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DVOA has finally climbed on board the Wentz Wagon! The Eagles move into the No. 1 spot, but they aren't the only strong, well-balanced team in the NFL this year. New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Rams make this one of the best seasons ever for multiple teams over 30% in DVOA, and Minnesota isn't far behind.

02 Sep 2015

Film Room: Teddy Bridgewater

by Cian Fahey

Teddy Bridgewater is special.

It wasn't evident to NFL teams during the 2014 NFL draft and such is the stubbornness of the league's decision makers that they will likely still deny it today, but the former Louisville prospect proved it true during his rookie season.

Bridgewater's statistical output didn't make him stand out. He played in 13 games, finishing the year with 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The rookie only played in 13 games because he couldn't beat out veteran Matt Cassel during the training camp and preseason. Cassel was injured in Week 3, forcing Bridgewater into a starting role -- a role which he never relinquished, in part because his performances were immediately impressive. Even in the intimidating atmosphere of the Superdome in New Orleans, Bridgewater showed off the same skill set that made him so productive at the college level. He hadn't suddenly grown a big body or the strong arm that he so dearly missed during the draft process. Instead, Bridgewater was showing off the rarest of traits that each of the best quarterbacks in the NFL share.

Those traits were forgotten during a draft process that focused too much on the inconsequential aspects of his skill set. It's those traits that make Bridgewater a special player. Even if Bridgewater never plays better than he did as a rookie, he will already have proven his doubters wrong. Considering how his skill set is constructed, though, it's very unlikely that he won't get better. His weaknesses are of the kind that can be improved on with growth and development from his coaching staff, while his strengths are incredibly valuable and generally not teachable.

Bridgewater is a pocket passer. He has some athleticism, but he is only slightly above average amongst his peers. That athleticism serves him better when extending plays and throwing on the run rather than as a scrambler or on designed runs. The Vikings used him on some designed runs last year, but that was likely just to ease his transition into the starting role.

Bridgewater's footwork stands out when moving within the confines of the pocket.

Most young starting quarterbacks are apprehensive in NFL pockets. Everything on the field moves significantly faster than it did in college, so the mental side of the game alone is exceptionally difficult to figure out. Coaches often try to mitigate a young quarterback's responsibilities by creating very specific reads that allow them to get rid of the ball quickly, or by keeping extra blockers in to offer better protection. Bridgewater wasn't protected at all by Norv Turner and his staff. He was dropped into the offense and expected to perform despite playing behind one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL, if not the worst.

Bridgewater's outstanding footwork can be seen in the above GIF. The Vikings keep a tight end in as an extra blocker. He pulls across the formation and initially picks up the right defensive end, but he fails to withstand the power of the bigger player. The defensive end quickly forces his way to the quarterback, but Bridgewater feels the pressure without dropping his eyes to give his tight end greater leverage. He jump-steps inside, but that puts him in position to be sacked by another rusher. With that defender arriving in his face, Bridgewater narrows his posture and quickly and precisely shuffles forward to find space. This movement sends the free defender past him and out of the pocket.

Despite his offensive line's poor blocking, Bridgewater was able to find the only pocket of space available to him to release the ball downfield comfortably. Not only did he impress by understanding how to react to the pressure around him, but the physical precision of his feet allowed him to maintain his balance and throw the ball with accuracy because of his clean mechanics.

Bridgewater's process in the pocket is exceptionally quick and precise. He needed to play that way behind this offensive line because he was constantly working under pressure or from unclean pockets. Norv Turner's offense asked him to regularly take deep drops, even though the line dealt with injuries throughout the year and its healthy starters were severely underperforming in pass protection. Bridgewater's consistency moving in the pocket and his comfort throwing against pressure elevated his offensive line, but Bridgewater also had to elevate his receivers.

