Sunday slant: Time for Teddy Bridgewater … to take charge

Teddy Bridgewater is expected to play Sunday, and there is no better time for him to step forward than against the Raiders on the road, where his stats have been better than at home.

While the Minnesota Vikings haven’t shown it with their road record over the last two years, Teddy Bridgewater has actually been better on the road than at TCF Bank Stadium.

As the Vikings travel to the Oakland Raiders, they have erased most of the negative stats – have not won on the road in the division, have not beaten a team with a winning record, etc – in the Mike Zimmer era. But Zimmer is now unveiling the negative stats himself, pointing out on Friday that the Vikings haven’t won in California since 2007, apparently searching for fodder to scrape into the “chip on the shoulder” mentality he’s instilling in his Vikings.

After their embarrassing season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers and now tied atop the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers coming to Minnesota next weekend, the Vikings have plenty of West Coast motivation.

The Vikings were 2-6 on the road last year, but 1-0 with Adrian Peterson. While they are 2-2 on the road this year, they have also had Peterson for the entire first half of the season and many figure they will be reliant on him again this weekend.

That’s probably true, as the Vikings look to keep Oakland’s offense off the field as much as possible, but they can also point to Bridgewater’s statistics on the road if they need to turn to their passing game.

Bridgewater has started 11 homes games and 10 road games in his two seasons. His completion percentage on the road (65.7) is about three points higher than at home. With one fewer game, he has only 23 fewer passing yards on the road, the same number of touchdowns and two fewer interceptions. Like his completion percentage, his rating is better on the road, too, by four points.

Ultimately, quarterbacks are judged by wins and loss, though, and Bridgewater’s record, despite his statistics, is a dismal 3-7 on the road compared to 9-2 at home. Yet two of those three road wins have come this year.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says the coaching staff doesn’t handle Bridgewater differently on the road than they do at home.

“Not really different. Each week we try to figure out what’s the best thing to go about it,” Zimmer said. “I think we’ve handled the crowd noise better, we’ve used that quite a bit, a lot. We changed up how we did it a little bit, but other than that, no.”

But as much as offensive coordinator Norv Turner talks about wanting to sustain drives against the Raiders – with Peterson being a great option to do that – while Peterson is averaging more yards per carry on the road this year, he has 39 fewer attempts, despite the same number of games. Yet, he has nearly three times as many receptions, in part because the Vikings seem to have emphasized the passing game more on the road.

There may be no better opportunity for Bridgewater than against the Raiders. They have the 30th-ranked defense and are dead last against the pass.

Perhaps Bridgewater is still trying to get a rhythm for his game with Peterson behind him.

“Yeah, 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.”

No doubt Bridgewater will have to pick his spots to be aggressive against the Raiders. In spite of them having the league’s worst pass defense, the ageless Charles Woodson is looming in different spots in the Black Hole. Woodson needs just one more interception to take hold of No. 5 all-time for interceptions.

The Raiders are seventh in points per game, so if that holds against a strong Vikings defense, Bridgewater may have to assume a take-charge attitude in the passing game and translate his fourth-quarter passing success earlier in 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 play 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.’”
That time could be Sunday afternoon in Oakland.

“I think that he has to be able to make some plays that are there when we have them there. He’s missed a few and it’s a combination of things - we have to do better in our passing game, there’s no question about it. 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.”

No doubt the Vikings will rely on Peterson, but at some point this has to be Bridgewater’s team and his time. Sunday would be a good time start that with opponent’s offensive firepower increasing in upcoming games, too. 

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