One of the complaints that comes along with the strength of the leash the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff puts on Teddy Bridgewater is that the Vikings don’t consistently take deep shots in the passing game.
More times than not, the Vikings run short crossing routes, bubble screens and short timing passes to the outside.
The Vikings have been anything but freewheeling in the passing game. In fact, some stats speak louder than others when it comes to proving that point.
Pro Football Focus keeps stats on the general depth of passes thrown by quarterbacks from hand to landing spot. By that measure, there are few quarterbacks who went lower than Bridgewater’s numbers.
When a quarterback throws an average pass of more than 10 yards, the accurate assumption is that most completions at the least move the chains. Anything less than 10 yards and teams are counting on receivers to get blocking or shake-and-bake their way to extricate themselves from a defender to get positive passing yards.
There were 36 quarterbacks with enough dropbacks and throws (more than 200) to qualify to be ranked against their peers. Only six of them averaged 10 or more yards per dropback – Carson Palmer (11.3 yards), Cam Newton (10.8), Tyrod Taylor (10.7), Jameis Winston (10.3), Ben Roethlisberger (10.1) and Andrew Luck (10.1).
What do those six have in common?
Two of them – Palmer and Luck – are pure pocket passers with strong arms that can deliver the long ball accurately. The other four? Two (Taylor and Winston) were first-year starters for struggling teams that were asked to make plays. The other two (Newton and Roethlisberger) are huge players who aren’t taken down consistently on first contact from a defense to extend plays.
They all share the luxury of being able to take big shots – by design in Arizona and Indy – and thanks to athleticism by the other four.
Another eight – Blake Bortles, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Peyton Manning, Marcus Mariota, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton and Brock Osweiler – averaged 9 yards or more (but not 10) per dropback or better.
Some solid quarterbacks in that group. You look at them as a group and you’re not too surprised if they win games. Two of them got rings this year, so it’s a pretty solid representation of successful quarterbacks.
Averaging between 8 and 9 yards starts getting you into a mixed bag of quarterbacks – from the really good with sketchy offensive lines or the happy-footed quarterback who has an aversion to big hits from hard-charging defenders.
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A total of 13 quarterbacks fell in that average curve (8.0 yards to 8.9 per dropback) – Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Aaron Rodgers, Nick Foles, Johnny Manziel, Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Josh McCown, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. You likely have four Hall of Famers on that list already. And you have a national embarrassment – decide for yourself who that unfortunate soul is.
At this point, the number of “quality quarterbacks” is starting to dry up – or, depending on your point of view, has gone bone dry.
Of those who averaged fewer than 8 yards per dropback, Matt Hasselbeck (7.9 yards), Joe Flacco (7.7), Colin Kaepernick (7.7), Philip Rivers (7.5) and Sam Bradford (7.4) clocked in before Teddy at No. 33, with an average of 7.4 yards per dropback.
For the record, the only three quarterbacks with a lower average than Bridgewater are Alex Smith (7.0), Blaine Gabbert (7.0) and Matthew Stafford (6.8).
What makes this grouping interesting is that it includes just two playoff quarterbacks – Bridgewater and Smith. To date, they can be classified as “game managers.”
The worst of the rest? Hasselbeck is old. Flacco became a free agent at the right time. The 49ers have tried their best (and failed) to have a franchise Colin-oscopy. Rivers shot-puts passes that make Joe Kapp scoff in disdain. Bradford has stolen more money from the NFL than perhaps any quarterback in history. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, some general managers would still take Christian Ponder instead of Gabbert. Stafford is cashing fat-stack checks, but has learned a valuable lesson from Ring of Honor Lions who say the money just isn’t worth the beating you take and they say “goodbye” to Motown for good.
The one thing Bridgewater has over those at the bottom of the PFF list – and compares favorably to the majority of the guys that were at the top of the list – is that he has the ability to extend plays and potentially make big plays that weren’t drawn up.
When Bridgewater gets out of the realm of his 2015 pass-distance peers, the Vikings may be in a higher stratosphere for making a Super Bowl run. In this case, the numbers don’t lie.