With the latest installment of our Playbook series, courtesy of the folks at GMC, here's Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk with this week's question.
Being GMC Professional Grade means rising to the challenge when your team needs it most. Who needs to be your second-half MVP to finish the year strong?
Well, I think the answer to this one is pretty obvious, and though it's a pretty sizeable burden to place on the shoulders of a guy that just turned 22 years old this past week, he's shown that he can handle it over the course of the past couple of games for the Minnesota Vikings.
Yes, once again, the spotlight falls on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The 2014 Vikings are almost the polar opposite of what they were last season. Last year, the Vikings were scoring plenty of points, but the defense consistently fell apart at the worst possible time. This season, the defense has completely transformed under the guidance of Mike Zimmer and George Edwards, but the Vikings rank 26th in the NFL in scoring at 18.7 points per game. That means that, if the Vikings have any sort of run in them at all, the offense needs to get things into gear coming out of the bye, and that starts with Bridgewater.
Maybe the added pressure is what Bridgewater needs, as that's when it appears that he's at his best. Take this passage from a recent article from ESPN's Ben Goessling.
The results would certainly suggest the ends of halves have been something of a haven for Bridgewater in a rookie season that's featured plenty of strife. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater's Total QBR jumps to 54.4 in the final five minutes of a half, compared to 30.5 the rest of the time. In the final three minutes of a half, his QBR is 62.2. In the final two minutes, it's 64.9. And in the last minute of a half, Bridgewater's QBR jumps to 81.9, as he has completed 15 of his 22 throws for 196 yards, directing four field-goal drives and a touchdown drive in his first six NFL games.
Bridgewater also seems to get better in more pressure-packed situations, too. Going off of quarterback rating (and you can put as much stock into that as you want), Bridgewater has a rating of 83.3 when a game is within seven points in the fourth quarter, compared to a 74.9 rating overall. His quarterback rating also goes up with each passing down, as he has a 58.4 quarterback rating on first down, a rating of 82.2 on second down, and a 90.5 mark on third down. His quarterback rating in the fourth quarter is also twelve points higher than it is in any of the first three quarters of the game.
Bridgewater is showing all of the signs of growing into an upper-level NFL quarterback, and he's already doing things that even some veteran quarterbacks don't have a grasp on. Take this article from Cian Fahey over at Football Outsiders (you really have to read the whole thing, as he cites plenty of examples is visual form), where he talks about some of the subtle things that Bridgewater is already doing after just five NFL starts.
. . .Bridgewater has shown this willingness to remain calm under pressure and the toughness to take big hits to keep the offense on track.
While his ability to handle pressure and be effective behind an underperforming offensive line has been incredibly impressive, the other side of being an NFL quarterback is something that needs to be explored with Bridgewater. When he isn't under pressure, his accuracy has remained problematic throwing the ball downfield, but he has shown an advanced ability to make smart decisions throwing the ball and move through his progressions with speed. Most rookie quarterbacks don't move through progressions at all, so Bridgewater doing it intelligently at speed is something extraordinary.
Bridgewater may not be a superstar yet, but he's progressing in that direction. However, if the Vikings are going to make a run this season. . .and it seems unlikely, but it is possible. . .Bridgewater is going to have to progress in that direction at a more rapid pace.
Barring that, if the Vikings don't make a run this season, watching Bridgewater develop is going to give Minnesota Vikings' fans something to be excited about in 2015, and well beyond.