Teddy Bridgewater may have had his best game in his nearly two seasons in the NFL last Thursday when he threw for 335 yards, but it was marred by a game-ending sight that has become too familiar for the Minnesota Vikings this year: a sack.
Bridgewater led the Vikings offense into position to attempt a game-tying field goal in the final 20 seconds, but as they attempted to get a few yards closer, a third-down strip sack didn’t even allow that field goal attempt to happen. Game over. Division lead lost.
It was the 37th sack for Bridgewater this season, and the 38th sack for the Vikings (Shaun Hill has one sack, too). Bridgewater’s 37 sacks are the fourth-highest in the NFL this season, and none of the top three have as few passing attempts as Bridgewater’s 383.
It took some time to review them, but Viking Update viewed each of Bridgewater’s sacks several times to see if there has been a consistent theme with them. Is he holding onto the ball too long? Is he getting blitzed incessantly? Is the offensive line struggling with stunts from opposing defensive lines?
The answer is yes. The extended answer with meaningful context is that there is no singular problem, but different breakdowns at different times.
Bridgewater’s sacks have been spread pretty evenly by down – 11 of them on first down, 12 on second down, 13 on third down and one on fourth down.
The all-out blitzes haven’t necessarily been an issue, either. Only two sacks came from a six-man rush, 15 from a five-man rush and 20 from a four-man rush.
His sack to end last Thursday’s game came on a four-man rush when defensive end Dwight Freeney set up left tackle Matt Kalil with an outside rush, got him off balance and then shoved him to the side with an inside spin move. Freeney came from Bridgewater’s blindside and knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as he was cocking to throw.
“For the most part (the offensive line) played much better,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the day after the loss to the Arizona Cardinals. “Really, the whole team played a lot better and maybe Seattle just did that to us. I would say probably everybody on the team played better last night and the offensive line did a good job. They protected much better, they were doing a lot of the same run blitzes that we had been seeing earlier in the year and we got off the double-teams and get-up to the linebackers better.”
Bridgewater was sacked in that game three times, which is right about average for him this year. On Freeney’s final sack, he simply beat Kalil in a man-to-man matchup.
That’s not always the case with Bridgewater’s sacks this year. On a few occasions, the defensive lineman or linebacker has beaten a double-team – sometimes that has been two offensive linemen, sometimes a lineman and a running back or tight end, and on a couple of occasions a blitzer has simply been unaccounted for.
As Zimmer has pointed out when referencing Pro Football Focus’ stats, assigning blame to an offensive player for every sack is inexact work. Sometimes it’s an obvious loss of a matchup, but other times it’s guesswork because outsiders don’t always know which offensive player was responsible for the defensive player knifing through for a sack.
Still, we tried.
Here is the final count we came to after looking at each sack at least three times, sometimes assigning a half a sack to two players who were beat on a play: Kalil has been responsible for eight sacks, right tackle T.J. Clemmings for seven, left guard Brandon Fusco for four, right guard Mike Harris for four, center Joe Berger for two, running back Matt Asiata for 2½, running back Adrian Peterson for 1½, tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Rhett Ellison for one each, Bridgewater for five when he has simply held onto the ball far too long, and one sack in which the blitzer was simply unaccounted for with the nearest offensive linemen already taking on a defender.
We also attempted the dangerous task of timing the sacks to see how quickly the rushers were getting to Bridgewater. One sack – the first one of the season against San Francisco – came in less than two seconds on a blitz up the middle in which there appeared to be confusion between Berger and Fusco. Ironically the second sack of the season was all on Bridgewater, as he held the ball for about 7 seconds.
Our breakdown of the timing between the snap and the first contact to Bridgewater is as follows: One sack in less than two seconds, 20 sacks occurred between two and three seconds, 10 sacks between three and four seconds, and six sacks in which Bridgewater had more than five seconds before taking his first contact.
In an NFL world of assigning blame, it’s rarely satisfying to conclude there are a wide variety of reasons for the struggles to protect Bridgewater, but that’s exactly what our study of the sacks showed.