He was being honest in one sense. Polite in another sense. Practical in yet another sense. And he was speaking some hidden truth, yes, in yet another sense.
But in the strictest sense of the definition of a quarterback being labeled a “game manager,” which is typically not a compliment, the connotation is a QB who doesn’t take too many chances, relying instead on prudent decisions to put the running game, defense and special teams in positions to succeed.
In other words, it was how — at least in one answer Wednesday — Zimmer described Bridgewater: “I guess maybe one of the best statistics is that he doesn’t hurt his team ever. Very rarely does he hurt his team. Most of the time, he’s helping his team in a lot of ways that don’t show up in number of yards. We always said we wanted to be a team that runs the football well, plays good defense, plays good special teams; we kind of do that a little bit.”
So here’s where Zimmer is being honest: He doesn’t really think Bridgewater is a game manager because, as he said in a different breath, he believes that if the Vikings got into a game where they needed Bridgewater to make more plays with his arm, the young QB would be up to the task. “I think he’s a heck of a quarterback and I’m glad he’s mine,” Zimmer said Wednesday.
But here’s where Zimmer is being polite: Bridgewater, through nine games this season, is at the very least being USED like a game manager. The Vikings are 7-2, so it is hard to quibble with the results. That record, though, has an element of fragility to it. Yes, the NFL is a league that comes down to a handful of plays a game in many cases to determine winners and losers. The Vikings have been on the right side of that ledger many times this year, most notably against Kansas City, Chicago and St. Louis. The strength of this team is clearly its defense, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed at 17.1 per game. Why wouldn’t you build around that?
That said, it’s also not a crime to have a potent offense and a shutdown defense. The Vikings are on pace to allow fewer than 300 points for the first time since … 1998, when they set an NFL record (at the time) for points scored. So we shouldn’t totally buy into the notion that a safe offense is a defense’s best friend. It very well might be for the Vikings as currently constructed, but that again goes back to their personnel on offense — with Bridgewater right in the middle of that. His attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes all rank in the bottom third of NFL quarterbacks. He’s being used in a specific way.
Where Zimmer is being practical is this: there’s no reason to conceded that Bridgewater is a “game manager,” even if the coach does believe it to a degree. You want your quarterback believing he can make plays because, as Zimmer correctly noted Wednesday, there will be times this season when Bridgewater needs to do so — and that time might be Sunday against the Packers.
And where Zimmer uncovers truth to counter the skeptics is when he notes Bridgewater is helping the Vikings win in ways that don’t necessarily show up in counting stats like yardage. And that doesn’t just mean doing the things a “game manager” does. Bridgewater, for instance, has been a fantastic scrambler this season.
In ESPN’s Total QBR breakdown, Bridgewater has the fifth-highest expected points added from runs of any QB in the league this season. His Total QBR — a value assigned to QBs from 1-100 that aims to measure overall impact — is 63.6, good for a respectable 15th in the league. Game-by-game, it hasn’t been below 50 in any game except the dreadful opener against San Francisco. Last week, even though he only threw for 140 yards, his Total QBR was 74.2 — fourth-best in the league for the week. And Bridgewater is averaging 7.13 yards per pass attempt, a middle-of-the-pack figure.
Long story short: Bridgewater is being used like a game manager, but to label him that is unfair because he very well might be more than that when he has to be. These next seven games, many against top-flight opponents, should give us some good answers.