The Minnesota Vikings are a bit of an oddity so far this season. They started the season poised to let rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater learn under the tutelage of veteran Matt Cassel. And after the first game, in which Cassel led the Vikings to a 34-6 drubbing of the St. Louis Rams, it looked like the Vikings' plan might just be working. But things change quickly in the NFL, and it wasn't long -- two weeks, to be exact -- until Bridgewater was forced into action against the New Orleans Saints. Teddy Time had begun, until he too got hurt. After suffering through a "not-so" Christian Ponder revival on Thursday Night Football, the Vikings are ready for Bridgewater to return to the lineup against the Detroit Lions this week.
As our own Sean Yuille noted, the Vikings look like a completely different team with Bridgewater in the lineup:
When Bridgewater started against the Falcons a couple weeks back, the Vikings looked like a much different team. Their offense was explosive through the air and on the ground, and it showed some life for the first time since Adrian Peterson left the team. Bridgewater's return could be trouble for the Lions.
You can't glean too much from first starts in the NFL, but Bridgewater did show poise and composure in the pocket. The one thing to keep in mind when analyzing any player is context. Against the Atlanta Falcons, Bridgewater was 20 of 31 for 319 yards with a quarterback rating of 98.7. Not a bad start. But let's put that production into context. The Falcons' pass rush, which has been consistently among the league's poorest this year, only pressured Bridgewater on eight of his 34 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
When the Falcons failed to pressure Bridgewater, he completed 76.9 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 117.3. However, when the Falcons were actually able to put some pressure on the rookie quarterback, he didn't complete a single pass. It's going to be important, much like it was against Geno Smith, for the Lions to get pressure on Bridgewater early and often.
Unlike Bridgewater, who has a very small sample size to go off of, we know a little more about the Vikings' offensive line and their ability to protect the passer. After five games, Pro Football Focus ranks the Vikings' offensive line 29th in pass-blocking efficiency. The Vikings will also be breaking in right guard Vladimir Ducasse for his third start of the season. The former Jet was forced into action after Brandon Fusco was injured against the Saints.
Unfortunately for Ducasse and the rest of the Vikings' offensive line, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are both playing very well. So far the defensive tackle duo has combined for three sacks and 28 total quarterback pressures.
In the end, Bridgewater gives the Vikings the best chance to win on Sunday, but I'm not sure he'll be enough. The porous offensive line combined with an underwhelming run game doesn't bode well for Bridgewater's hopes of leading the Vikings to victory. If the Lions can control the line of scrimmage, they should be able to leave Minnesota with a 4-2 record and the division lead.