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23 Jun 2016

Film Room: Teddy Bridgewater

by Cian Fahey

Last week, Film Room looked at Andy Dalton and his relationship with Hue Jackson. Jackson got the most out of Dalton with his scheme. He crafted an offense around Dalton that played to the quarterback's strengths, putting every player on the field in position to excel at the same time. This week, Film Room will look at a polar opposite situation in Minnesota.

Norv Turner is the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. Turner has been the offensive coordinator in Minnesota for two years and has run two very different offenses during that time. In 2015, he built his offense around running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, making him the leading rusher in the whole league. Peterson's production was integral in pushing the Vikings into the playoffs and helping them to usurp the top spot in the NFC North from the Green Bay Packers.

In 2014, Turner didn't have Peterson to prioritize. In 2014, Peterson was unexpectedly suspended after Week 1, leaving Turner to ultimately craft an offense around rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Turner didn't have the talent elsewhere that he could lean on to alleviate the pressure on Bridgewater. This wasn't a Mark Sanchez-with-the-New York Jets situation.

Instead, Turner was forced to ask Bridgewater to carry an offense that lacked quality on the offensive line, in the backfield, and out wide. The young quarterback didn't put up gaudy numbers, but he did consistently show off his potential. Bridgewater could do everything except hit a deep vertical route. He diagnosed the defense before the snap and adjusted when he had to afterwards. He mitigated pressure in the pocket with his movement while reading full-field progressions with haste. He could deliver the ball with a hand in his face or against an impending hit -- when he wasn't escaping that pressure to run into the flat or past the line of scrimmage. Maybe most impressive was his accuracy; Bridgewater threw with anticipation and precision to short and intermediate routes. He made it tougher for the pass rush to touch him, and made it easier for his receivers to get open. He was still a rookie, so there were bad days, but 90 percent of what Bridgewater did during his rookie season was extremely impressive.

His composure and quality as a rookie was a big reason for optimism in Minnesota ahead of the 2015 season. While that optimism was realized with success, Bridgewater didn't play the role that most expected him to. Only the St. Louis Rams threw for fewer yards, touchdowns, and first downs than the Vikings did in 2015. Turner threw out the offense he had used with Bridgewater as a rookie in 2014 because he had to accommodate Peterson's skill set. Peterson will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame running back because of his ability as a runner, but he can't run from shotgun alignments and he offers more restraints than qualities in the passing game. His presence alone completely altered the structure of the Vikings offense in 2015. And it made Bridgewater's job impossible.

Instead of putting Bridgewater in shotgun so he could survey the defense before the snap and get rid of the ball quickly, the Vikings spent the majority of their snaps in conventional "under center" formations. They went shotgun only 45 percent of the time, which ranked 29th in the NFL. The previous season, the Vikings were in shotgun 66 percent of the time (12th). To compound the impact of this alignment, the Vikings led the league in play-action with 27 percent after using it just 23 percent of the time (ninth) in 2014. Play-action passes from shotgun alignments are typically quicker and allow the quarterback to keep his eyes on the defense, so the difference here is even greater than the numbers on their own suggest. Furthermore, the Vikings went against the NFL's trend towards more formations that spread the field with three or more receivers. They did it 59 percent of the time in 2014 (18th), but just 48 percent of the time in 2015 (27th).

The combination of this scheme with play-calling that saw the Vikings lead the league in first-down runs at 65 percent exasperated the offensive line's issues in pass protection. The Vikings actually had the league's only perfect OL continuity score last year, starting the same five linemen in each game... but that came after they lost two of their original starters with preseason injuries. Data below comes from Sports Info Solutions charting, ranking all linemen with at least 400 snaps:


Minnesota's Offensive Line Struggles
Position LT LG C RG RT
Player Matt Kalil Brandon Fusco Joe Berger Mike Harris T.J. Clemmings
Snaps Per Blown Block 56.3 61.9 73.0 340.7 59.8
Position Rank 4th-worst 2nd-worst 2nd-worst 26th-worst 5th-worst

Almost inevitably, and despite having a quarterback who mitigates pressure with his actions, the Vikings gave up pressure on 35 percent of their dropbacks in 2015, the highest rate in the league. That number was 28.3 percent (10th) in 2014 despite Matt Cassel starting multiple games at the beginning of the season and the offense going through a period of flux after Bridgewater took over.

