dirt.
Velocity will not be a glaring issue for Bridgewater at the next level. There are ways to compensate for this as well, which he does well.
Bridgewater is a highly intelligent quarterback. His football IQ doesn’t just show up on the whiteboard either. It shows up on the field. When he drops from under center and lifts his eyes to the defense, the game speaks to him. The bullets fly, and he can dodge them.
One of his best intangible traits is timing. He gets the ball out of his hand on rhythm regularly by dissecting the defense and then releasing it at the top of the drop. Bridgewater can do this because he can anticipate where the gaps in the defense will appear as he makes his initial read of the coverage.
He doesn’t have to see the receiver come open to throw the football. That’s crucial for making throws into tight spaces, as he does here. Bridgewater’s average maximum velocity can be compensated for by anticipating openings in the defense and getting the ball out on time.
The next way Bridgewater puts his quarterback IQ on display is through his ability to work a pro-style progression. Few college quarterbacks are asked to and can actually do something like this.
This play is a four verticals concept. Bridgewater simply reads the safeties. After he sees a safety roll over the top of his receivers on the left side, he quickly shifts his feet back to the right and releases to an open receiver.
Too many quarterbacks will stare down their initial read and pat the ball, not comfortable enough with their footwork and not tolerant enough of the pocket to shift to a second or third option.
Negotiating the pocket, pocket tolerance, pocket maneuvering, pocket management. Whatever you want to call it, Bridgewater thrives at doing it.
One of his best related traits is eye level. Instead of dropping his eyes at the sight of pressure, Bridgewater slides away from it while still sorting through the defense with his eyes.
His spatial awareness is terrific and shows up in both of these plays. The first is with pressure in front of him, which is the easiest to feel and slide away from. The second is pressure from the side. Notice the way he feels the rush coming, calmly migrates from it, and releases on the move. Bridgewater has that much-needed sixth sense for feeling where the rush will come from.
The building blocks to a quarterback who can maneuver in the pocket efficiently are all about subtle movements. He must be able to climb the pocket and find the space in front of him. Bridgewater does this well.
With his eyes up, he simply slides into the space that the rush gives him. Against a four man rush, space will open up somewhere on the interior. Bridgewater does this well most of the time.
On a few different occasions in 2013, he didn’t trust his protection to step up into the pocket and make the throw. Here’s one example.
Though the outcome was favorable, Bridgewater should have slid to his left and climbed the pocket behind the rusher. Spinning away from that pressure will lead him right into rushers on the backside more often than not.
I found Teddy Bridgewater to be one of the most elusive quarterback prospects in the class. He’s just slippery. I could put up countless examples of him sidestepping a free rusher with ease, but I’ll leave you with these two.
When his pass protection fails, he can pick up his teammates by slipping the rush and making something out of nothing. Bridgewater can improvise beyond the structure of the play but doesn’t bail until he’s left with no choice.
One of the most impressive aspects to Bridgewater’s play is how he handles the blitz. Statistics back it up.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. blitz in 2013: 70.1 pct completions, 11 YPA, 15 TD, 1 INT.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) May 9, 2014
[Ed. note: I did some independent tracking and found something very similar—Teddy led all tracked quarterbacks in completion percentage, yards per attempt and placed a close second in adjusted yards per attempt, which assigns bonuses and penalties for touchdowns and interceptions:
So, there’s that, too – Arif]
The first reason for his successes against extra rushers is the quickness of his diagnosis. He recognizes that the blitz is coming and doesn’t dawdle with the ball in his hands. Bridgewater has a plan every time he drops back. If the rush is coming, he already knows where he will have an advantage.
Bridgewater even hurries his five step drop on this occasion. He gets the ball out immediately after a hitch step and finds his receiver with single coverage.
Another reason for his efficiency against the blitz is that he can quicken his release if need be. His release is far from elongated to start with and he can still speed it up when the rush closes in.
In both cases you can see the way Bridgewater is willing to deliver late and take a big hit if he has to in order to deliver the throw.
The final detail for Bridgewater’s work against the blitz also applies against normal rush packages. He always locates his check down receiver and shows willingness to check it down when the defense gives little else.
