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Vikings at Redskins Preview: The Curious Case at Quarterback

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All the talk leading up to Sunday’s game in the nation’s capital is about someone that probably won’t play. Who should be the Vikings QB going forward?

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
Case Keenum will be the starter on Sunday. But how long will he be under center?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ahh, what a relaxing bye week the Minnesota Vikings enjoyed. It was smack dab in the middle of the season; getting eight games on either side of the bye is perfect in most cases. The team took two weeks to rest up and bask in the glow of their fourth straight win after their victorious trip to London. The Vikings enter their Week 10 game against the Washington Redskins with a two-game lead in the NFC North. All is calm as the Vikings make their steady march toward the 2017 playoffs. If they keep playing well, a postseason berth should be simple and straightforward.

Just kidding. This is the Vikings! Nothing is ever that easy!

As we all know, the triumphant return of Teddy Bridgewater is finally upon us. Four hundred and thirty-six days after a catastrophic knee injury threatened his football career and leg itself, Bridgewater was added back to the active roster on Wednesday. Joyous echoes have been heard trumpeting throughout Vikings Twitter for the past 24 hours. Our fallen hero has returned from dire straits against all odds. It’s the stuff from which tear-jerking documentaries and blockbuster biopics are made.

Of course, this being the Vikings, all the news couldn’t be good yesterday. Sam Bradford was put on Injured Reserve, which in all likelihood ends his season and his playing time in Minnesota. Before we delve into the upcoming conundrum of the two quarterbacks that will be dressed for the game on Sunday, let’s give what is probably a final round of recognition to Bradford’s brief accomplishments in Minnesota.

Yes, trading for Bradford was ultimately disappointing. The Vikings gave up too much to get him when you consider he only played 1612 games for the team. Although hindsight will try to chip away at the logic of the trade, it’s still 100% defensible now.

The Vikings thought they had a legitimate chance to contend in 2016. The defense was stacked, Teddy was showing promise, and they still had Adrian Peterson at the tail end of his prime. Through the first five weeks, the move looked great. The defense was on fire, Bradford was playing some of the best football of his career, and the Vikings were winning.

Of course, we all know how the 2016 season ended—the injuries mounted, the offensive line imploded, the defense regressed a bit, and the wheels fell off. But just think of how awful 2016 would have been with Shaun Hill. Or whatever quarterback would have needed to replace Hill after he was inevitably hurt behind that absolute abomination of an offensive line. The Bradford-less 2016 scenario would have made the 2011 season feel like 1998.

One could certainly point to all the “what ifs” around the first rounder the Vikings gave up to get Bradford, which is fair. But that probably means a completely different draft and free agency strategy where the Vikings don’t pick up players like Pat Elflein, Dalvin Cook, Riley Reiff, and Mike Remmers among others. All those additions appear to be key parts of this team’s future. In my opinion, it’s much easier to appreciate what Bradford provided rather than mulling over what might have been without him.

If this is the end for Bradford in a Vikings uniform—and I believe it is—he parts with some pretty impressive numbers. The numbers are even better when you factor in what he had to work with during his time in Minnesota.

  • 71.8 completion percentage
  • 101.1 quarterback rating
  • 59.0 QBR
  • 250.5 yards per game
  • 23 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
  • 6.56 adjust net yards per attempt

So here’s to you, Sam Bradford. Your bank account will never yield any sympathy from fans, but we truly feel for you when it comes to your unfortunate injury history. The talent is there; hopefully the circumstances will finally come together on your next team.

Despite having Bradford out of the picture, we’re obviously left with much to discuss at the quarterback position. At the very least, we already know who is going to start on Sunday in Washington D.C. Mike Zimmer has declared Case Keenum the Week 10 starter while Teddy Bridgewater will dress and be his backup. While I have been unabashedly #TeamTeddy since I first met him the day after he was drafted, I think starting Keenum is probably the right move.

At least, for this week.

At least, I’m pretty sure.

No, the notorious turf at FedExField that has claimed the ligaments of Adrian Peterson and Robert Griffin III isn’t a factor here. If you’re still afraid of how Teddy’s knee will react to less-than-ideal conditions, then you shouldn’t bring him back at all. It’s more about how Bridgewater has had about 14 practices after being out for about 14 months. Since Keenum has been solid, why not give Teddy a bit more time to knock the rust off and make sure his knee is completely ready?

Since Keenum has already been declared the starter, I’m fine with Teddy not seeing the field Sunday unless the game gets out of hand one way or another. Go ahead and give Bridgewater another full week of practice and reevaluate where he’s at heading into next week’s Rams game that could have surprisingly large playoff seeding implications.