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To run the offense that puts Peterson in the best position to produce, you need a strong-armed quarterback who can throw to vertical routes repeatedly. Twenty percent of Bridgewater's throws traveled 16 yards or more past the line of scrimmage in 2015, up from only 16 percent in 2014. Even if you have that, you then also need an offensive line with tight ends who can hold up in pass protection for deep drops and athletic receivers who can get open or win at the catch point consistently against crowded coverages downfield. The Vikings didn't have any of those three things in 2015, yet they forced their offense into that situation because of Peterson.

Peterson's numbers can justify that to some degree, but his age relative to the rest of the roster suggests that Turner has to begin transitioning his offense away from Peterson and towards Bridgewater. There is an obvious solution that will allow them to continue to use Peterson more while allowing Bridgewater to run an offense that suits his skill set: the pistol formation.

The pistol is a compromise. It's a formation that takes the best from both shotgun and under-center philosophies while only incorporating relatively minor flaws. When Peyton Manning and Gary Kubiak were naturally at odds during the beginning of the 2015 season, the pistol offered them a compromise. It wasn't a formation they relied on heavily, but it was one that was used. Stylistically, Manning is a similar quarterback to Bridgewater. He wants to be able to see the defense from a deeper position before the snap, and he wants to have the option to catch and release the ball without having to turn or execute a deep dropback. In the pistol, the quarterback isn't as deep as he is in shotgun, but he still has the same benefits when throwing the ball. The biggest issue in the passing game is how the running back gets to his assignment in pass protection. Because he is coming from behind the quarterback, it's tougher for him to step ahead of or across the player he is protecting. Peterson is generally not trustworthy in pass protection either way, so this shouldn't be viewed as a major downgrade for Minnesota.

In the running game, the running back doesn't get as much momentum as he would if he was taking the ball from a quarterback lining up under center. The pistol allows a runner to comfortably attack both sides of the defense, unlike the shotgun, which makes it tougher to run off-tackle to the side of the field where you line up. Running from shotgun can cut out a significant portion of your run designs. Running from pistol may not be as effective as running from under center but it does open up those options.

The Vikings ran 45 percent of the time in 2015, second only to the Carolina Panthers. They ran 37 percent of the time in 2014, 18th in the NFL. Their ideal offense for the 2016 season should lie in between those two marks. Once Peterson has moved on in a season or two, the Vikings should move towards a shotgun-heavy scheme that will allow Bridgewater to carry the offense. Without Peterson in 2014, they had the fourth-ranked running game by DVOA, primarily because of their ability to run out of shotgun formations. That offense ran from shotgun 22 percent of the time (7th) while averaging 3.8 yards per attempt. The next season, with Peterson, they ran from shotgun just 11 percent of the time (24th) while averaging 2.5 yards per attempt.

Bridgewater isn't Christian Ponder, even though his numbers may suggest he's a limited quarterback. He has shown more than enough to justify building around moving forward.

For the 2015 season, Bridgewater was accurate on 81.3 percent of this throws. Only four quarterbacks who attempted at least 250 passes were more accurate than him. A huge percentage of Bridgewater's misses came on deep throws. He was accurate on just 20 of 48 throws that travelled at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, giving him an accuracy rate of 41.7 percent. On throws shorter than 20 yards he was accurate on an incredible 86.5 percent of his qualifying throws. As the chart above highlights, a huge percentage of Bridgewater's throws were thrown within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. That goes against the design of the offense he was running, but it was a necessity born out of the pressure he was put under in the pocket.

