The Atlanta Falcons will travel to TCF Bank Stadium when they face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. They were expecting to square off against Matt Cassel but he has been ruled out with a foot injury per Albert Breer.
The injury is expected to keep him out for multiple weeks, if not for the entire season. It perhaps came a little earlier than the Vikings’ coaching staff would have liked but the Teddy Bridgewater era has begun.
The Louisville product burst onto the scene with a sensational upset against the Florida Gators, the #1 pass efficiency defense, in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. The Gators were 13.5 point favourites but succumbed to a 33-23 loss. It was the game which began the media hype for Bridgewater and his #1 overall pick campaign. In his final year, he was involved in an epic showdown with fellow draftmate Blake Bortles where he was beat by a late comeback attempt. Bridgewater’s numbers improved across the board from his sophomore year to his junior year. He had a higher completion percentage and yards per attempt, threw for more yards and touchdowns while throwing less interceptions.
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But things didn’t turn out so rosy for Bridgewater. It soon became apparent there was quite a disconnect between the media draft analysts and professional scouts, who weren’t nearly as high on him. Reports came out from scouts over concerns about Bridgewater’s arm strength and his overall demeanor, which included leadership and urgency. He also had a heavily criticised pro day.
As the draft came closer, it was more of a question whether he would be drafted in the 1st round or not, nevermind top-2. He was eventually picked with the final pick of the 1st round, and in essence was promised the keys to the state.
Fast forward to week 3 and Bridgewater made his first NFL appearance against the Saints. It’s always difficult to come off the bench and start throwing to receivers you don’t have a whole lot of chemistry with but he had a solid performance and looked dangerous scrambling. He finished with 150 yards at a respectable 7.5 yards per attempt and 62.5% completion rate but couldn’t lead his team into the endzone.
He has that innate ability to make the franchise play which all the best players can make.
The first thing that stands out with Bridgewater is his activity in the pocket. He does a good job moving around and extending plays but at the same time it can also get him into trouble when he tries to do too much and ends up walking into a sack. I don’t see how his arm strength will be a problem, and he throws with good accuracy. He can definitely damage you with his legs but make no mistake about it, he is a pocket quarterback first and foremost. For a young QB, he does well reading defenses and going through his progressions. He often remains poised, even in the face of blitz pressure. He has that innate ability to make the franchise play which all the best players can make.
Couple the lack of run game with an offensive line that’s playing well below their standards and Bridgewater will find it difficult.
I do think Bridgewater will show he is a better quarterback than Cassel, but I also find it hard to see him bring a lot of success right away. It is extremely difficult for a rookie QB to play well without the threat of a run game to help take away some of the pressure and it looks very likely that Matt Asiata (career 3.5 YPC) will be the lead back. If Adrian Peterson was still there, the Vikings would all of a sudden become a genuine threat for the division but at the moment, I think there will be too much stress and responsibility for Bridgewater to handle. I don’t mean to slight Bridgewater. Every young and successful QB not named Andrew has needed a run game to help him out. Couple the lack of run game with an offensive line that’s playing well below their standards and Bridgewater will find it difficult.
There is always a chance Bridgewater plays lights out because he is talented but I think everything is too soon for him. For the Falcons, it is a good time to be aggressive. The Vikings’ offensive line has struggled as much as the Buccaneers’, a game where the Falcons managed to suffocate the running backs and get consistent pressure on the QB. Showing Bridgewater exotic looks and speeding up his internal clock in his first NFL start might prove too much for him to handle and could be key to the Falcons’ victory.
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