Dumping it down is the way Bridgewater most often minimizes negative impacts as a passer. He rarely takes unnecessary risks, keeping his offense moving in the right direction instead.
Bridgewater is more likely to be accused of checking the ball down too often. One of the concerns about him as an NFL quarterback is that he won’t make big plays often enough. He’s been labeled a distributor of the football with a negative connotation.
Those criticisms are a bit of an exaggeration. Distributing the ball is a quarterback’s job of course. Most of the worry as it relates to Bridgewater’s big play ability centers around his deep ball. It’s a weak point for him, though I’d call it a work in progress.
There are a few different examples of Bridgewater missing a big opportunity. He almost tends to overthink the deep ball, especially in a situation like this where his receiver runs wide open. Instead, he needs to release the ball with better rhythm and consistent power from his upper half, because other times he will put too much into it and overthrow.
Bridgewater throws on rhythm on this deep ball with tremendous placement. He can place the ball extremely well down the field. Bridgewater will even throw his receivers open at significant depths.
Teddy saves his receiver from a big hit and increases the chances he holds onto the ball by placing this on his back shoulder. He’s been spotty as a downfield thrower. That is not down to an inability to control the ball and place it with accuracy. It’s down to inconsistency of rhythm and inconsistency of mechanics.
When Bridgewater is on the move, he has much better mechanics and lets the ball do the work as a thrower. He makes throws with pinpoint precision outside the pocket.
Notice the way he just flicks his wrist, looking far more natural as a thrower when on the move. Louisville’s offensive scheme tried to harness that by utilizing play action often and rolling Bridgewater one way or the other.
When Teddy is rolling to his left, his footwork is impeccable. He swivels his hips to square himself to the receiver and deliver with accuracy. The sheer precision of his ball placement on the move is something to behold as well.
As a whole, there’s a lot you can do with Teddy Bridgewater. He thrives reading defenses and finding space from the pocket. He manages the rush by maneuvering into space efficiently. He has a quick release and adequate velocity to make all the necessary throws. Lastly, he’s quite mobile and can pick up yards with his feet or throw on the move.
Dan Pompei of Sports on Earth did a phenomenal job highlighting offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner’s backgrounds and how that relates to Teddy Bridgewater.
To describe Bridgewater’s fit into Norv Turner’s offense, a basic understanding of where Turner comes from as an offensive playcaller and schemer is important. Turner is schooled in an offensive system designed by Don Coryell, often called “Air Coryell”.
Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden describes Coryell’s offense in a nutshell in his book Blood, Sweat and Chalk.
[Ed. note if you didn’t love Darren Page’s analysis by now, citing Blood, Sweat and Chalk should sell you—an extraordinarily good book worth your eyes and money – Arif]
“[Coryell] built an offense that combined technical simplicity with daring downfield strikes written into almost every single play. Pass routes were numbered in a basic 1 through 9 ladder. Quarterbacks were instructed to read from deep to short and to get rid of the ball quickly. Formations with four wide receivers became common, and eventually, players in motion became routine.”
Layden quotes Kurt Warner, who quarterbacked the St. Louis Rams under a Coryell system.
“It’s so emphasized to all the receivers: Get off the ball and get downfield, get great separation between your deep route and your six- to eight-yard route. The entire offense is very precise, and it comes down to space more than anything else, spreading out the defense.”
Layden also quotes Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who is a Coryell discipline.
“If I heard Norv Turner and Ernie Zampese say it once to the wide receivers, I heard them say it 500,000 times: ‘Run off the ball! Run off the ball! Get out of your stance and get going!’ And it applies to the quarterback. ‘Get out! Get away from the center! Get your back foot down and get rid of the ball!’ Can you teach a guy this? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: It’s going to be ground into the head of any guy running this system. Bang, bang, bang! Get the ball out. Over and over again.”
The offensive system is based heavily on timing and urgency from the quarterback. Downfield routes being a feature is also quite significant as it relates to quarterback play.
On the surface, Teddy Bridgewater’s fit with Norv Turner is a peculiar one. Bridgewater operated a (probably simplified) West Coast system with Louisville. A case can be made that he has the mental capacity and skillset to run a true West Coast offense in the NFL. Going a step further, the heavy usage of downfield strikes in the Coryell system is concerning. It’s clearly one of the things has the most struggles with right now.
