Only twice in 55 seasons of Vikings football has a team completed passes to more receivers than the 11 Teddy Bridgewater connected with in Sunday’s 28-19 victory at Detroit.
In 1969, three Vikings quarterbacks, including Joe Kapp, completed passes to 12 different players in a 52-14 victory over the Baltimore Colts. In 1974, two quarterbacks, including Fran Tarkenton, tied that record in a 51-10 victory over the Houston Oilers.
Asked what it says about Bridgewater to spread 25 completions and 316 yards to five receivers, three running backs, two tight ends and a fullback, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “I think [Bridgewater] has a good idea of where the combination of the routes are. The one that I might have liked the best was the one he threw to Zach Line because [Bridgewater] was working the other side of the field at the time and then he came back over to [Line]. That showed a lot about his vision.”
Line was the last read in Bridgewater’s progression on that particular play. He was wide open and turned a short pass into a 49-yard gain.
Eight different players caught passes for first downs. Stefon Diggs had four first downs and a touchdown while Mike Wallace had three first downs and Jarius Wright had two. Kyle Rudolph had only 10 yards on two catches, but one was for a first down and the other was a touchdown.
“Our guys do a great job of being spaced up and understanding the passing concepts,” Bridgewater said. “For me, I try to get through my progressions fast and not hold on to the football too long.”
Diggs was the headliner with six catches for 108 yards, including a diving fingertip grab for a 36-yard touchdown. Wallace had only four catches for 36 yards, but he had a 17-yarder on second-and-13, a 9-yarder on second-and-8 and an 11-yarder on second-and-9.
Wright had only three catches for 31 yards, but he had an 11-yarder on second-and-6 and a 16-yarder on first-and-10. Charles Johnson, MyCole Pruitt, Line and Adam Thielen each had only one catch. But those four catches went for 113 yards and four first downs.
Johnson’s catch, a 21-yarder on third-and-9, was a classic example of how proper spacing and combination routes can open up one of two receivers against zone coverages.
On that play, the Vikings spread the field with three receivers and a tight end, Pruitt, in the left slot. Johnson was in the right slot while Wright was spread wide right.
At the snap of the ball, Johnson ran a deep route while Wright ran a shallow one. When three defenders hesitated because of Wright’s shallow route, Johnson ran past them into an opening created between them and the two deep safeties. Bridgewater then put the ball right on Johnson.
“In this system, guys know that sometimes a route may call for them to open up another receiver,” Bridgewater said.
Zimmer said Bridgewater reads the defense in that situation and chooses between the high route (Johnson) or the low route (Wright).
“That was a combination route,” Zimmer said. “That’s really what offenses are doing, working high-low on the corner or on the linebacker. See if a [defender] jumps [the low route] or if a guy backs up. If the guy backs up, then you throw the shallow route.”
The pass to Pruitt produced the rookie’s first NFL catch in the third quarter. Lined up in the right slot, Pruitt appeared to be the third option for Bridgewater, who looked to Thielen and Diggs on the left side first.
With a linebacker in tight coverage, Pruitt caught the ball 5 yards downfield. He broke a tackle, executed a fantastic spin move for a tight end and broke three more tackles for a 13-yard gain on second-and-12.
“The toughness kind of showed on that catch,” Zimmer said. “He turned and I liked the way he attacked the defense to try and get the first down.”
Pruitt was on the field at the time because it was Rudolph’s series to rest. The fact that the No. 3 tight end was on the field obviously didn’t factor into Bridgewater’s decision in the pocket.
“It could be anybody who’s in there,” Bridgewater said. “As long as you know where those guys are, it will be easier to spread the ball around and let them make plays.”