Yesterday afternoon the Vikings got a solid win against the Chargers, thanks to a great game by Adrian Peterson and our defense man-handling a shaky San Diego offensive line. But some would argue that Teddy Bridgewater had a "Ponder-esque" day and that the team largely won in spite of him. If you look at the box score and the statistics, you will probably come to that conclusion. He completed just over 50% of his passes, only threw the ball 121 yards and had zero touchdowns and one interception. It all amounted to a passer rating of 50.87. This is decidedly below average, bordering on outright bad. But this doesn't really tell the whole story.
First, consider the context of the game. Bridgewater only attempted 24 passes. That's not a lot of opportunity for yards or TDs, and the low number of pass attempts was predicated on two really big plays by other members of the Vikings: Peterson's long TD run, and Greenway's pick-six. Both plays resulted in 14 points for the team that had nothing to do with Teddy's arm and the passing game. Is it really the fault of Bridgewater that he didn't have to attempt many passes? It just so happens the other phases of the team were dominant. Second, consider how the special teams and defense were playing: lights out. The average starting position for the Vikings was their own 33 yard line, which means they were playing on a short field the entire game. That limits the offense's opportunity for yards. In the end, Teddy's yards per attempt (only 5.04) and overall yardage output was low because of this.
Ok, so Bridgewater wasn't asked to throw the ball much and the Vikings played on a short field, so that partially explains the low yardage total. But what about his completion percentage and the interception? He only completed 54% of his passes, a far cry from his stated season goal of 70%. Well, there were a few drops that contributed to the low completion percentage, namely the big drop by Kyle Rudolph in the end-zone and the bobbled catch by MyCole Pruitt for starters. With such a low number of pass attempts, if just those two aren't dropped his completion percentage jumps way up to a much more respectable 63%. So take his completion percentage with a grain of salt due to the low sample size. Even with this game throw in, in three games his overall completion percentage for the season is still 67.6%, ranked 9th best in the NFL. So yes, it's a drop compared to the last two weeks, but it's also a pretty small sample size that could look much better with only a few minor changes.
That's not to say everything was great and nothing about the poor statistical showing was Bridgewater's fault. The interception was a poorly placed and underthrown pass that is mostly on Bridgewater. Yes he had pressure in his face that surely contributed, but that pick was on Bridgewater. Imagine though if Kyle Rudolph had caught the touchdown on the previous play instead of dropped it...we might be having a very different conversation about Teddy Bridgewater having completed a respectable amount and thrown for at least 1 TD. In fact, if you add in the TD pass to Rudolph and subtract the interception, his stat-line looks much better: 14-23 for 145 yards and a touchdown. That is a 61% completion rate, 6.3 yards per attempt and a QB rating of 93.6. So if Rudolph catches that pass instead of drops it, and then Bridgewater never even attempts the interception pass to Johnson in the first place, he likely would have had a very different statistical day. It's amazing to think how much impact only a couple of plays can have on the box score when we're dealing with such a small sample size.
Not only can the statistics lie to you, it also depends on what you want to measure. While traditional passer rating says that Teddy had a terrible day, ESPN's QBR metric actually says he had a slightly above average day, grading him out with a 62.0 rating out of a possible 100 (a score of 50 is considered "average"). Why might ESPN's QBR and traditional passer rating have such different results? Well, give credit to ESPN for measuring more than pure passing stats. QBR looks at the "expected points" of a down and distance play, and then compares that to the "expected points added" of the play. So as long as the offense is moving the chains, scoring points and the team ultimately wins the game, then the quarterback will come out looking pretty good as a result. And by and large, the Viking offense was able to move the chains very well. They generated 8 first downs via running and 8 first downs via passing, and amazingly lost 0 yards to passing (the Chargers had 4 pass attempts where they lost a total of 30 yards). The offense also only had two "3-and-outs" that lead to punts in the whole game. While they struggled a bit on third down, completing only 33% of their 3rd down attempts, the offense, generally speaking, was moving the ball.
Lastly, we have to consider what Teddy looked like as a quarterback in the pocket. When you think about how Ponder functioned as a quarterback, you may remember the "happy feet", the propensity to tuck the ball and run at the first sign of pressure and a tendency to only read half of the field at a time. He had pretty severe limitations that were noticeable in the "scouting" sense. This sort of thing rarely shows up in the box score, but when a quarterback is jittery in the pocket and uncomfortable, it's pretty obvious. Teddy Bridgewater displayed none of that yesterday. He stood tall in the pocket, went through his progressions when the O-line gave him time and delivered the ball. A few passes were off-target, and he wasn't perfect. But many of his passes were excellently thrown and he made several big-time throws to move the chains. When you scout Bridgewater's pocket presence and skill as a quarterback, I came away thinking that nothing really has changed in that regard. He looked like the same old Teddy Bridgewater that we saw last year, in the Preseason this year and for the last two weeks. That is, we saw a calm, collected quarterback that was taking what the defense was giving him for the most part. That's a far cry from what we saw out of Christian Ponder. Yeah there were a few mistakes, but nothing that has me thinking he's the next Christian Ponder.
In the end, the interception was bad and we can't discount that completely. Some of the other off-target throws were bad too. And the end result was a performance that looks mostly bad on paper. But I came away from yesterday still optimistic about Teddy Bridgewater, and I think there are legitimate reasons to discount the statistical showing. In other words, don't panic; we've still got our franchise quarterback on board. As long as Peterson is running well and the defense is playing well like yesterday, Bridgewater simply won't be asked to throw the ball very much and that's ok. For a young, 2nd year quarterback I think we'd all rather it play out that way. Thankfully we have a complete enough team that don't have to rely on a 2nd year quarterback to throw 50 passes and 350 yards to come out with a win (cough, Oakland, cough). We can grind it out the old-fashioned way by killing the clock with Peterson and destroying the other team's QB with our defensive line and rely on Bridgewater's usually efficient passing come away with a win.