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Stats deep dive: Sam Bradford and his deep passing game

Teddy Bridgewater was expected to have a much-improved deep passing game in 2016, but Sam Bradford had him beat there in 2015. A look at the comparative stats at the different levels of the passing game.

The Minnesota Vikings wanted to enter the regular season with Teddy Bridgewater as their ascending starting quarterback. Instead, with Bridgewater’s season ended with a wayward twist of the knee in Tuesday’s practice, the Vikings may have gotten a more experienced Bridgewater when they traded for Sam Bradford.

Bridgewater cost the Vikings a late first-round pick in 2014, the first year of Mike Zimmer as head coach in Minnesota and the first year of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator for the Vikings. Bradford cost the Vikings what they hope is also the final draft pick of the first round next year, along with a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 that could go as high as the second round if the Vikings win the Super Bowl.

Since they can’t have Bridgewater for 2016, they were aggressive in finding someone with similar stats.

In 2015, Bradford and Bridgewater were within two points of each other in passer rating – Bridgewater at 88.7 and Bradford, then with the Philadelphia Eagles, at 86.4. Bradford had 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; Bridgewater was at 14 and 9. Bradford had 3,725 yards and Bridgewater 3,231. Each completed 65 percent of their passes, with Bradford throwing 54 more.

But it’s where their games are different – or at least were different – in 2015 that should intrigue Vikings fan most.

If the Vikings had entered 2016 with Shaun Hill as their starter (he still might be for the first few games while Bradford acclimates to a new offense), it would have significantly changed the threats in the passing game. At 36 years old, Hill simply doesn’t have the arm strength and zip on his passes that Bridgewater displayed through an offseason and preseason that held so much promise. Bridgewater was impressive in the third preseason game, just two days before his devastating knee injury, completed numerous deep passes.

The hope was that would carry over into the regular season and put behind him all the naysayers regarding Minnesota’s deep passing game. In 2015, the Vikings had plenty of problems with pass protection from their offensive line, which certainly didn’t help Bridgewater’s ability to push the ball deep down the field and keep opponents from loading the line of scrimmage to stop Adrian Peterson in the running game.

With that as a caveat, however, Bridgewater was better in the short and intermediate passing game in 2015, but Bradford had his number in the deep passing game.

Witness the numbers from STATS LCC comparing Bradford to Bridgewater:

SHORT PASSING GAME

Bridgewater had a 93.1 rating with eight touchdowns and only one interception when throwing the ball 0 to 10 yards in the air. Bradford completed 2 percent more of those short passes, but he had six touchdowns and four interceptions, dropping his rating to 84.2.

INTERMEDIATE PASSING GAME

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Bridgewater also bested Bradford in the intermediate passing game, defined by STATS as passes traveling 11-20 yards in the air. In those circumstances, Bridgewater was better than the league average, completing 62 percent of them for three touchdowns, four interceptions and a 91.7 rating. Bradford completed only 52 percent of those passes (NFL average was 53.5 percent) for eight touchdowns and eight interception and a passer rating of 82 (average was 90.4).

DEEP PASSING GAME

However, Bradford’s forte in 2015 was Bridgewater’s Achilles Heel. Bridgewater completed only 26 percent of his deep passes last year for three touchdowns and four interceptions, registering a 45.7 rating in passes traveling more than 20 yards in the air. Bradford completed 32 percent for five touchdowns and two interceptions, compiling a strong 99.6 passer rating and besting the NFL average by five points.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Circumstances are always different when comparing one quarterback to the next. Who had the better protection, better receivers or better play-calling? What did the game situations call for?

But this much the stats don’t lie about: Bridgewater was efficient in the short and intermediate passing game last year, but Bradford was one of the better quarterbacks when pushing the ball down the field in the deep passing game.

Only time will tell how it all plays out now that Bradford is with the Vikings.


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