The Minnesota Vikings have reached the mid-point of their season with eight of their 16 regular season games now under their belt. They hold a 6-2 record and are tied for first in their division but have toughest part of their schedule still waiting for them.
The special teams and defense have been playing at a high level for a majority of the season, but the offense has had its ups and downs. There has seemed to be a bit of a struggle getting both running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater going at the same time.
Peterson is a future Hall of Famer and it is important to make sure he gets his touches. By doing that, though, the team is limiting the amount of passes that Bridgewater throws in a game and that could ultimately hurt him getting into a rhythm and could account for multiple slow starts that he has had this season.
“Having Adrian is a big bonus for our offensive team, but it does make at times the quarterback position a little more difficult because you don’t get as many chances,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “I think Teddy is making most of the chances that he’s getting and we’re going to continue to get more consistent and better, so when we have opportunities to make big plays, we’ll do it.”
Even though Bridgewater has seemed to struggle early in games this season, he has been able to get it going late in games when his team needs him to step up. This was best shown in the Vikings’ win over the Chicago Bears when he was 7 for 14 passing in the first half for 41 yards and an interception but was able to lead his team down the field for their final two drives of the game and come away with a game-tying touchdown and a game-winning field goal.
Head coach Mike Zimmer likes the fact that he can rely on his quarterback to come up big at the end of games when he is needed most, but also wishes he could play like that consistently throughout the game.
“Sometimes he’s cautious with the ball because he doesn’t want to give the other team a chance,” Zimmer said. “I think he sees us playing fairly good defense at times, but I do have belief, like when we get behind in games he doesn’t play that way, he kind of lets it loose and just plays football. I want him to be more like that throughout the course of the ballgame. But he’s taking good care of the ball, he’s moving in the pocket, he’s avoiding negative plays, but there’s times when he just needs to say, ‘The heck with it, it’s my ball, let’s go.’”
When watching Bridgewater play in games, it is clear he has the talent to be a good quarterback in the NFL. He is an accurate passer, he can run and avoid pressure when he needs to, he’s tough and he seems to have a good understanding of the game. The biggest problem for him seems to be he tries to avoid taking risks because he does not want to make any mistakes.
A lot of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL had a gunslinger mentality when it came to playing football and would try to make plays happen instead of letting plays come to them. Bridgewater does not have that type of mentality, at least early in games.
By playing it safe early, he is able to protect the ball more and avoid making big mistakes, but the Vikings offense will also lack in the big play department. He likes to rely on his defense, special teams and running game to help him out, which has worked, but at times he needs to learn how to take over himself.
“There’s a fine line there, you don’t want to go crazy because you’ve got Adrian in the backfield. You want to hand him the football some,” Zimmer said. “In my opinion, Teddy is a playmaker, and I think we want him to continue to try to make plays with some of these. Sometimes he’s a little bit too much of complementary football, maybe.”
If the Vikings can get their passing game rolling earlier in games, they probably will not have to have their games come down to the final possession of the game the way it has the last two weeks. Instead they could start ending some games with the victory formation.
Although the passing game does start with Bridgewater, he is not the only player responsible for making it successful. The offensive line needs to give him time in the pocket to find open receivers and the receivers need to be on the same page with Bridgewater and catch the ball.
“He’s missed a few (plays) and it’s a combination of things – we have to do better in our passing game, there’s no question about it,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes it’s protection, sometimes it’s the routes, sometimes it’s guys covered, sometimes we’re not making the correct reads or the correct throws, so we’ve got to do better there.”
With the toughest part of their schedule quickly approaching, this weekend’s game against the Oakland Raiders will be the perfect time for the Vikings to get their passing game going earlier on. But whether or not it will actually happen is a different story.