The below GIF is an example of a throw that Bridgewater was making on a regular basis last season. He begins the play under center, turning his back to the coverage to execute a play-fake to Adrian Peterson. Before Bridgewater has turned his eyes back towards the line of scrimmage, his right tackle has been beaten. T.J. Clemmings, a fourth-round rookie who replaced the injured Phil Loadholt in the preseason, was awful. He was repeatedly beaten and beaten quickly, like on this occasion. Mario Edwards used his hands and quickness to get inside of the tackle, creating a clean channel towards the quarterback in the pocket. What Bridgewater does here is rare. Pressure up the middle of the pocket typically causes panic. Here, there is no panic. The young quarterback keeps his eyes downfield, adjusts his feet, and turns his shoulders to escape away from the incoming defender. With the help of an outstretched hand he avoids the first defender before flipping the ball over the second defender. Bridgewater created the 7 yards that the Vikings gained on this play, a play that should have resulted in an 8- or 9-yard loss.

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Amongst draft writers, a popular comparison for Bridgewater when he was at Louisville was Aaron Rodgers. Bridgewater earned those comparisons because of his ability to throw the ball on the move and his comfort working outside of the pocket. Comparing any quarterback to Rodgers is dangerous because the Packers quarterback is on his own level at this point, but Bridgewater is a very impressive player when he's forced to move off his spot.

The below third-and-8 play against the Detroit Lions sees Bridgewater step out of the pocket as his offensive linemen are being walked backwards towards him. Bridgewater knows where he is going with the ball, but he also knows that he needs to hold it for a split-second longer than he will have in the pocket. By leaving for the right flat, he swaps throwing the ball with a hand in his face for throwing the ball while moving sideways. The route he is throwing to is a crossing route so the receiver is moving with his quarterback, making the throw an easier one to execute. Bridgewater places the ball perfectly for Jarius Wright to catch for a first down.

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Having the physical ability to extend plays into either flat and throw the ball while moving is rare. Having that physical ability and the awareness/discipline to know when to break the pocket and how to keep your eyes downfield while on the move is extremely rare. Bridgewater is not only physically and technically capable of extending plays, he rarely leaves yards on the field when he does because of his awareness and discipline.

In the below play against the New York Giants, Bridgewater executes his typical dropback on second-and-5. He turns his eyes away from the defense to execute the play-fake with Peterson. Peterson then picks up the arriving defender as Bridgewater turns to survey the defense. Bridgewater has a moment to settle at the top of his drop, but just a moment because Matt Kalil is being beaten quickly on his blindside. Nobody is open downfield, and Bridgewater feels the pressure coming from his left so he quickly transitions to escape from the pocket. He drops his eyes as he does this, looking back for a split-second to check if Peterson is open on the back side of the play. Whether due to the arriving pressure or the coverage on his running back, the quarterback quickly pulls his eyes back down as he runs from the closing defenders. Once he has created some separation in the flat and drawn the underneath coverage defender towards him, Bridgewater brings his eyes up again so he can find the open receiver down the right sideline.

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While he's not a great athlete, Bridgewater is a good enough athlete to consistently make these types of plays, and he can threaten the defense as a scrambler to help convert situationally.

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Out of necessity, Bridgewater worked outside of the pocket a lot last year. He was required to show off that area of his skill set so often because of the scheme in which he was playing. If Turner and the Vikings embrace his skill set and prioritize him over Peterson, he should be afforded the opportunities to show off his outstanding play from the pocket. The other silver lining of playing in that situation was how much Bridgewater's poise was tested.

Any successful quarterback is an exception. The majority of quarterbacks who succeed in the NFL do so because they have a quality supporting cast on which to rely. The quarterbacks who sustain success at the highest level for more than a decade are those who can handle pressure. To handle that pressure you have to be composed, showing off the poise to maintain a clear thought process and technical discipline in the face of arriving pain.

You can turn on any game from the last two seasons and you will find examples of Bridgewater functioning against pressure. Two in particular stand out from the 2015 game against the Giants, though.

