Teddy Bridgewater is still considered a developing quarterback, but he’s developing into a pretty good one.
In fact, it may surprise some, but Bridgewater is entering into the top-10 discussion when it comes to the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Sound preposterous? Maybe, but since Week 13 of his rookie season Bridgewater ranks fourth in passer rating among all quarterbacks. Tony Romo is at the top of that list at 110.9, Aaron Rodgers second at 105.8 and Ben Roethlisberger next at 105.0. And then it’s Bridgewater, who is fourth at 100.6 over that span and seems to be improving and finding consistency the more he works in Norv Turner’s offense.
That seems apparent to the untrained eye, but even a Hall of Fame quarterback like Fran Tarkenton can agree.
“I like him a lot. I think Norv Turner is a brilliant, brilliant coach and is great for Teddy, but no coach can make a quarterback great,” Tarkenton said on the latest podcast at MalePatternPodasts.com. “He can help him get there and give him the right information. But Teddy Bridgewater, I think, is on a good track.”
Bridgewater certainly had his ups and downs last year, starting out well early in his rookie immersion, then regressing by holding onto the ball too long, and finally correcting that for five-game finale that would have had the always-optimistic Leslie Frazier saying, “It gives me hope.”
But even the realistic current Vikings coach, Mike Zimmer, sees the progression.
“I think his comfort level and really the understanding of the game; I think he continues to understand better about defenses,” Zimmer said. “I think obviously the comfort level of our offense and the things that we’re trying to do, you can see the maturation just continue to keep going forward. We’re hopeful that’s the way it continues and just each week just keeps getting better.”
Bridgewater has always looked comfortable moving around in the pocket and buying time. Christian Ponder proved that isn’t always the case for young quarterbacks. Now Bridgewater is learning when to escape, when to run and when to keep his focus down the field for a receiving option after his sometimes-nifty footwork extends plays and allows the playmakers to break free.
“I don’t think he looks at the rush much, I think he feels the rush,” Zimmer said Bridgewater’s progression on finding opportunities deep downfield. “I think there is always some opportunities, but you can go through every quarterback tape in the league and you’ll see those. Some of them get hit and some of them don’t. But the good thing is we’re not throwing interceptions. We’re getting completions. I keep talking about runs and completions and we had (56 against the Lions). You get up there around 40 with those runs and completions, it’s usually a good day.”
Much has been written about Bridgewater’s game since joining the Vikings as a first-round draft pick last year, much of it positive: His poise. His maturity. His accuracy.
It’s all true, but the knock against him is his deep passing. It’s fair to call it a work in progress. Through two games this year, the biggest pass play has been because of a blitz-pickup gaffe by Adrian Peterson that Bridgewater turned into an instinctive masterpiece, flipping the ball to Peterson while Bridgewater was being hit. Peterson made up for the mistake by grabbing the shovel pass and running 49 yards. Besides that, Bridgewater hasn’t had a pass play go for more than 30 yards.
He is just 2 of 6 on passes targeted 20 yards or more downfield. Bridgewater and his new deep threat, Mike Wallace, know there have been some missed opportunities, but Wallace defends the tough task that faces Bridgewater, especially with an offensive line that was shaky – at best – against the San Francisco 49ers in the opener.
“I don’t mind telling him, but I’m not going to be like, ‘What the hell, Teddy, you missed me down the field.’ Nothing like that,” Wallace said. “But, honestly, there’s not too many times that I’ve seen something and he didn’t see it. He is one guy. He’s looking at a lot of different guys. If he misses you, he’ll see it. I promise you he will. He did it one time in the (Detroit) game and before we even got back to the sideline, he (gave and look and said), ‘My bad. I missed you on that.’ That was even before we got back to the sideline. … Teddy’s a really smart guy. There’s not too much that he’s not going to see on the field or learn from. If he makes the mistake one time, he’s not going to do it too often twice.”
In an NFL world where picking out flaws is the norm, the deep passing seems to be the main thing missing from Bridgewater’s current game. He’s learned to get rid of the ball faster. He’s always been a natural in the pocket. And he appears to be reading and diagnosing defenses at a high level.
The even-keel quarterback seems know where he progressed and where he needs work, and there’s never been a question about his willingness or dedication to improve, which he has as he prepares to play in his 16th career game on Sunday.
“The biggest difference is I’m just playing faster, thinking less, allowing the game to come to me,” he said. “I’m not trying to force throws; I’m not trying to be too perfect. Last year I tended to overthink things and always wanted to be right. Sometimes you just have to go out there and play the game for itself. I think that’s something that I’m doing a better job of doing.”
Tarkenton was the mad scrambler that put the Vikings on the map with four Super Bowl appearances. They haven’t been back there since, but he believes Bridgewater is on the right track and has the innate intangibles that are hard to teach.
“It’s a gamble on a quarterback, even if you take him in the first round, as we know. Christian Ponder, we were hoping he could be it and he just wasn’t,” Tarkenton said. “Teddy, the moment of playing quarterback is not too big for him. The stage is not too big. He’s comfortable on the stage. As long as he keeps working and failing and taking advantage of his failures and his trying, he’ll get better and better and better. When he thinks he has the answer, he won’t have it because we never have the answer. But I think he’s in good shape.”