Winning is always the desired outcome, and Keenum has done enough to lead the team to five wins out of his seven appearances. Keenum hasn’t been great, but he has been quite consistent—his teammates and coaches generally know what to expect from game to game. You’ll probably get a couple inaccurate passes and missed reads, but you’ll also get a quarterback that takes care of the ball and normally makes smart decisions.

That said, I certainly wouldn’t be against Teddy starting Sunday as long as the coaching and medical staffs have given the thumbs up.

Has Keenum done enough to keep the starting job? Can they make the playoffs with Keenum playing down the stretch? The answer to both questions is probably in the affirmative. I just think the ceiling is a quick playoff exit with Keenum at the helm. Teddy offers his own set of risks, but he could make a big difference down the stretch if he’s all the way back from his injury.

Norse Code’s very own Arif Hasan did an excellent job of breaking down why it’s beneficial to start Bridgewater sooner rather than later. The Vikings need to see what they have in Teddy for the stretch run this season and beyond. Making the argument that it’s risky to start Bridgewater after such a long layoff is certainly valid. But you know what isn’t going to curb that concern? A longer layoff!

(Of course, even if Teddy comes back and plays well, there’s the whole matter of possible contract tolling...but that’s another article for another day.)

Besides, if you were OK with Bradford taking over for Keenum before Week 5 (when it was assumed his knee was fully recovered), then shouldn’t you be OK with Teddy taking over for Keenum when he’s declared ready? Has Keenum done that much over the past month to convince everyone he’s the key to future success for the Vikings?

I partially understand why the anti-Bridgewater contingent has been so vocal. Despite having a division title under his belt, it isn’t like Teddy lit up the stat sheet during his first two seasons.

But I know what I saw during that 2016 Training Camp in Mankato and the corresponding preseason games.

I saw a quarterback that was ready to take “the leap.” His passes had more zip. His increased confidence in his arm and decision making was tangible. He was becoming a leader in every sense. Before his knee exploded, this was truly becoming “his team.” So why not give Teddy a chance to reclaim his team over the next couple weeks?

One last note before we move onto the actual game: please don’t be “that guy” who DEMANDS that Teddy should come in the minute Keenum makes a misstep. Keenum has had at least a handful of hiccups in each of the last four games, and those games still turned out alright.

(I fully realize absolutely nobody is going to take such an objective approach during the game Sunday, but at least try, OK?)

Whew...now that we’re over 1,000 words in, I suppose we should talk about the Redskins a bit too.

Washington is coming off an upset victory in Seattle, which is always impressive. The Redskins were pretty fortunate to escape with the 17-14 win though. Seattle out-gained Washington by nearly 200 yards and sacked Kirk Cousins six times. However, our old pal Blair Walsh shanked three field goals wide left—I feel like the Seahawks could have probably seen that coming—and Seattle committed a whopping 16 penalties to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But a win is a win no matter how it happens. The Redskins deserve credit for pulling it off, especially considering how beat up they are.

A big reason why Washington allowed all those sacks last week was the fact that they were starting four offensive linemen that didn’t start the first seven weeks of the season. Luminaries such as Chase Roullier, Tyler Catalina, and yes, even T.J. Clemmings have started the past two weeks. The results have been predictably less than optimal.

After being sacked only 26 times in 2015 and 23 times in 2016, Cousins has already been taken down 22 times through half of the 2017 season.

As of this posting, it appears that Washington have a chance to get their two normal guards, Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff, back this week. But unless Trent Williams also returns, there should still be plenty of opportunities for the Vikings front line to feast on Sunday. I have seen Everson Griffen take on Clemmings enough times in practice to know that it usually doesn’t end well for T.J.

If the Vikings can’t get to Cousins consistently, Washington’s $24 million man could make them pay. While he isn’t putting up the video game-like fantasy numbers from a year ago, Cousins is quietly posting an efficient season. His quarterback rating is 102.0, he currently has the lowest interception percentage of his career, and he’s top 10 in adjusted net yards per attempt.

Cousins is putting up these solid numbers despite not having a true go-to receiver. Terrelle Pryor Sr. was supposed to be the main target in a completely overhauled wide receiver corps, but he has been disappointing thus far. Josh Doctson has found the end zone three times this season but still draws Laquon Treadwell levels of scorn for his lack of production. Jordan Reed is having his usual struggles staying healthy. The Redskins leading receiver—by a sizable margin—is running back Chris Thompson. Chase Stuart of Football Perspective statistically illustrated just how much Cousins is spreading the ball around this season. Six different Washington players have at least 20 receptions.