Greg Jennings was the Vikings' best receiver last year, but he struggled to play to his established standards. Jennings suffered with drops and tracking the ball while showing questionable effort on a number of occasions. Jennings was still a viable starter, but Cordarrelle Patterson, the player expected to start across from him, proved to be a disaster on offense. Patterson couldn't run routes, track the ball through the air, or react to it at the catch point. He was eventually benched, but not before Charles Johnson arrived as a free agent to supplant him as a starter. Johnson proved to be a solid starting option, but not a spectacular player. With Kyle Rudolph injured for much of the year and Adrian Peterson not around, Bridgewater didn't have any ball-winners to throw to downfield, nor anyone who could pull defenders out of coverage assignments.

Teams didn't need to blitz to get pressure, so Bridgewater was facing one of the worst situations a quarterback in the NFL could face. To elevate his receivers, he had to do a variety of things.

Obviously accuracy is crucial. Bridgewater threw 402 passes last season, of which 369 qualified for his passing chart, which tracks accuracy while excluding throwaways, spikes, and passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. He was accurate on 300 of those 369 throws for a very impressive raw accuracy rate of 81.3 percent. Bridgewater's raw result was bloated by throwing so many shorter passes. His ball placement became more erratic as he threw further downfield, but most of his inaccurate passes were still catchable for his intended target.

Arm strength appears to be a concern with Bridgewater. It's something that was overblown during the draft process, but wasn't a complete fallacy as a criticism. Bridgewater can get stronger as he grows and spends more time in an NFL conditioning program, so that is less notable than the positives in his accuracy.

Bridgewater proved to be a quarterback who could throw receivers open with anticipation and precision to the short and intermediate levels of the defense.

The above play comes from a Week 16 game against the Miami Dolphins. It's second-and-10 with just 19 seconds left in the second quarter. By the time Bridgewater has reached the top of his drop, he understands immediately where he needs to throw the football. He doesn't wait for his receiver to get into position or get open because if he does, he won't have a chance of completing the pass. He breaks down the coverage by reading the posture of the left cornerback (who is squared up to the outside receiver) and the action of the inside linebacker (who is sprinting to the tight end outside with his eyes trained on his assignment).

Bridgewater understood it was man coverage underneath and that the deep safety was too far infield to prevent a throw to his tight end's outside shoulder down the sideline.

Instantly breaking down the coverage at the snap allowed Bridgewater to understand when to throw the ball and who to read, but he still had to execute a perfectly timed and perfectly placed throw into an extremely tight window. That throw didn't result in one of Bridgewater's 14 touchdowns for the year, but he made a similar play in the same game to lead his receiver into the end zone.

Brent Grimes was covering Greg Jennings on the play, and he did it about as well as you could expect any cornerback to in this situation, but Bridgewater negated his coverage by throwing with anticipation and putting the ball in the proper place. As the above GIF shows, Bridgewater releases the ball as Jennings enters his break, not as he comes out of it. Most quarterbacks, especially younger quarterbacks, need to see their receiver open before they release the ball. Bridgewater understands how routes develop against coverage and how to throw to a spot that leads his receiver to space. Grimes can't touch this pass regardless of his coverage because Bridgewater throws it so early and puts it in a spot where it's impossible for Grimes to undercut the ball. If the quarterback had even been slightly late or tried to throw the ball to Jennings without leading him further downfield, Grimes may have had a chance at an interception rather than giving up a touchdown.

Throwing receivers open by understanding routes and coverages is a rare ability that offers great value to a quarterback's receivers. It elevates their production despite their performance. Established players such as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck excel make these plays and receive huge plaudits for their ability to elevate their teammates. Bridgewater may not be quite as consistent as his more experienced peers, but he's not far behind and irregularly advanced for a rookie. Receivers can be elevated directly with the above types of plays, but reading through progressions and finding receivers in more favorable spots is also a way of creating production and moving the chains with limited targets.

