If you read between the lines, Teddy Bridgewater’s return appears inevitable.
On Sunday following the Minnesota Vikings’ win over Washington, head coach Mike Zimmer said, “I’ve got a plan,” for the quarterback situation. If that plan was to start Case Keenum for the rest of the year, he probably wouldn’t need to call it a plan.
Zimmer announced on Wednesday that Keenum will start this week.
It’s always possible that Keenum could ride his “hot streak” through the rest of the season and into the playoffs, but it seems unlikely that he’d continue to play at a level so high that Zimmer would keep his franchise quarterback on the bench.
Of course, Bridgewater will have to have enough practice time to feel comfortable operating the offense and prove to the coaches and medical staff that his knee can handle movements inside and outside the pocket.
If he checks off those boxes, when could he return? Let’s have a look at the possibilities…
Mid-game against the Rams
The Vikings’ schedule is about to get tougher. The Rams will be only the third team that Case Keenum has faced that currently has a winning record and the others were Detroit and Green Bay – who lost its superstar quarterback to injury in the first quarter at US Bank Stadium. Los Angeles has the NFL’s third best defense in points allowed and has scored more points per game than any other team in the NFL, so we might see this scenario tested sooner than later.
The benefit to Bridgewater coming off the bench is that he won’t have too much time to think about his surgically-repaired knee. There also might be less pressure if the Vikings are down two or three scores. The Vikings would be hoping for a Bridgewater-led comeback, but if he showed some rust and struggled, it would be in a situation where the game was already lost and set him up to feel more confident going into the next week.
The blowout scenario is also possible. If the Vikings headed into the fourth quarter with a 21 point lead, they could let Bridgewater play 15 minutes to get his feet underneath him. However, if they’re up 21 points, its unlikely Keenum is coming out any time soon.
How many points would they have to be trailing? What would Keenum’s stat line have to look like? The mid-game switch has some complications.
Thanksgiving Day at Detroit
Starting on the road might take the pressure off Bridgewater of playing in front of his home crowd. It would also give the Vikings a slight advantage on the Lions. If Bridgewater spent some of this week focusing on next Thursday’s opponent, he could get a head start that won’t be afforded to Detroit’s side.
The Lions’ defense is improved, but it isn’t as imposing as Los Angeles’s group. Detroit is 18th in sacks and 20th in Adjusted Yards Per Attempt.
There is both upside and downside to the Vikings’ matchup with Detroit being the biggest game of the year. The Vikings should want their more talented quarterback to play in their biggest game, but winning a huge division game is also a big ask for a player who hasn’t been in the lineup since August 2016.
Week 17 vs. Chicago
If Keenum has played exceptionally well and Vikings are very securely in a playoff spot by Week 17, the only reason not to start Bridgewater would be fear of fans and media calling for him to be under center in the playoffs. Otherwise it would be similar to Dallas giving Tony Romo one more turn as the Cowboys’ QB last season, though the job had already been given to Dak Prescott.
A zero-pressure Week 17 game would give Bridgewater an opportunity to show the Vikings that he’s back to 100 percent. However, if the Vikings have received such great QB play from Keenum to reach that point, then Bridgewater may be looking for another place to play in 2018. That’s a tough one to picture because Zimmer has said in the past that he wants Bridgewater as his long-term quarterback.
Somewhere in between
Zimmer saying he has a plan indicates that he has a date in mind for Bridgewater’s return. But if Keenum beats the Rams, it may turn into a week-by-week situation in which Zimmer waits for Keenum to lose before handing the ball over to Bridgewater. This would be the toughest to manage because there are so many variables. What if Keenum plays well but they lose? What if he plays poorly and they win?
One thing we do know: The Vikings’ quarterback situation will be at the top if the NFL’s storylines for the foreseeable future.
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