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The first play (above) comes on a third-and-8 early in the second quarter. The Vikings have Bridgewater in the shotgun but keep seven in protection, either anticipating a blitz or fearing a bad matchup for their incompetent offensive line. The Giants only rush four, but they disguise their rush by dropping a defensive tackle into space. The Vikings pick up the disguise but fail to win their one-on-one matchups. Bridgewater is pressured quickly up the middle as his center is beaten by Robert Ayers. This puts Bridgewater in a tough spot. He has to hold the ball, because the only option he can throw to needs time to get across the field. The dropping defensive tackle is dropping directly into the passing lane Bridgewater wants to find. The quarterback has to hold the ball long enough for the route to develop, but release it early enough so he isn't sacked.

He is guaranteed to be hit even as he releases the ball with anticipation. Bridgewater takes the hit and delivers a perfectly placed and perfectly timed pass to his receiver, not giving the defensive tackle a chance to touch the ball but also not leading his receiver into the tackle of the arriving safety outside.

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A Matt Kalil false start and an Adrian Peterson first-down run for 1 yard followed that third-down conversion. That set up the play in the GIF above, a second-and-14 at the Giants' 28-yard line. Once again Bridgewater executes a play-fake on a deep drop before right tackle T.J. Clemmings is beaten too easily. Bridgewater doesn't have seven blockers, but his running back and tight end haven't run routes downfield. Bridgewater has three vertical routes to work with, two to his left and Kyle Rudolph running down the seam to the right. After executing his dropback he opens the play looking to the left, drawing the deep safety to that side of the field. With good timing he brings his eyes back to the right side and releases the ball towards Rudolph. As he releases the ball, Jason Pierre-Paul is arriving in his face with an arm extended high above his head. Bridgewater isn't impacted by Pierre-Paul's presence, maintaining his technique and delivering the ball confidently.

While he's not a strong-armed passer, Bridgewater is a controlled passer with enough velocity to throw receivers open on intermediate routes. His timing, placement, and velocity on this throw makes it impossible for either defender to stop Rudolph from getting to the ball. Fortunately this was one of the plays where Rudolph didn't drop the ball.

Rudolph is a big-bodied receiving option who should have had a much bigger year in 2015 than he did. That has largely been the story of his career, but the tight end has always had the excuse of playing with quarterbacks who didn't give him adequate service. This wasn't the case in 2015.

Bridgewater doesn't need Rudolph to create separation, he only needs the tight end to make catches against tight coverage when the quarterback throws him open. Rudolph did that in the previous GIF but he also did it in the GIF below against the Green Bay Packers. This was Rudolph's biggest play of the season, a 47-yard touchdown, and it was brought about by Bridgewater understanding the coverage and possessing the control to float the ball over the defender, into Rudolph's waiting arms.

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Understanding coverages is a requisite for any quarterback who has ambitions of playing in the NFL. Every quarterback should be comfortable reading the defense before the snap. That's simply a matter of studying enough so that you know what to look for as you break the huddle. You have time and you're not about to be hit, so your thought process should be clear. The better quarterbacks in the league can diagnose defenses before the snap, but also adjust after the snap. This is why it's always important to recognize which quarterbacks are capable of comfortably reading through progressions.

No matter the play call or coverage, the back side of the play is always an option for Bridgewater. He won't lock onto his first receiver or limit himself to half-field reads. He understands when to turn to the other side of the field and was able to create numerous big plays for his offense last year by doing so. These plays typically come with a lot of YAC against zone coverages because the zone defenders have reacted to the quarterback's eyes. Therefore, even though the quarterback is making a relatively simple, short throw, and the pass catcher is running for most of the play, it's the quarterback's acumen that is primarily responsible for the play. That can be seen in the below play against the Lions, where Bridgewater diagnoses the defense in time to deliver the ball ahead of the arriving defender. The throw gains a mammoth 49 yards despite going to a fulback in the flat.

