With rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater reportedly back to 100 percent, the Minnesota Vikings will look to restart the Bridgewater era this week against the Detroit Lions. Bridgewater received his first NFL action against the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 after starter Matt Cassel left the game with an injury. The next week, Bridgewater received his first career start and led the Vikings to a 41-28 romp against the Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, Bridgewater himself left this game late in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle and was forced to miss the Vikings' Week 5 embarrassment at Green Bay.
At this point in his brief career, it is obvious that young Theodore is easily the best quarterback on the Vikings' roster. Cassel was serviceable if uninspired as the Vikings' starter before his injury, while Christian Ponder was a mess during his start against the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings drafted Bridgewater as the quarterback of the future, and it appears that the future is now.
Bridgewater played college football at Louisville, where he was brought in as a four-star recruit. He was intended to be the backup quarterback his freshman year but ended up starting the fourth game of the season and finished the year in that role. He had an up and down first year but put together enough production that he was named the Freshman of the Year for the Big East and by several newspapers.
After taking over the starting role, Bridgewater started the rest of his two years at Louisville, with the exception of one game, and improved dramatically with time. In his freshman year, Bridgewater averaged 7.19 yards per attempt, threw interceptions on four percent of his throws and had a completion percentage of 64.5. Those numbers are pretty solid, especially for an 18-year-old college freshman. However, by his junior year, Bridgewater was averaging 9.29 yards per attempt, and he threw interceptions on less than one percent of his throws and had a completion percentage of 71. Not too shabby. Critics argue that Bridgewater's numbers were inflated by Louisville's style of play, but it is his efficiency more than the raw numbers that is striking to me.
Based on that production and his really unknown ceiling, experts projected Bridgewater as the top quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft and maybe even the top overall pick. However, after a lackluster pro day, Bridgewater's stock fell and he was still on the board at the end of the first round. The Vikings jumped on the opportunity and traded away their second- and fourth-round picks to move up to select him.
In his college career and thus far in the NFL, Bridgewater has shown that he is brutally effective without having overpowering natural tools. He is known for connecting on a high percentage of his passes, his calmness in the pocket as he moves through progressions, his leadership and for avoiding turnovers. However, he is only an average athlete who struggles to throw downfield and make plays out of a collapsing pocket.
What this means for the Lions is that it is critical for the defense to knock Bridgewater and the Vikings offense off balance. Bridgewater is a rhythm passer who strings together short dump-offs and precision routes into sustained drives. Disrupting passing lanes and applying pressure are vital to keep this from happening. In Bridgewater's start against the Falcons, the Vikings had seven drives go longer than seven plays despite the fact that none of their drives lasted longer than 4:31. Bridgewater uses an up-tempo, short-yardage attack to put the defense on its heels and march the ball methodically downfield. POD's Justin Simon put together a nice analysis of Bridgewater's poor response to pressure, and I agree that a heavy pass rush and preventing sustained drives will be key to Sunday's game.
Also, look for the Vikings to use different formations in order to allow Bridgewater to find wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and running back Jerick McKinnon in space. Luckily, the Vikings' running game is still floundering without Adrian Peterson, so the Lions defense can focus on buckling down on Bridgewater and the Vikings' passing attack.