The last time Teddy Bridgewater hit the field, he had a highly questionable offensive line, antiquated offense, past-his-prime running back and a shaky wide receiver situation. If/when Bridgewater returns this season, things will look quite a bit better around him.
First an important note: The date of a possible return for Bridgewater is still unknown. November 8 is the last day the Vikings can lift him off the Physically Unable to Perform list and add their quarterback to the active roster. It appears to be a foregone conclusion that they will take him off the PUP – then doctors and coaches will have to decide when he’s ready for real action.
Assuming he does start at some point this season, it will be behind a completely rebuilt offensive line. Compare:
LT – Matt Kalil – LG – Brandon Fusco – C – Joe Berger – RG – Mike Harris – RT – TJ Clemmings
LT – Riley Reiff – LG – Nick Easton – C – Pat Elflein – RG – Joe Berger – RT – Mike Remmers
In 2015, Bridgewater was sacked 44 times. So far this season, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford have been sacked a total of 10 times and four of those came when Bradford couldn’t move well in the first half against the Chicago Bears. Football Outsiders‘ Adjusted Sack Rate ranks the Vikings’ O-line fourth in the NFL. In 2015, they were 29th.
Because the offensive line was so poor, the Vikings were forced to use two tight ends often to give help to their struggling tackles. Rhett Ellison played 46% of snaps and Kyle Rudolph was only targeted 73 times (compared to 132 last season and 47 already this year).
The Vikings’ backfield is more suited to protect Bridgewater and offer him checkdown and screen options. Latavius Murray has been one of the league’s better pass blockers during his career and McKinnon has raised his play in that arena, ranking 16th of 45 running backs in blocking by PFF metrics.
Peterson was fairly successful when catching the ball from Bridgewater, grabbing 30 passes on 36 attempts for 7.4 yards per attempt. But he wasn’t as versatile of a weapon. The Vikings couldn’t scheme to throw him screens very often. McKinnon has 28 catches in eight games and has gained 7.3 yards per reception.
While All Day led the NFL in rushing in ’15, he did so because he got the ball, well, All Day. Football Outsiders ranked him 25th in the league in Success Rate, which is defined this way by FO: “This number represents the player’s consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays.” McKinnon is currently 22nd in Success Rate.
The Vikings’ situation at wide receiver is massively different because of the steps forward that Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have taken. This year, PFF ranks both receivers tied for sixth best in the NFL. Thielen is second in the NFL in receiving yards and Diggs is 11th in yards per game (missed two games with a groin injury). Both have become versatile all-around weapons who can get open and win battles on deep passes or line up in the shot and run underneath. Pat Shurmur has used both to their capabilities, rather than running them almost exclusively on deep routes as Norv Turner did.
Of course, Thielen hadn’t yet become the receiver he is now. An unhappy Mike Wallace was in the mix at the time.
Shurmur’s offense is also a much better fit for Bridgewater – especially as he tries to figure out what he can and can’t do with his surgically repaired knee.
In 2015, Turner asked Bridgewater to take deep drops, often turning his back to the play on play-action. The Vikings led the NFL on plays that included play-action in 2015 and were the 22nd most successful in yards per attempt. They now rank ninth and average the second most yards per attempt on those throws. That isn’t because Case Keenum is throwing a better ball or is more sneaky with his fake handoffs. It’s caused by a West Coast scheme, better protection and better personnel.
Shurmur’s scheme will be the biggest adjustment for Bridgewater, who has been present in quarterback and offensive meetings for the entire offseason.
Again, there is still much to be determined about Bridgewater’s possible return. There’s no set date or time and it’s impossible to simulate real game action during practice, so it’s hard to say how he will respond.
But if/when he does return, Bridgewater will be set up to success as he steps onto a much better team top-to-bottom than the Vikings had the last time he was under center.