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A lot goes into a quarterback's acumen. How you move in the pocket, how you throw the ball and when you throw it matters a lot. When it comes to breaking down coverages, you can generally look at quarterbacks on five different levels.

  • First-read quarterbacks: First-read quarterbacks primarily work off of play-action, throwing the ball to their first read, checking the ball down or scrambling.
  • Pre-snap quarterbacks: Quarterbacks who can read the whole defense before the snap but struggle to adjust after the ball is snapped.
  • Half-field quarterbacks: Quarterbacks who can read through simpler progressions where the receivers are confined to a specific area of the field so he doesn't have to turn his head/shoulders/feet.
  • Full-field quarterbacks: Quarterbacks who can read progressions that begin on one side of the field and end on the other.
  • Manipulators. Quarterbacks who can read full progressions but who also understand coverages so well that they will move defenders with their eyes to create separation for a receiver who otherwise wouldn't have it.

Bridgewater is a manipulator. That could be seen on his touchdown throw to Rudolph against the Giants previously, but it can also be seen on the below touchdown throw against the Oakland Raiders. Bridgewater targets Khalil Mack in space. Mack (52) is playing the underneath coverage on the left side of the defense. Bridgewater looks to the right side of the defense initially as the Raiders send a cornerback after the quarterback from that side of the field. He instantly brings his eyes to the right side, recognizing that neither receiver is a good option. From there the quarterback is rifling through his progression while Mack reads his eyes. Bridgewater appears to understand this, moving Mack inside to create space outside for Rhett Ellison. Mack was in a tough spot because Bridgewater had a running back underneath him, a tight end behind him, and Ellison outside of him. The quarterback's speed diagnosing the defense made it extremely difficult for Mack to figure out where the ball was going.

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It should also be noted that the left side of Bridgewater's protection in the previous GIF was collapsing as he released the ball. Had he been a moment slower his manipulation of Mack wouldn't have mattered. This will be the next step for Bridgewater and the Vikings' offense. If given time in an altered scheme, he will be able to help his receivers get open with his precision and his acumen, while his process in the pocket will minimize the pressure on the offensive line.

No quarterback would have put up big numbers in the Vikings' offense last year. It wasn't built to succeed. If Norv Turner runs the same scheme again this year, the 2016 version won't be set up to either. At that point, the Vikings should question the future of their offensive coordinator rather than their quarterback -- that is, presuming Bridgewater sustains the level of performance he has shown to this point in his career.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 23 Jun 2016

15 comments, Last at 15 Jul 2016, 3:04pm by bravehoptoad

Comments

1
by jonlee :: Thu, 06/23/2016 - 4:30pm

Norv has no choice but to alter his scheme. Peterson is 31 and past his prime. There aren't many RBs that can take 300 or more carries at his age, and still be effective. Peterson's gonna have to give some carries to Jerick Mckinnon (and Jhurell Pressley?) if he wants to keep playing in his thirties.

2
by theslothook :: Thu, 06/23/2016 - 4:49pm

Articles like this highlight why the best running backs are above average rushers but A+ in the passing game. I'd rather have them than AP honestly.

3
by lokiwi :: Thu, 06/23/2016 - 5:43pm

Thank you for explicitly saying that Teddy is not Ponder. I got a little scared when someone pointed out that their stats through 2 years of starts aren't all that different. I just keep telling myself that the eye test matters, and they are night and day when you actually watch them play.

4
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/23/2016 - 6:16pm

I don't know, unless you think Norv is responsible for the quality of Vikings offensive line, I think he did what he could given his team last year.

The receivers pretty much sucked too.

