Some in-game matchups are subtle. Others are blatantly obvious. This week, there will be many matchups between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles, but there is one that will dominate the day, as the battle between quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz is this week’s key matchup.
Under ordinary circumstances, this wouldn’t be a matchup that was going to be important. But these have been anything but ordinary circumstances. When Teddy Bridgewater tore up his knee Aug. 30, the entire 2016 season for the Vikings was thrown into disarray. They needed to find a replacement and had less than two weeks remaining until the regular season to get the job done.
When the Vikings made the decision to go after Bradford, it wasn’t a name that was on the radar of most NFL analysts. The slew of names being thrown out were expected to be guys who may just as easily be cut over Labor Day weekend. Nobody envisioned that a quality quarterback expected to make the opening-day start for his team – much less with a new coaching staff that had spent months installing a new offense – would even be available.
When Bradford was, the Vikings pulled the trigger. It was a bold move. It was an expensive move, costing the Vikings their first-round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional pick in 2018.
There were skeptics of Bradford, who has never fully realized the success expected from a first overall draft pick. The Rams traded him. The Eagles traded him. He seemed to be one team away from being viewed as a very expensive journeyman. But, through four games, he has set a pace for one of the most impressive seasons for a quarterback in Vikings history.
“I had no history with Sam prior to coming to Philadelphia and he just embraced the offense. He knew there was going to be some change and different terminology and he embraced that and studied it,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “A sharp kid and really put in the time necessary to understand everything we were teaching. So there was no surprise. The success, the accuracy, the guys around him. I think the other thing is you keep things limited, you keep your menu small where you can go play and don’t have to think about a lot of things helps and you can grow each and every week with that.”
In four starts with the Vikings, Bradford has beaten four teams that many viewed as being favorites to win their respective divisions – Green Bay, Carolina, the Giants and Houston.
He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes, the only quarterback to do that this season, has topped 250 passing yards in three games, hasn’t thrown an interception, and is second in the league with a passer rating of 109.8. A decent passer rating for a game is 90.0. Bradford’s worst passer rating is 93.0 and his other three games have seen him put up ratings of 121.2, 101.9 and 123.1 – elite numbers for any quarterback.
From the Vikings’ side of things, there has been nothing to complain about, especially considering the losses that have taken place on the offensive line and having Adrian Peterson removed from the offense due to injury. Bradford has adapted and thrived despite adversity throughout his short tenure as quarterback with the Vikings and has risen above it.
On the other side of the coin were the Eagles. When the initial shock wore off following the trade, the work of getting Wentz ready to be a starter set in. Most rookies struggle badly when thrown into the fire immediately, which is why so many of them are sat down early in their rookie seasons. By trading Bradford, the Eagles didn’t have any options. It was Wentz or bust for 2016.
“I was obviously pretty surprised, but I was super excited,” Wentz said of the trade. “I had been waiting my time, just diving in and learning as much as I could. I knew my time would come. Obviously it came a little quicker than a lot of people expected, but I was ready. I was ready for it and I was excited and instantly I was now obviously the starter. It was time to roll. There was no waiting. I just took it in stride.”
The second overall pick in last April’s draft has far exceeded any expectations put in front of him. He has posted a 3-2 record, despite playing three of his first five games on the road, he has two touchdown passes in three of the five games he has played and has a passer rating of 99.9 – higher than Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton.
He has displayed a poise in the pocket and quick decision-making that has made him a potential franchise player who could be at the helm of the Eagles offense for the next decade.
Sunday will mark the first meeting of the two former teammates and could be used as a measuring stick as to which team got the better of the deal. But, considering where both are in terms of skill and high achievement at their position, it’s hard not to say both teams could walk away from the deal as winners. But, on Sunday there will be only one winner, which makes the comparative attacks of the opposing defenses between Bradford and Wentz this week’s key matchup.null