Teddy Bridgewater’s receiving corps is expanding the last three games. The number of players available hasn’t changed much, but the Minnesota Vikings quarterback is finding ways to get nearly every option involved at one point or another during a game.
“I think he has a good idea of where the combinations of routes are. The one that I might have liked the best is the one when he threw to Zach Line because he was working the other side of the field at the time and they dropped (the coverage),” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “For him to see it, his vision is starting to expand, I feel like. And then that helps to open a lot of other things for other people.”
In the season opener, Bridgewater hit nine different receivers. After that, it was only five receivers in the first game against the Detroit Lions, then six each against San Diego and Denver.
But each of the last two games that has slowly worked its way back up. Against Kansas City, Bridgewater hit eight receivers. Last week, he had 11 different receiving options that he connected with.
“It just happens in this offense. If you know where your checkdowns are and things like that — in this offense you always have an outlet in the passing game,” Bridgewater said. “Our guys do a great job of being spaced up, understanding passing concepts. For me, I try to get through my progressions fast, not hold onto the football and it allows those guys to play.”
Bridgewater said it is always the team’s goal to start a game off quickly, but that didn’t happen in Detroit. The Vikings fell behind 14-3 before the defense got a stop and the offense started to come alive.
Nearly everyone had a role in the passing game. All three of the running backs and fullback Zach Line all caught at least one pass. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and MyCole Pruitt combined for three catches. Stefon Diggs had a team-high nine targets and six receptions for 108 yards, but Mike Wallace caught four passes, Jarius Wright had three, and Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen had one apiece. Only Cordarrelle Patterson was held without a catch among the wide receiver corps.
Sometimes, Bridgewater said, a receiver is running a route mainly to open things up for another receiver on a route combination.
“In this system, guys know that a route might just call for them to open up another receiver. We have different plays, whether it’s Jarius to run across a linebacker’s face, hopefully they grab Jarius and we throw the ball behind them or something like that,” Bridgewater said.
That’s how Johnson’s 21-yard reception came about.
“That was a combination route where he had the option. It was basically a high-low and it was a nickel back at that time. That’s really what offenses are doing, working high-low on the corner, high-low on the linebacker, different kinds of combinations where you have to read to see if a guy jumps it or if a guy backs up then you throw the shallow route. It could have a swing with it sometimes.”
The Vikings still talk about a balance between their running game and passing game. With Detroit and Kansas City throwing plenty of run blitzes at the Vikings designed to bottle up Adrian Peterson, it created some opportunities for the intermediate routes in the passing game.
“It does open up. I look at the play to Adam Thielen in the Detroit game,” Bridgewater said. “Those guys bit on the run fake hard and it allowed Adam to just slip through the coverage and he was wide open for a big gain.”
Now that Bridgewater is finding the open receivers with more regularity, the Vikings are hoping it continues to benefit the passing game … and the team in general.