Once again, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is hoping to hold his starting quarterback a secret until Sunday.
And, just like last week with Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey publicly stating he thought Sam Bradford would start, this week Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he has an “understanding” it will be Bradford.
Mularkey was wrong. Shaun Hill got that start. Will McCarthy be right?
It seems that way, but Zimmer gave a “no comment” when asked if he’s made up his mind and neither of his possibilities for the job, Bradford or Shaun Hill, would give up the answer on Wednesday, either.
Zimmer told reporters in Green Bay he hasn’t told the team yet and might wait longer than he did last week because of his disappointment that it leaked that Hill would start the season opener.
“I don’t know if I will this week or not because it started leaking,” Zimmer said of informing his players of his decision. “Usually I like to inform the team of everything that’s going on here and what I’m thinking, but I was a little disappointed that some of the things go out. We’ll just see how it goes. I may talk to them. I don’t know. Maybe I will.”
But it would make sense to start Bradford this week more than it did last week. Beyond the obvious – another week to learn the system and the Packers not having any film on what kind of plays he likes in Norv Turner’s offense – there are other reasons for giving Bradford the start.
For one, eventually the Vikings are going to have to loosen up defenses with at least the threat of the long ball in hopes that it will decongest the traffic at the line of scrimmage for running back Adrian Peterson.
“Obviously with Adrian, I think regardless of what you do in the pass game, people are going to crowd the box. They want to take him away,” Bradford said. “They want to make us a throwing football team. I’m not really sure there’s a lot you can do, but obviously the more effective you are throwing the football it makes them at least think about maybe unloading some of those guys.”
The Vikings went into the preseason believing Teddy Bridgewater was on track to improve their deep passing game. That belief appeared to translated positively in the third preseason game. So what if it is Bradford this week?
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.
However, Bradford’s forte in 2015 was Bridgewater’s weakness. 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.
Clearly, the Titans were intent on stopping Peterson in Week 1. On 16 of his 19 carries, Tennessee had eight or nine defenders in the box and limited him to 31 yards and a 1.6-yard average.
“I don’t think it’ll change throughout the course of the year until we start loosening them up,” Zimmer said. “They know going in that their No. 1 priority is to stop Adrian in the running game. I just don’t think that will change.”
It likely won’t, unless Bradford can get on a roll in the deep passing game. The NFL considers a deep pass anything longer than 15 yards in the air. By that standard, Hill was 5-for-8 for 91 yards last week, a 101.6 pass rating.
But Bradford has the stronger arm and his passer rating last year on passes over 20 yards shows an efficient passer in that part of an offense. However, this is a completely different offense and one that Bradford is still learning.
Despite that, he doesn’t believe that the menu of plays will be limited if he gets the start.
“I’ve basically been here going on my second week. Obviously that’s not a ton of time, but I felt comfortable with the game plan last week,” Bradford said. “Obviously it’s not the same game plan, but there’s some similarities. Just hearing the language last week, being around the game-planning process, understanding how it goes here, I think we can definitely have a full plan.”
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Bradford said he was visualizing the plays last week in Tennessee as the Vikings went through their 25-16 win. This week, he could be making the calls and believes he has a strong enough handle on the offense to make all the audibles necessary.
“I feel good with all the checks that we had last week and all the checks that we put in thus far. I’m sure as the week continues to go we’ll talk about it even more,” he said.
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“The language is definitely different, but I like the way the read progressions are structured. I like the way that we talk about the progressions. The way that Coach Turner sees things, I think I see them fairly similar. That part has been nice.”
So has the confidence his new teammates are showing in him.
“He came out here and competed at a high level. He’s done the things that we expect him to do,” receiver Charles Johnson said after practice on Wednesday. “You can tell that he has talent. He wasn’t the first overall pick for no reason. You definitely can see his talent.”