After watching the tape of the Minnesota Vikings' 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, there should be some excitement surrounding Teddy Bridgewater, as the rookie quarterback threw for 317 yards (while rushing for a score) before leaving the game late with an ankle injury.
With a game plan scripted to create inside throwing windows and play-action opportunities, Bridgewater looked comfortable identifying his primary targets and delivering the ball in the middle of the field versus the Falcons.
Today, let’s break down the tape on the rookie’s first pro start, focus on the play-calling from offensive coordinator Norv Turner and discuss why young QB will have to adjust as the season progresses.
Creating Inside Throwing Windows (Play Action)
Given the production of the Vikings ground game with running backs Matt Asiata (20 carries, 78 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Jerick McKinnon (18 carries, 135 yards), Bridgewater saw plenty of single-high safety looks from the Falcons.
This allowed the rookie to target his primary reads (curl-flat versus Cover 3, deep over route versus Cover 1, running back dodge route, etc.) while delivering an accurate ball inside of the numbers.
However, the run game also generated play-action opportunities for Bridgewater to target those inside throwing lanes with second-level defenders removed versus the run action.
Here’s an example on the “cross-country dagger” route (deep over/seam-dig combination) out of Ace/12 personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB).
With the slot receiver (No. 2) pushing up the field on the deep over/seam to occupy the free safety—and the second-level defenders sitting short due to the open-side run action—Bridgewater has a clear throwing window inside to look up Cordarrelle Patterson on the dig route (square-in) for an explosive gain.
This is one of the top Cover 3 beaters in the NFL with the offense clearing out the top of the secondary and the No. 1 receiver in a position to run a deep, inside breaking cut away from the defender’s outside leverage.
Let’s check out another example with Bridgewater targeting Greg Jennings on the quick seam route off play action.
The Vikings show open-side run action with counter protection (pull open-side guard). That clears the middle of the field and gives Bridgewater the opportunity to target Jennings after the receiver clears the defensive end walked out over the slot.
The rookie sets his feet at the top of the drop and delivers a good ball in this situation to the upfield shoulder of Jennings.
Both of the examples we just looked at reflect the game-planning of Turner. And Bridgewater responded by making the throws to expose the second level of the Falcons defense.
The Vikings ran multiple packaged plays on Sunday that allowed Bridgewater to once again target the middle of the field off the mesh point (quarterback/running back exchange) while forcing the Falcons defenders to play with the proper eye discipline.
In the packaged plays, Bridgewater identifies the number of defenders in the box—plus the coverage look in the secondary—to make his reads through the mesh point (inside zone, bubble screen, seam/slant).
Here’s an example with the Vikings in a Slot Open formation out of Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB).
With trips to the open side (Patterson aligned at No. 3), Bridgewater reads the second level of the defense through the mesh point (linebacker attacks the inside zone, safety steps to the line of scrimmage).
This creates a soft hole in the zone defense (Cover 3) for Bridgewater to pull the ball and target Patterson on the quick, inside seam in front of the free safety in the middle third.
Packaged plays are tough for defenders because of the stress they put on run/pass keys with zone blocking up front. Take one false step and there are open throwing lanes.
However, from the perspective of Turner and the Vikings, these packaged plays provided Bridgewater with clean windows to target off quick reads through the mesh point.
That’s smart play-calling.
Identifying Pressure/Pocket Management
The Falcons played more coverage than I expected on Sunday, but when they did send pressure, Bridgewater was able to identify the pre-snap look and get the ball out.
Here’s an example with Bridgewater checking at the line of scrimmage to the “tunnel” screen.
This is a quick check/audible for the rookie and it allows him to avoid the blitz while creating an opportunity for an explosive play in the screen game.
The Vikings can get blockers out in front of Wright with the Falcons rushing up the field. That gives the wide receiver an opportunity to push the ball vertically after the catch, make a cut and produce an explosive play.
In terms of managing the pocket, Bridgewater passed the test in my opinion. There were multiple times when he had to step up, identify his checkdown target and get the ball out while also showing us that he could break contain to make plays with his feet.
This is a shot of Bridgewater’s touchdown run with the Falcons dropping back into coverage and the quarterback getting to the edge of the pocket before pulling the ball down to make a play.
Again, the Falcons were limited in the amount of pressure they brought versus the rookie. But in the few examples I saw on the tape, Bridgewater did find his targets (Wright on underneath crossing route) while also showing the ability to manage the pocket.
The Next Step in the Development Process
I thought Turner’s game plan was excellent, as he put Bridgewater in positive situations to produce during the rookie's first NFL start.
With the play action, packaged plays, high percentage throws (screens) and the core three/five-step route concepts, Bridgewater was able to deliver the ball in the short-to-intermediate passing game inside of the numbers.
Plus, given the Vikings' production at the running back position, Bridgewater wasn’t forced to work behind the sticks often.
Did Bridgewater miss some throws? Sure he did. Go back to the deep-ball opportunity to Wright, the inside seam to Jennings in the red zone or some of the deep, outside breaking cuts in the Vikings playbook.
Those are throws the rookie has to make versus a below-average Falcons defense with a very conservative game plan.
That will change with more complex game plans from opposing defenses as the season progresses along with coverages and pressures specifically designed to take away the intermediate throwing lanes. Bridgewater will have to adjust and show the ability to make throws in crucial situations when he doesn't have the support of the running game.
There is no question Bridgewater made plays when given the opportunity to produce in the win over the Falcons. The rookie looked comfortable in the game plan and was confident throwing the football.
Now we get to see how Bridgewater progresses while managing an ankle injury with the Green Bay Packers up next on Thursday night.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.