Teddy Bridgewater has had only one game with a passer rating above 81 this year, but the Minnesota Vikings could be relying on his legs to get them out of some precarious situations Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos, of course, present some daunting defensive numbers. They are ranked first in overall defense, first in passing defense and sixth in rushing defense. But it doesn’t end there.
They are also first on defense for percentage of third downs allowed – a staggeringly low 18 percent – and first in yards allowed on first down (an average of 3.72). Playing in Denver won’t help the Vikings, where the Broncos were 8-0 during the 2014 season.
“It always helps the crowd noise and all those factors if we move the ball effectively. One of the things he’s done very well is be able to make some plays with his legs so I think that will probably be important this week, making sure we take good care of the football,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Bridgewater. “We’ll have some opportunities, but we have to hit them.”
Denver has a scheme that works, but they also have some imposing players on that side of the ball.
- OLB DeMarcus Ware ranks 13th in NFL history with 130.5 career sacks and leads the NFL with 11 quarterback hits through three games.
- OLB Von Miller has produced 10 sacks or more in three of the last four seasons. He and Ware each rank in the top six in NFL history for average sacks per game – Miller is third at 0.85 and Ware is sixth at 0.82.
- LB Brandon Marshall registered the second-most tackles (110) by a first-year starter in 2014.
- S T.J. Ward leads NFL defensive backs with 16 tackles for losses since 2013.
- CB Chris Harris is one of just five NFL players to have three or more interceptions each of the last three seasons and, according to Pro Football Focus, had the lowest quarterback rating (47.8) when thrown against last year.
- CB Aqib Talib was third in that aforementioned statistic with quarterbacks registering a 72.2 rating throwing at him and has 29 interceptions since 2008.
“They’re aggressive, play tight coverage, bump and run. Not just two good rushers – they’ve got four good rushers,” Zimmer said. “The guys on the inside can rush, the two guys on the outside obviously are special rushers. The two linebackers can run and they’re giving up 18 percent third downs. They can be suffocating.”
As a team, the Broncos have 11 sacks in three games this year, and Bridgewater knows the pressure they bring.
“We know that defense, they’re playing some great football right now and everything starts up front,” he said. “Those guys have I believe 11 sacks, which is first in the NFL right now. We’re aware of that. We’re going to do some things to try to slow those guys down to try to allow us to play fast.”
One of the important factors will be Bridgewater’s legs. Another will be his mind, and he said he is doing a good job of making the proper audibles at the line of scrimmage as he prepares for his 16th NFL start, and perhaps his greatest challenge on the road in that timeframe.
“I think I’m making a ton of progress,” he said. “There are some things that may go unnoticed, but I think the coaching staff is just asking me to do some things and I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of doing those things. There’s still room for improvement.”