Digging a little deeper, the Bridgewater and Turner marriage actually makes a lot of sense. Bridgewater has proven his ability to diagnose a defense quickly and identify where the spaces will appear. The usage of spacing in Turner’s offense will make this task even simpler.
I’ve demonstrated the way Teddy throws the ball when he’s on rhythm and getting it out at the top of his drop. His ability to throw accurately to all parts of the field puts a ton of stress on coverage schemes that want to cut out what a quarterback does best.
Finally, Bridgewater’s handling of pressure makes him an ideal fit. Despite Garrett’s insistence that getting it out of the quarterback’s hand is the primary focus (what offensive mind has a philosophy that asks the quarterback to hold it forever?), a quarterback in this system will have to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball while pressure bears down. The deep to short progressions require that.
I’ll go through a number of different plays I picked out, all plays from a Turner offense, and describe the features relevant to Bridgewater. The first is the need for making throws with velocity down the field.
There are two major requirements for making this downfield throw in the space between the underneath cornerback and the safety. They are anticipation and velocity. If either is missing, the safety can make a play on a throw like this.
Bridgewater is quick to find spaces in the defense and throw to them, so anticipation is not an issue.
Velocity is a different subject, and it’s a touchy one. I feel like Bridgewater has the requisite velocity to make this type of throw. Remember that Philip Rivers doesn’t exactly throw the cleanest ball either but had tons of success under Norv Turner. Throwing with anticipation will get the ball where it needs to go quicker than throwing it hard will.
The importance of hitting on the fly route is often overstated. That said, when your quarterback can make a bucket throw on the sidelines, it only opens the playbook more. Norv Turner is a genius when it comes to manufacturing single coverage on the outside. Now imagine how much success he’ll have doing that with Adrian Peterson in the backfield.
The motion used on this play gives Jason Campbell a man coverage read as the cornerback closely follows Greg Little to the perimeter. From there, it’s a double move and what should be a touchdown.
Bridgewater will get a look like this in a handful of games each year under Turner. That much is inevitable. Much development is need in terms of footwork and mechanics in order for Bridgewater to be more accurate on the deep sideline throw. If Teddy ever starts to throw this route accurately, opposing defenses will be in big trouble.
With vertical routes a feature of Turner’s offense, mobility will often come into play for Bridgewater. If defenses are more inclined to play man coverage, large amounts of running space will open up.
Go back to the way Bridgewater operates a pocket. He’s comfortable stepping up and finds space instinctively. If rushers lose gap discipline while coverage retreats with vertical routes, he’ll plunder defenses with his feet.
Another option is a checkdown, which Bridgewater is entirely comfortable utilizing. Where defenses allow space for Teddy to run into, they also tend to allow space for a receiver out of the backfield to run into.
With the vertical concepts (four verts in this case), the quarterback has to be able to find his checkdown and take what the defense gives. That will not be a problem for Teddy Bridgewater.
Thinking that Turner’s offense is hail mary call after hail mary call would be an overgeneralization though. There are other ways to utilize the space created by spreading the field and putting horizontal stress on the defense.
The overall spacing and presence of a tight end like Jordan Cameron puts the linebackers in a difficult spot. For Brian Hoyer, it’s a simple read of the backers and throwing to space.
With Kyle Rudolph, Bridgewater will have that tight end who can give linebackers trouble. The spacing of the receivers increases the ground backers must cover. A quarterback who can identify the mismatches and get the ball out quickly will eat a lost linebacker alive.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of Bridgewater, especially right away, I foresee Norv Turner utilizing deep/intermediate to short progressions that work to drag routes across the formation. He did plenty of this a season ago with Cleveland.
Davone Bess on a ten yard out is Hoyer’s initial read on this play. The cornerback retreats, so Hoyer makes the throw. If he has to progress off of it, he likely comes underneath to one of his tight ends or the back.
The deep to short progression is clearer on this play. Jordan Cameron runs a square in while Josh Gordon presses vertically and the back runs a wheel route. The crossing route is basically the checkdown, the final option in the progression. The outlet makes it a bit more quarterback friendly, especially for a quarterback still learning the nuances of the vertical reads.