The Vikings should be able to get Cousins off his spot fairly often on Sunday; he has been very average when pressured. According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins is tied for 15th in quarterback rating (74.1) out of 32 qualifying QBs when pressured. Conversely, he has a quarterback rating of 115.3 when kept clean in the pocket, which is fourth best in the league. If the Redskins can afford Cousins some time to throw, he can pick defenses apart.

Even if the Redskins can find some success in the passing game, running may be a lot tougher. The Vikings are allowing the third-fewest yards and yards per attempt and are ranked 4th in DVOA against the run. Meanwhile, the Redskins are ranked 21st in yards and 23rd in yards per attempt, good for 28th in rushing DVOA. Thompson has been a real weapon as an all-around back. But the three-headed rushing attack of Thompson, Rob Kelley, and Samaje Perine (who has seen his snaps dwindle recently) has been lackluster at best. It’s the classic strength vs. weakness matchup that should render Washington a bit more one-dimensional.

On the defensive side of the ball, Washington has been solid overall, albeit a little inconsistent. Josh Norman and D.J. Swearinger headline a deep Washington secondary. Starting safety Montae Nicholson missed last week and is currently questionable for Sunday, but Washington still has “Terence Newman Lite” DeAngelo Hall to fill in for him. Zach Brown ranks among the best among linebackers in run stop percentage. Ryan Kerrigan is still one of the most productive edge rushers in the league.

Their defensive raw numbers aren’t that great, but that might be more of a product of their extremely tough schedule. Six of Washington’s eight games have been against offenses that are currently in the top 9 of offensive DVOA. With the Vikings still nursing a few bumps and bruises after the bye week along the offensive line, I wouldn’t anticipate their offense to put up a ton of yardage against the Washington defense.

I believe we might be in for the type of game that has become rather familiar to Vikings fans over the past several weeks. It probably won’t be aesthetically pleasing at times and the defense will likely end up being the star of the show. Kirk Cousins could have a couple moments, but I think he’ll face pressure more often than not. I can see Keenum and the offense coming up with just enough to get the win while simultaneously leaving enough big plays points on the field to keep the Teddy vs. Case debate raging into next week.

We should only be so lucky. Arguing over two viable options at quarterback while the team is 7-2 would be an incredible problem to have.

Prediction

Vikings 19, Redskins 13


And now for the rest of my Week 10 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

Seahawks over CARDINALS

Seattle is kind of a mess. Arizona has started to lean into their all-AP offense in the absence of Carson Palmer. It’s a classic road trap game on a Thursday night against a team that historically gives the Seahawks fits. But the Cardinals‘ four wins this season have come against the 49ers (twice), Colts, and Bucs by a total of 21 points. I’ll stick with Seattle.

BILLS over Saints

If New Orleans wins this one, I’ll officially start considering them as contenders in the NFC. But the Bills are undefeated at home and need to prove that last Thursday’s clunker wasn’t a sign of them falling out of the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season.

Packers over BEARS

I went back and forth about eight times on this one. I know Packers schadenfreude is currently at record levels, but I just can’t believe that Chicago can go 4-5 while completing about eight passes per win. What a weird season.

TITANS over Bengals

Instead of airing this game, can CBS just show Jalen Ramsey’s brawl with A.J. Green and subsequent trash-talking on a loop?

LIONS over Browns

I’m picking this one as my Survivor Pool pick of the week in an all-out effort to jinx Detroit. I’m a pathetic 5-4 on the year when picking my “sure thing” games.

Steelers over COLTS

There are more bogus reports coming out of Indianapolis these days than an issue of Star Magazine. When Indy has down years, they really have down years.

Jets over BUCCANEERS

The Jets are road favorites to go 5-5 over a team that was picked by many to be a dark horse NFC contender. Hard Knocks, indeed, Tampa.

JAGUARS over Chargers

Jacksonville still has the Browns, Texans, Cardinals, Colts, and 49ers left on their schedule after this game. Blake Bortles has a real chance at a first round bye. My head is going to explode.

RAMS over Texans

The Rams’ success this season should result in Jeff Fisher being banned for life from the NFL.

FALCONS over Cowboys

I’m going to be dumb enough to pick Atlanta one more time in what’s basically a must-win game for them, especially when you look at their remaining schedule. And I wonder why my picks have been so terrible this season.

49ERS over Giants

Only because it looks like Ben McAdoo isn’t going to be canned before the game. If he’s fired before then, I reserve the right to switch this pick back to the Giants.

Patriots over BRONCOS

Sorry, Denver. No take backs on Kyle Sloter. You’re stuck with your current platter of quarterback feces.

PANTHERS over Dolphins

How the hell did Miami get THREE prime time games in a row?!

Last week: 6-7
Season so far: 74-58