It took Teddy Bridgewater 11 passes to accomplish what Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings offense didn’t get done in 71 previous passes.
Bridgewater, the rookie quarterback who will become the second-youngest quarterback to start a game in franchise history on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, went short with his first 10 pass attempts in relief of the injured Cassel against the New Orleans Saints. But when Bridgewater directed a third-quarter pass 25 yards downfield to Greg Jennings and the receiver caught it and added another 5 yards after the catch, it went down as the first completion of the season for the Vikings that traveled 16 or more yards in the air.
It wasn’t for lack of trying with Cassel, but none of his 11 passes that went 16 or more yards in the air in the first two games were completed. In fact, three of his four interceptions over the first two-plus games came on pass he directed deep down the field.
Bridgewater attempted two such deep passes on Sunday, completing one.
“I can’t say that we’ll be able to do it anymore than we were when we had Cassel,” receiver Jarius Wright said, but, “I think we will start to stretch the field more and do some different things.”
With Cassel out for an undetermined length of time with broken bones in his left foot, Bridgewater will be getting his first NFL start Sunday, but he has already impressed in one area in the nearly three quarters of the game he played Sunday.
One thing that should help the Vikings’ ability to stretch the field in the passing game is Bridgewater’s ability to move in the pocket and buy time for down-field plays to develop.
“I think he extended plays with his feet. I was impressed with his composure. He made some great throws,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He made a nice throw to Cordarrelle (Patterson) on the sideline, and he made a great throw to Jennings to get us into field position there. He checked the ball to (Matt) Asiata one time. So he did some real good things, extended some plays. He had a couple nice scrambles. I think his mobility will maybe keep some defenses honest a little bit.”
Bridgewater’s 41-yard pass play to Matt Asiata is the longest pass play of the season, but that one started with a pass behind the line of scrimmage and Asiata was credited with 44 yards after the catch. The rookie’s 30-yard pass to Greg Jennings traveled 25 yards in the air and is the only completion that traveled 16 yards in the air.
Wright said Bridgewater’s pocket presence is what has impressed him most.
“Just the way he stayed in the pocket and moved around,” Wright said. “When he got a little pressure, he didn’t take off and run the first thing. He stepped up in the pocket and kept his eyes down the field. That was very impressing to see from the first time being out there and also being a rookie quarterback.”
The Vikings only attempted one pass 16 yards or more downfield in the season opener against the St. Louis Rams, that one going to Cordarrelle Patterson, but Cassel tried it 10 times against the New England Patriots and didn’t complete any of them.
Three of those attempts went to Patterson, two to Wright, two to Jennings, and one each to Kyle Rudolph, MarQueis Gray and Adam Thielen.
Center John Sullivan said he doesn’t believe defenses were starting to crowd the line of scrimmage, despite the Vikings’ lack of success passing deep downfield.
“I think we’re getting fair looks right now,” he said. “We just need to do a better job running the football, being more balanced and forcing the team to defend the entire field.”
On Sunday, Cassel didn’t attempt any downfield passes in the first quarter before being hurt early in the second quarter. Bridgewater took two shots 16 yards or more downfield, both to Jennings and completing the first of those.
His ability to move in the pocket and even scramble with his eyes focused downfield is a big asset to the deep passing game.
“I think he’s a pretty composed individual anyway. He always has been around here. Nothing really flusters him,” Zimmer said. “He’s always been great in blitz period, two-minute period, all the pressure situations we have him in.”
Said Wright: “Teddy, his composure is great. He shows it on and off the field. I see it all the time; he showed y’all a great side of Teddy and what could be a great quarterback here for us.”
Bridgewater could liven up deep passing game
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