Norv Turner will adapt his offense to Teddy’s strengths. It’s just a matter of how much. One of the quirks of Turner’s offense is that it often involves play action but the quarterback is rarely asked to roll from the pocket. It’s mostly straight drops.
In Bridgewater, he has a quarterback who thrives throwing on the move. Rollouts can also simplify the reads for the quarterback, giving him less of the field to read. The problem is that defenses catch onto that and it stops working. Bill Musgrave and Christian Ponder know that by now (maybe).
The end game probably doesn’t involve much rolling of Bridgewater from the pocket outside of breaking tendencies for the sake of it. Turner may look to integrate some of those concepts initially though.
With the football acumen Bridgewater possesses, full control at the line of scrimmage may be the eventual goal. After Turner worked with Philip Rivers enough, packaged plays with decisions in the hands of the QB likes this one became the norm.
A run play is called, but Rivers checks out of it after taking the snap and throws the slant route. Bridgewater has the intelligence and coverage recognition skills to be given this capability with enough time in the system.
Looking at Bridgewater’s fit from the perspective of synergy with current offensive personnel is even more promising.
When Roger Goodell announced the Vikings’ selection of Teddy, one of my first reactions was to pronounce increased production in the future for Greg Jennings. I have demonstrated Bridgewater’s ability to find receivers in space over and over. If there’s one thing Jennings does well, it’s find space. They were made for each other.
Jennings is in the slot on the left. If Ponder works his progression, he would have found him. Grab a stiff drink for the next one.
Jennings motions across and runs a deep cross. A lick of pocket presence and anticipation and this is a huge gain. These aren’t plays that Bridgewater leaves on the field very often.
Matt Cassel had more chemistry with Jennings than Ponder did and got better results.
This is the type of throw and catch that should be expected of Bridgewater and Jennings quite regularly. Bridgewater’s quick release may also lend itself to quick-hitters that utilize Jennings’ ability to pick up yards after the catch.[Ed. Note: Those who follow me know how I feel about this. Greg Jennings is always open – Arif]
With Cordarrelle Patterson, the fit is a bit more blurry because Patterson is still a relative unknown, especially in the way Turner chooses to use him. I think he morphs into more of a downfield passing target as time goes on. He has the long speed to win over the top and body type to box out defenders. That’s where a throw like this comes in handy.
Bridgewater has proven that he’s more than willing to trust his receivers and throw the ball in contested situations. He can also place the ball with precision, which is a necessity.
Allow me to totally abandon scheme fit for one last point. Concerns have been raised over how Teddy Bridgewater translates in a cold weather division where even Minnesota will have to play outside for two years. I think the weather factor is a bit overplayed with quarterback prospects, but I’ve accumulated some statistics as it relates to weather.
I’ve charted 21 games of Bridgewater and went back to find the temperature at game time in all of them to find any correlation between the cold and his statistical efficiency.
With each game weighted the same instead of each throw, his total averages are 77% adjusted completion percentage and 10.2 yards per attempt.
8 of the 21 charted games occurred with the temperature under 50 degrees. Bridgewater’s adjusted completion percentage was 73% for 9.6 yards per attempt in those outings. Games over 50 degrees (including indoor) averaged 80% and 10.6.
4 of the 21 games occurred below 40 degrees at kickoff. Adjusted completion percentage averaged 74% for 8.8 yards per attempt. Anything over 40 averaged 78% and 10.6 yards per attempt.
Are these statistics damning or simply the norm for all quarterbacks as it relates to weather? I don’t know. What I do know is that Bridgewater’s under 50 degree averages comes out better than totals for Aaron Murray, David Fales, and Keith Wenning on all games I have charted for them. His under 40 averages are still better numbers than the likes of Tom Savage and Logan Thomas.
At the end of the day, the Vikings are looking at a franchise quarterback. The definition of that term isn’t as concrete as it seems to be. For me, that means you have a quarterback who is raising the play of the entire offense and will have a team’s offense playing in a way that should mean a push for the playoffs regularly.
Bridgewater is simply too developed in the most crucial areas of quarterback play to not be successful in the NFL. He also landed in a very favorable situation in Minnesota.