As a rookie, Bridgewater was more conservative than aggressive, but he usually made the smartest play available rather than forcing the play to an underneath receiver out of fear. One thing that consistently stood out was Bridgewater's awareness of where his receivers were going to be as each play developed. In the first play above against Washington, Bridgewater works a full progression from the right sideline to his checkdown in the left flat. He understands the coverage and quickly gets the ball out so his receiver has time to run after the catch for a first down on third-and-10. In the second GIF, he does the same against Miami but works from his left to his right on second-and-10.

Working through progressions is an often debated aspect of a quarterback's play. Too many quarterbacks struggle to execute plays as they are designed because they can't read the defense and move their eyes from receiver to receiver from within the confines of the pocket. Because NFL games aren't broadcast on the All-22 angle, it's also impossible for regular viewers to know if the quarterback is making good or bad decisions moving on from his early reads.

Unsurprisingly, Bridgewater understands how to break down the defense and how much time he has to make a decision with each progression read.

On this play against Washington, Bridgewater initially looks into the blitz to locate a potential downfield throw to a receiver. This is the smart move because the defense typically leaves space behind the blitz. It's a simple numbers game: if defenders are coming from that area, it's tougher to cover that area. Bridgewater's receivers to that side of the field are running vertical, extended stems. This means that Bridgewater has to hold the ball. He quickly moves off the furthest outside receiver who is going to be covered throughout the play because of how the secondary has set itself up.

Bridgewater moves onto the slot receiver in his progression. That is Cordarrelle Patterson, who is running a deep post route. The post route will eventually come open, but Bridgewater doesn't have enough time to let the play develop as much as it needs to. As such, he turns the whole way across to his tight end, who is running an out route between two defenders, but there is a tight window for Bridgewater to attack. The quarterback floats the ball so that it clears the underneath defender and drops perfectly into the hands of his intended target.

By focusing on his physical measurements, among other things, and losing sight of his ability to actually play the position at an exceptionally high level, a large number of NFL teams missed on Teddy Bridgewater. He is a special player and his skill set boasts all the traits that most NFL teams build their offensive systems around. He needs to improve at throwing passes to vertical routes but he already understands how to take care of the ball and only needs to prove his consistency over a longer period to establish himself as a top-10 starting quarterback in the NFL.

And then it shouldn't be long until he enters the top five.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 02 Sep 2015

13 comments, Last at 04 Sep 2015, 6:11am by Raiderjoe

Comments

1
by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 09/02/2015 - 6:16pm

Proof, if more were needed, that changes in expert opinion in the last six months and especially the last two months before a draft are usually wrong.

Quarterbacks who were consensus favorites long before the draft : Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Teddy Bridgewater.

Quarterbacks people talked themselves into at the last minute: Ryan Leaf, Jamarcus Russell, Robert Griffin, III, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles.

3
by tuluse :: Wed, 09/02/2015 - 8:03pm

On the other hand Brian Brohm was considered the top QB pick going into his last year. Curtis Painter was also considered a potential first round pick.

2
by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/02/2015 - 6:44pm

If the offensive linemen achieve mediocrity, and the team doesn't suffer disastrous injuries/suspensions, this team is going to win at least 10 games. I really wish I had more confidence that the blocking would be at least mediocre. Yeah, Charles Johnson is gone, but I still don't think Kalil is back to where he as as a rookie, and at right tackle they are starting a guy picked in the 4th round 4 months ago. Toss in that Sullian hasn't had any contact in about two weeks, and there is good reason to suspect Bridgewater is going to get hit a lot. Hopefully 28 is still 28, and manages to avoid further indictments, for his kids' sake, if nothing else.

