Coming off arguably his worst game as a professional, Teddy Bridgewater will face arguably the biggest challenge of his career.
In his first-ever playoff game, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback is facing the Seattle Seahawks’ No. 2-ranked defense and one that held the Vikings offense scoreless in the first meeting one month ago (Minnesota’s only touchdown came on a Cordarrelle Patterson kickoff return in a 38-7 drubbing).
“They’re really, really good at what they do,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Seattle’s defense. “I wouldn’t say they’re extremely fancy in what they do, but they do it and they say, ‘Here we are. Lets’ go.’ They get after you, they’re physical, they play great in coverage, they play great in the run. To me, that’s impressive when you don’t have to trick people all the time – you can play your base defense and get after people and they do that.”
Seattle is ranked second overall on defense, first against the run and second against the pass. What complicated things more for Bridgewater in that first meeting is that the Seahawks rendered Adrian Peterson ineffective, as the 2015 NFL rushing champion had only eight carries for 18 yards.
“They just put us in a passing situation and I think that’s when they’re at their best, when they get you down and they let their pass rushers go,” Bridgewater said. “Those guys have a ton of chemistry together. They’ve been playing together for a while and it’s a good group.”
Perhaps historically good. The Seahawks boast the best scoring defense the last four years running. In 2012, they gave up only 245 points, in 2013 it was 231, in 2014 it was 254 and this year they still led the league after giving up 277 points, an average of 17.3 points a game.
The Vikings have the 29th-ranked offense and 31st-ranked passing attack when measured by yards gained. They are 16th in points, averaging 22.8 per game.
“The thing about that defense is they want you to be impatient and that’s something I noticed the first time we played them,” Bridgewater said. “There’s nothing wrong with taking those easy completions and then the big play will come. They sit back and they play their coverage and they do it well. Those guys have a ton of chemistry.”
In that first meeting, the Vikings gained only nine first downs, had 31 total rushing yards, and Bridgewater was 17-for-28 passing for 174 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 55.4 passer rating.
He was worse last Sunday against Green Bay, which finished with the 15th-ranked defense, passing for only 99 yards, and Zimmer was asked if that was an aberration.
“I don’t know. We’ll find out this week,” Zimmer said. “I don’t have any concerns about Teddy. I’m sure he’ll play good this week.”
When Bridgewater asked if he would have nerves for his first playoff game, he turned the attention on the team.
“You can tell that the guys’ focus is totally different,” he said. “Coach Zimmer said something this morning in the team meeting that ‘now you’re playing for trophies and rings, not just banners.’ Hearing that, now you know it’s go time. I walked into the facility this morning and guys were just locked in. They had that intensity, that look in their eyes.
“… I have to be patient with this defense and that’s something that we understand.”