Less has been more for Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater was just short of perfect against the Chicago Bears, giving confidence to a Vikings (9-5) team looking to play long into January. Entering the final stretch, Bridgewater is finding a December groove again as he’s executed similar game plans that have got the ball out quickly in consecutive weeks. He finished Sunday’s 38-17 win with five total touchdowns, including four through the air.
“[Bridgewater] has felt good going into both of these last two ballgames. He’s felt really good about the plays,” Zimmer said. “And I think maybe sometimes in the past he saw some things that were covered that really had a chance to still get open and he’s throwing those.”
Even though his teammates did most of the leg work (76 percent yards after catch), Bridgewater completed a pair of downfield darts on his way to the second-best passer rating (154.4) in Vikings’ franchise history. Speed killed for the Vikings against a lackluster Bears’ defense. Stefon Diggs, Jerick McKinnon and Jarius Wright took crossing routes for long gains. They simply outran the Bears, but Norv Turner deserves credit for slick play designs that got the ball out quick and created space, including McKinnon’s 30-yard catch and run off a double screen.
Despite a hushed Adrian Peterson, who exited briefly and returned with what he called an ankle sprain, the Vikings still put up a season-high 38 points on offense. Doing so with Bridgewater’s quickest throwing rate (2.27 seconds) in his 26 NFL starts, according to Pro Football Focus. (His season average of 2.79 seconds is the second slowest in the league behind Tyrod Taylor.)
After producing 38 points and 350 yards, the Vikings rank 20th in points/game (21.1) and 28th in yards/game (323.5).
Personnel groupings (#)
3 receivers / tight end (11): 25
1 receiver / 2 tight ends / fullback (22): 15
2 receivers / 2 tight ends (12): 9
2 receivers / tight end / fullback (21): 6
1 receiver / 3 tight ends (13): 5
2 tight ends / fullback / OL: 2
Total: 62 plays
The quickest average throw of his career paced Teddy Bridgewater’s best NFL start. Bridgewater attempted just two passes beyond 10 yards on Sunday, though both were arguably his best throws of the season. Bridgewater’s accuracy was on target the entire game, including the 34-yard strike to Mike Wallace down the seam. On a five-step drop, he put the ball on Wallace’s back shoulder, away from the incoming safety and over the linebacker. On his 15-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs, Bridgewater knew where he was going before the snap. He recognized Diggs matched up in the slot against Tracy Porter and never took his eyes off him, tossing a perfectly-placed ball into Diggs’ front pocket on the fade route. The Vikings relied on a lot of leg work from their backs and receivers as the lion’s share of yards came after the catch. But Bridgewater’s impressive day also came with his legs, on a leaping 12-yard touchdown run, as well as his hard count, which drew multiple offsides penalties. He even improvised a run block when Wallace reversed field on a receiver screen.
Video (below): Bridgewater fakes the screen left to Zach Line and tosses the screen right, which nets 30 yards for Jerick McKinnon.
Video (below): Bridgewater hits Wallace for a 34-yard gain down the seam.
Video (below): Bridgewater locks on to Diggs before the snap and lofts the 15-yard touchdown into his front pocket. A big-time throw from Bridgewater.
The Vikings chewed up the Bears on crossing routes. Even though Bears corner Kyle Fuller troubled Diggs in the Nov. 1 meeting at Soldier Field, Chicago did not assign a corner to the Vikings’ top receiver on Sunday. Diggs (41 of 62 snaps) caught two touchdowns, both away from Fuller. He blazed past corner Alan Ball for a 33-yard score in the third quarter, on a simple crossing route. Diggs’ swift cut upfield to shake safety Chris Prosinski capped the score. Wallace (38) caught all three targets for 37 yards, and fired off some words of relief after catching his 34-yard grab down the seam – his longest in Minnesota. Wright (25) also caught all three targets, including a finger-tip grab on a third-down crosser for 15 yards. The speed of Wallace, Diggs and Wright proved too much for a Bears defense without inside linebacker Christian Jones. Chicago started undrafted rookie John Timu, who was the closest to Jerick McKinnon (19) on his 30-yard screen. McKinnon led the team with 76 receiving yards on four catches, all in the first half, including his first career touchdown on a dump-off pass he took 17 yards for the score. McKinnon was flagged for excessive celebration, negating an illegal low hit penalty on Bridgewater. Adam Thielen (23) has taken over as the Vikings’ run-blocking specialist at receiver, plugging in heavy personnel sets. Charles Johnson was inactive and Cordarrelle Patterson has been completely phased out for three straight games.
Video (below): Diggs comes free on the crossing route and outruns Alan Ball to the end zone, slipping a tackle along the way.
Rhett Ellison is one of the most underrated players on this team. Fullback Zach Line (24) saw a season high in playing time, but it’s tight end Rhett Ellison (34) who continues to stick out for the Vikings. He’s the most versatile big body on the offensive roster and on Sunday he helped the Vikings bridge the gap between what Bridgewater and Peterson do well. Against Chicago, the Vikings went back to a couple shotgun handoffs, which were a staple of this offense earlier in the season before they were quickly shelved due to Peterson’s ineffectiveness. On Sunday, they caught the Bears off guard with a couple, including a seven-yard gain by Peterson with Ellison as the lead blocker. He’s earned himself a contract extension in the final year of his rookie deal. Ellison’s stout run blocking is all the more noticeable next to Kyle Rudolph (53), who simply isn’t built for taking on defensive lineman like 306-pound Mitch Unrein. Rudolph was tossed aside by Unrein on a two-yard run by Peterson. MyCole Pruitt (9) had a rough outing for such a short day, getting blown up on three runs, including by Willie Young on a Peterson loss of a yard.
The offensive line had a solid day in pass protection, but were largely overwhelmed as run blockers by a Bears’ defense selling out to stop Peterson (30). He faced loaded fronts throughout his 18 carries, only escaping the extra bodies when the Vikings ran out of shotgun and/or three-receiver sets. His biggest gain came between center Joe Berger and guard Mike Harris for 10 yards. Harris continues to add to his duties, pulling more in this scheme as he grows comfortable at guard. Brandon Fusco and Line combined for some of Peterson’s better runs on plays that called for Fusco to pull and Line to lead. Peterson gained nine yards twice on such plays, including when he sprained his ankle. Peterson returned from the ankle sprain to take six carries in the second half, exiting when the victory was all but secured. Fusco remains inconsistent, getting overpowered on consecutive run stops in the fourth quarter. Both tackles Matt Kalil and T.J. Clemmings were beat on the lone sack of Bridgewater. Kalil had his hands full with Willie Young, but held him in check to just one negative play on the sack. Kalil appeared to think he’d have chip help from Matt Asiata (13), who cruised past Young out of the backfield as Kalil was beat on the speed rush outside. Clemmings has been put in easier spots, primarily double teams, though he still stood out on a handful of bad plays. Overall, the line handled well in pass pro. Stunts (or games/twists) have worked for opponents against Clemmings and Harris, but they handled one well on Diggs’ 33-yard touchdown catch.
Video (below): Ellison motions into the backfield and leads on a shotgun handoff to Peterson for seven yards.
Game ball: Bridgewater – He’s taken advantage of quicker throws, but still hit the downfield shots when needed. Bridgewater is finding his December groove again.
Goat(s): Any damage was survivable in this game, but Fusco has yet to return to his pre-injury form this season, his first at left guard.