4
by aigbombers :: Wed, 09/02/2015 - 9:18pm

Excellent article. I am not surprised at all. Actually, I laughed at all the naysayers on Teddy. Reading some of the expert comments on him prior to the draft was laughable....too skinny...not ideal delivery...not a playmaker...armstrength...blablabla. Andrew Luck provided all of us with a clear blueprint on what you need to look for in a college QB to be successful in the pros. Andrew was not as physically gifted as RG3 but Andrew had full responsibility at the line with Stanford like most elite qbs in the NFL. That arm is useless if the eyes cant see the open wr. Those eyes cant see the open wr if the mind can't dissect the D. You can't dissect the D if you dont play in a prostyle system to build your NFL QB mental fundamentals. These NCAA spread qbs play in a system where things are dumbed down aka shortcuts. Teddy backed up the blue print that Andrew had. Yet, dumb NFL execs are refusing to see it and still go after spread qbs. Here is an article about Teddy prior to the draft that NAILED IT. Wished my Raiders drafted TEddy but now we are stuck with an overhyped spread qb who can't go thru progression nor understand the d. All he does is make up his mind presnap where to go and force the ball in there.
http://mmqb.si.com/2014/01/02/teddy-bridgewater-2014-nfl-draft

5
by Willsy :: Wed, 09/02/2015 - 11:08pm

The NFL draft is replayed on Foxtel in the evening and I was home from work finishing dinner when I remembered the draft was on and when I checked my watch it should have just got going. So I asked my youngest and faithful Vikes fan to run upstairs and see if it was on and she confirmed it was andthat a guy with a funny name was the first pick, Jadeveon Clowney.
So I settled down to watch the festivities knowing the Vikings had the 9th pick but also the hoopla regarding Bortles, Bridgewater and Manziel. The first selection of Bortles really surprised me but Jacksonville never seem to fail to surprise and so it remained to be seen if we would take Teddy at 9 as the selection of Manziel seemed a very remote posibility given comments about this baggage out of the club.
When Barr's name was read out it wasn't a total surprise given Zimmer's defensive credentails and Barr's ability so the draft then became from a Vikings perspective an interesting chess match. The rounds passed and both QBs fell which was intringuing when you consider the pre draft hype of the three of them going very close together at the top of the 1st round. So when Clevland stepped up and took Manziel it was a "good luck with that pick" moment, not that he may not be a good QB but he did have an elevated risk/reward profile that the Vikes have been assiduously trying to avoid.
So the draft gets to number 32 and I was musing as to what does a loaded team like Seattle do? Another OL for example and who was left? Then the announcement that a trade was in and it was the Vikings. My daughter asked what I thought and I said "Teddy"?
I must have fallen asleep that night with a smile on my face, hope does that to you.

6
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 09/03/2015 - 10:25am

I think Bridgewater will miss Jennings. He may not be the player he was as a Packer. But he's a great route runner (always was), knows how to get open, and I think mentored Nelson and Cobb to be better route runners. It wouldn't surprise me to see Tannehill make an surprising improvement this year.

7
by jtr :: Thu, 09/03/2015 - 3:11pm

I'm sure there's a good technical reason why you made the switch, but could you go back to more conventional gifs? These new ones get blocked on my work computer and don't load at all on my (android) mobile.

10
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 09/03/2015 - 8:39pm

We made the switch because the GFYCAT files load much, much faster than standard GIFs and people were complaining about load time.

12
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/04/2015 - 6:10am

Same here

8
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 09/03/2015 - 6:27pm

I haven't seen Bridgewater play much, but the scouting report sounds a lot like Chad Pennington. Good comp?

13
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/04/2015 - 6:11am

Yes, at least a decent comp.

9
by Willsy :: Thu, 09/03/2015 - 6:58pm

Worst comparison I can think of.

As Will says if he had a median quality O line his progress would be even more on track. He also has a very steady and relaxed personaility and demeanor which means he is calm and coachable.

11
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 09/04/2015 - 12:13am

Pennington was usually very steady and relaxed, and coachable. The main issue with the comparison is arm strength and accuracy downfield. Bridgewater has a stronger arm than Pennington did, but his deep ball is more scattershot. Brady is a better comparison, but a little impertinent right now.

I might douse all this Viking optimism a little bit and point out that Bridgewater's DYAR and DVOA were worse than Geno Smith's last year. I'm fully in the Teddy camp, but he may very well disappoint us. I doubt Barr or someother linebacker is going to break his jaw, at least.