It’s been a long month for Vikings fans, but in this situation, they’re 2-0. Somehow.
In August, just before the season was set to start, the team’s world was turned upside down immediately. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tore his ACL on a non contact injury during practice, officially ending his season. Players and fans were devastated, and why shouldn’t they be? Bridgewater is a good quarterback whose reputation is misunderstood.
With Teddy out for 2016, the Vikings knew they needed to find an option at quarterback. Backup Shaun Hill started week 1, but the team was unsure if he would help them compete for a 2nd straight NFC North divisional title.
Just four days after Teddy’s injury, the Vikings made their call, acquiring Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford in exchange for a first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft as well as a conditional fourth round pick. None of us really saw it coming, though considering the quality of Hill, it was understandable.
The team wisely sat Bradford out for Week 1 so he could get some rest, and quietly named him the starter for Week 2 as to avoid extensive media coverage. Against the Green Bay Packers on NBC in the first ever game at U.S. Bank Stadium, expectations were high, despite needing to cram in the offense for a short time.
Against all odds, not only did the Vikings play, but Bradford thrived. In a 17-14 win, he completed 22/31 passes for 286 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 picks, as he found chemistry with sophomore receiver Stefon Diggs, connecting with him 9 times for 182 yards and a touchdown. Bradford was also 3/5 on downfield passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Even more surprising was that Bradford had outplayed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best passer in the league.
This stat line would suggest a good, but not great, game from Bradford. That’s why I’m here to say that Bradford played great, not good, in his Vikings debut.
Bradford Getting Into His Groove
Bradford struggled early in the game with his accuracy, but this has more to do with him getting his jitters out of the way early. Eventually, Bradford found a groove and was consistently on target with his receivers. In this GIF, Matt Kalil blows another block (big shock), but Bradford is able to deliver a pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph (who drops it, another shocker) before getting hit.
The Vikings have one of, if not the worst, offensive lines in the league, putting significant pressure on their quarterbacks from snap to snap while constantly missing a beat. Depending on if Bradford is healthy, his health will be tested by tougher defensive lines who will take advantage of the cardboard cutout protection. They had already given up 4 sacks against the Packers, as well as facing constant pressure when passing.
Play Under Pressure
Thankfully, for the week 2 matchup, Bradford played surprisingly well under pressure considering the rust he was going through at the time. On this play, Bradford threw his first touchdown as a Viking to Rudolph in the back corner of the end zone. The right tackle blows his block, which is to be expected with pass protection as bad as the Vikings’, but Bradford stays poised and places the pass beautifully into Randolph’s hands.
That’s another trait Bradford excelled at against Green Bay, and something he’s secretly excelled at his entire career: Great placement. Healthy, he’s quietly been one of the more accurate passers in the league, and this is especially true for downfield accuracy, where he ranked 2nd in accuracy percentage in the 2015 Deep Ball Project.
Great Ball Placement
These three throws are plays many of Bradford’s critics have stated he cannot make, when in actuality there’s evidence to suggest otherwise. In the first GIF, Bradford places the ball perfectly for his receiver despite the tight coverage. Not a coincidence that he made a terrific pass with good protection, is it?
In the 2nd GIF, Bradford gets the ball out quickly and lays out a beautiful rainbow bomb for Diggs right before he’s hit. Considering the coverage, protection and timing of the throw, this is one of the best passes I’ve seen Bradford make. While whether he’s a better QB than Teddy has yet to be determined, his arm strength makes him a better *fit* under offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.
In the third GIF, Bradford offered his best pass of the night, quickly firing under immediate pressure an amazing touchdown pass to Diggs just before he’s hit. Diggs isn’t great at anything, but he’s good at everything he does, making him greater than the sum of his parts (though it should be noted he is progressing).
It’s these type of splash plays that helped the Vikings win the game on Sunday Night, and Bradford delivered when his quarterbacking was really needed in this regard.
Getting The Ball Out Quickly And Quick Releases
Finally, Bradford helped his receivers out a lot by getting the ball out quickly. The first GIF doesn’t look impressive at first, but watch how quickly Bradford gets rid of the ball as he’s dropping back. His awareness of an open Diggs and his quick release ensures a great, accurate pass, one that led to a huge gain.
The 2nd one is not quite as good, but it’s important to note Bradford made a nice pass despite a collapsing pocket. Like Bridgewater, Bradford is excellent at keeping his poise despite pressure, and while this will lead to a lot of hits, it will also lead to plenty of plays if given receiver separation.
Bradford again is under immediate pressure in the 3rd GIF. On 3rd down late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings just needed to convert a first down to seal the game. In a bold move, they let Bradford throw on 3rd down. Bradford is able to target his receiver with an accurate pass before getting hit, and while the pass isn’t complete, a defensive pass interference call was made, pretty much clinching Minnesota a huge victory at home.
Sam Bradford is a good quarterback, and I feel that needs to be said. When set up in the right situation, he’s been able to thrive, showing great accuracy and pocket presence. Behind horrible pass protection and lack of adequate receivers (Diggs being the exception obviously), the passing game could struggle against better defenses.
But when he’s not suffocating, and when he’s healthy, Bradford will help put the Vikings in the best position to succeed this season.