5
by dangitgary :: Fri, 06/24/2016 - 8:41am

About half way through the season last year I came to the realization that Adrian was hurting the team more then he was helping. He is a 2 down running back that can only run out of under center formations, who fumbles in big spots and can't pass protect. The fact that Norv decided to craft an offense around an aging running back that has shown no ability to work on other parts of his game for the betterment of the team is honestly mind blowing. Peterson is who he is and that isn't going to change so the Vikings need to find a way to make it work with Teddy's skill set. NOT make the offense work around Peterson's limited skill set. I said this all year last year and most Vikings fans called me an idiot because of their undying love for Peterson. If Teddy is going to develop into a really good QB (which may or may not happen) Adrian needs to take a back seat and McKinnon needs to be on the field more.

6
by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/24/2016 - 9:28am

Continuity on the o-line is largely meaningless when starting a guy at tackle who was a 4th round draft choice 120 days before the season starts, and the left guard has never played on that side, and is a complete disaster, and the center is a career backup, who has never been primarily a center. There's been a lot of chatter that Berger was great at center, but I don't buy it. I think he wasn't asked to do nearly as much as Sullivan, and if Sullivan is healthy, I suspect Sullivan wins back his job pretty easily.

It is almost impossible to evaluate scheme when the blocking is this bad. There is no scheme for "don't put a hat on anybody". I'll simply say this. The Vikings went from #22 in offense to #16, by DVOA, from 2014 to 2015, despite the blocking going over a cliff, deep into a bottomless pit, and a mediocre, at very best, receiving corps. This indicates two things. Peterson was still a huge positive influence, and Bridgewater still might be well above average, given adequate talent around him.

7
by jonlee :: Fri, 06/24/2016 - 9:51am

Considering that Bridgewater had an average YPA and above average completion % (according to pro football reference) with bad linemen and receivers, I'd say his future is looking good.

Unless Matt Kalil kills him.
https://twitter.com/JReidDraftScout/status/730058587771383808

8
by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 06/26/2016 - 6:17pm

Okay. Has chance to be good. Very good possible too.

9
by CaptainWIMM :: Thu, 06/30/2016 - 5:13am

After reading this article readers might be inclined to think Bridgewater played at an MVP level over his first two years in the league. That's before realizing that he has only thrown for 28 TDs so far and his TD/INT ratio ranks 27th out of 30 qualifying QBs since 2014.

10
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 07/04/2016 - 7:24pm

Only an idiot would make that mistake. The article was about Bridgewater's processes, not his actual numbers. A smart reader (the kind we hope read FO) would think that Bridgewater has the skills to become a goid QB, given decent teammates.

11
by timeforchange :: Tue, 07/05/2016 - 8:13pm

That's because the tone of the article is set not by the QBs performance, but by how much Cian likes the particular QB. The entire article for Bridgewater is basically excuse after excuse after excuse for Bridgewater.

Don't dare blame Bridgewater, essentially.

Yet if it were a different QB that Cian doesn't like...it'd be the QB's fault. No excuses.

Can't take this "analysis" seriously.

It's basically confirmation bias.

12
by tuluse :: Thu, 07/07/2016 - 10:04am

"That's because the tone of the article is set not by the QBs performance,"

This is undeniably true. If you want to measure performance, just look at DVOA.

13
by Ross MacLochness :: Sun, 07/10/2016 - 6:38pm

Wait, you mean you can't take "The quarterback has to hold the ball long enough for the route to develop, but release it early enough so he isn't sacked" in a 4,000-word article seriously? The amount of dramatic generalizations (i.e. stating clearly all NFL quarterbacks panic when someone rushes from up the middle, except for "rare" exceptions like Bridgewater) along with on-the-nose uselessness like the line above in all of this guy's writing is truly remarkable.

I'm convinced the editing staff is so bored reading his stuff they miss massive run-on sentences and grammatical mistakes ("towards" isn't a word, guys, and he writes it a dozen times in each article) or just can't stomach finishing it as each gif painfully loads.

Before it's pointed out, yes, I'm aware this article is free, and I'm extremely grateful for that.

14
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 07/14/2016 - 10:01am

no care to respond to the rest one way or the other.

just touching on "towards" matter. taht is actually a word.

15
by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 07/15/2016 - 3:04pm

If "towards" isn't a word, what is it?