Typically our Key Matchup pits two players who will be in direct competition with each other – a left tackle vs. a pass-rush specialist, a wide receiver vs. a shutdown cornerback, a between-the-tackles runner vs. a star linebacker, etc. But, when it comes to quarterbacks, comparison are constantly made even though neither of them are ever on the field at the same time. Considering that their careers will forever be linked, the comparative battle between Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr is this week’s matchup to watch.
There remains some question as to whether or not Bridgewater is going to play. He has practiced this week, but is officially listed as questionable on the injury report, but head coach Mike Zimmer said Friday that he fully expects Bridgewater to play, which will set the stage for two quarterbacks with very different career paths to date locking up for the first time.
Both Bridgewater and Carr were drafted to be a franchise quarterback – Bridgewater with the last pick of the first round and Carr four picks later. Blake Bortles also is included in their mutual comparisons. Johnny Manziel was supposed to be, but he’s made more news off the field than on it, effectively taking him out of the discussion.
What makes quarterbacks different from any other position on a football team is that wins and losses when he starts a game are associated with him. Nobody knows the record the Vikings have had when Adrian Peterson or Everson Griffen or Harrison Smith starts. The NFL doesn’t keep those statistics. But when it comes to a won-loss record, only two people can have their ledgers immediately called up – head coaches and quarterbacks.
The comparisons made between Bridgewater and Carr began last season and, as they prepare to meet for the first time, will be the first milepost in which their comparisons will continue – every four years, when the NFC North plays the AFC West, we will get an update on what organization made the better decision on draft weekend 2014.
They have taken too very different paths to where they will be when they meet Sunday. Carr was supposed to be taking a backseat early behind veteran starter Matt Schaub. But Carr won the job in preseason and wound up starting every game, taking his lumps in a 3-13 season in which he didn’t have a true go-to wide receiver to work with.
His numbers reflected his struggles. He completed just 58 percent of his passes for 3,270 yards, but, despite playing for a bad team, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was pretty impressive with all things considered, throwing 21 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. While his team was taking its lumps, Carr showed the promise of being a long-term answer at quarterback.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Bridgewater was being groomed for the long game – technically behind both Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. He wasn’t expected to make much of a contribution as a rookie. That all changed when Cassel was lost for the season in Week 3 against New Orleans and the Vikings opted to checker-jump Bridgewater past Ponder and make him the starter. While Carr struggled to a 3-13 record as a rookie starter, Bridgewater finished with 12 starts and a 6-6 record as a starter.
In the offseason, both Carr and Bridgewater got an infusion of talent to help them out. Oakland’s 3-13 record earned them the fourth pick in April’s draft and the Raiders selected Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. They doubled up on receiving weapons by signing free agent Michael Crabtree. Bridgewater got Peterson back from suspension, the Vikings traded for Mike Wallace and rookie Stefon Diggs has emerged as a big-play threat, giving both quarterbacks much more in the way of complementary weapons.
Their level of play has been completely different this season. Carr has become a throwing machine in Oakland, increasing his completion percentage to 63.7, has posted four 300-yard games, and has an incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions, which is why he sixth in passer rating at 104.3. In his last seven games, he has thrown two or more touchdowns in six of them and has 11 TD passes in the last three games and eight in the last two.
Quietly, the Raiders have become one of the more potent offenses in the league, despite having a 4-4 record that leaves his career mark at 7-17 as a starter.
Bridgewater’s numbers have been considerably more modest. Through eight games, he has completed 64.2 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,670 yards, six touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 83.4, which ranks him 22nd in the NFL. However, his record as a starter is 6-2, improving his career mark to 12-8 over his first 20 games.
The two of them have taken very different paths to cementing themselves as franchise starters for the teams that drafted them. Carr has earned his stripes by being a gunslinger who has taken over games as the centerpiece of the offense. Bridgewater has been much more of a game manager who has thrown more than one touchdown pass in just five of his 20 starts, has never thrown three touchdowns in a game and has just one game with two TD passes this season. He has taken a secondary role in the offense behind Adrian Peterson and the wins have just kept on coming.
If you look at a quarterback simply in terms of the numbers he puts up, it would seem the better quarterback on the field Sunday is Carr. If you look at the win-loss success rate as the defining quality in a quarterback, Bridgewater is the man.
We may not know for years who will end up being the better NFL quarterback, but, as Carr and Bridgewater prepare to meet for the first time Sunday, their comparative battle will end up being this week’s key matchup.