If the Minnesota Vikings are going to live up to the hype they're suddenly receiving as a team to watch in 2015, much of the onus is going to be on second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. While people have had many questions about him during both the pre-draft process and throughout his rookie season, one of the things that the naysayers haven't really been able to question is Bridgewater's ability to make quick and smart decisions under pressure.
One of the stats that we've mentioned on several occasions is how Bridgewater graded out under pressure from the folks at Pro Football Focus. According to PFF, Bridgewater had the highest accuracy percentage in the National Football League in 2014 when he was under pressure. That's not just among rookies, mind you, that's considering every quarterback across the entire league. He had an Accuracy Percentage under pressure of 75.2%, which was nearly two full percentage points higher than the next-highest graded quarterback.
For a guy that faced as much pressure as Bridgewater did. . .and, according to PFF, only three quarterbacks (Russell Wilson, Josh McCown, and Geno Smith) saw pressure on a higher percentage of their dropbacks than Bridgewater's 39.9%. . .being able to respond the way he did was pretty impressive for anybody, let alone a guy that has just 12 NFL starts under his belt.
Next, over at Pre-Snap Reads, Cian Fahey (who does some work with Football Outsiders as well) charted every pass thrown by starting quarterbacks across the NFL and attempted to discern how many "interceptable" passes each one threw over the course of the season. Bridgewater was outstanding by this measure as well, as according to Fahey he threw just 12 "interceptable" passes in in 402 attempts, or one interceptable ball every 33.5 passes.
It was an incredible rookie season for Teddy Bridgewater. He played in an offense that asked him to make reads downfield while mitigating pressure in the pocket, with a supporting cast of underperforming players. Most significantly, Bridgewater got no help from his offensive line in pass protection.
Despite everything falling down around him, Bridgewater's poise and intelligence shone through. His accuracy was his biggest issue, highlighted by eight of his interceptable passes being primarily a result of poor accuracy.
Bridgewater was slightly too cautious, but for a rookie in a tough situation it wasn't a major problem.
Of the 12 interceptable passes Bridgewater threw, Fahey classed only four of them as bad decisions. And of the 12 interceptions that Bridgewater actually threw in 2014, five of them were classed as not being his fault, mostly because they bounced off the hands of the intended receiver. Eight of his interceptable passes were classed as accuracy issues, which is something that would be much more correctable.
That leads into the last metric that speaks to Bridgewater's decision-making skills, this one coming from K.C. Joyner from behind the great E$PN In$ider paywall. It's from an article about why the Vikings can make the playoffs in 2015, and it's a pretty impressive number about the young quarterback.
Bridgewater also had a terrific season-long showing in the bad decision rate (BDR) metric that gauges how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the opposing team. His 0.5 percent BDR is a Tom Brady-in-his-prime-caliber number and indicates Bridgewater made that sort of mental error once in every 200 pass attempts.
The league-wide BDR average is usually about 2 percent (once every 50 passes) and the elite bar is 1 percent (once every 100 passes). Bridgewater had a 0.6 percent BDR against BCS-caliber conference opponents in his last year at Louisville, so this is par for the course for him, but it sure isn't par for the course for most rookie quarterbacks.
Any time a quarterback can draw a comparison to "Tom Brady in his prime," it's a pretty big deal. Seriously, even Tom Brady wasn't "Tom Brady in his prime" after 12 NFL starts. The fact that Bridgewater is putting up that sort of metric now is reason for plenty of optimism.
Bridgewater averaged almost 31 pass attempts a game in 2014. If he were to keep that pace in 2015 with the same BDR, it means that about every six weeks, Bridgewater might throw one pass that makes us all wonder what he was looking at.
If Bridgewater stays healthy for all 16 games in 2015, I would expect him to have fewer turnovers than he had in the 12 1/2 games (or so) that he played in 2014. The return of Adrian Peterson will, in all likelihood, make the decisions that Bridgewater has to make even easier and take more pressure off of him, and he should be surrounded by a better supporting cast than he had in 2014 as well.
There are plenty of reasons to get excited about this football team, and the biggest one is the guy lining up behind center on every snap.