You can find or at least invent meaning in pretty much anything. But I would not, for instance, go searching for the meaning of life in a health magazine article about super foods or use the entire Blink 182 catalog as a means for understanding Shakespeare.
So what am I doing here, sifting through the Vikings’ 17-16 preseason victory Friday over the Bengals — what we all agree is a relatively consequence-free game (a friendly, if it were soccer) — and looking for meaning as it pertains to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? A few things, I suppose:
1) In the interest of fairness — when you’re on record saying Bridgewater and the Vikings have the No. 21 QB situation out of 32 teams this year — it is important to take note when that QB plays well. If you don’t, and you only grab the low-hanging negative fruit, you ultimately damage your argument more than you help it and end up dying on the wrong side of history.
2) Even if a game’s outcome — and therefore in a fundamental way all the action that led to that outcome — is consequence-free since everyone resets at zero after four of these friendlies, the individual performances do carry some weight. If they didn’t, nobody would bother with these games at all. It’s measuring with an inexact ruler, but the numbers matter less than where everyone stands.
3) Bridgewater is the most-scrutinized individual player on the Vikings, owing to his position, his previous body of work and the team’s aspirations. So everything he does, albeit in a warped way, has the most meaning, even now — more so than any catch a receiver makes, any tackle a linebacker makes, etc.
That brings us to the review of Bridgewater’s 2016 debut.
It was good!
(Really, every review of everything could be reduced to that or its opposite “It was bad!”).
More nuanced: It was really good! Some would even say great, assuming we keep things in proper perspective. For instance: Bridgewater, in going 6-for-7 for 92 yards and a touchdown pass, compiled a passer rating of 158.3. That’s the highest number allowed a passer in the NFL. And no other passer has that mark after one preseason game. True, the immortal Dak Prescott and Jake Rudock (among others) also had big week 1 preseason numbers. But would you rather have Bridgewater trailing those guys or ahead of them? Put another way: having a good preseason passer rating is better than not having a good preseason passer rating.
If you hate passer rating, Ian Kenyon has you covered with this stat: Pro Football Focus, heading into Saturday, had tracked 50 NFL QBs who had taken at least 10 preseason snaps. Bridgewater graded the highest of those 50. (You hate PFF and think they’re too high on Bridgewater in general? You can have that opinion. But it would be weird to say it’s a bad thing that he had such a high grade).
More important than the raw numbers were a couple of things that happened along the way. 1) He held the ball to long on the first drive and gave up a sack that stalled the offense. 2) BUT: He came back from that in the second drive to make a bunch of decisive throws, going 3-for-3 on third-down conversions and then delivering a haymaker TD to Charles Johnson on a perfectly delivered deep ball.
On that deep ball, we saw a glimpse of a potential solution to an offensive line still very much in flux, particularly when it comes to pass protection. On the play, as Mark Craig wrote, the Vikings’ tackles held the edge, pushing the Bengals’ pass rushers far up the field. They looked like they had a lane to get to Teddy, but they were so far up the field that Bridgewater had ample space to move up in the pocket.
They key to that, of course, is having good play from the interior line — so that when Bridgewater steps up he’s not heading right into pressure. Ask almost any quarterback, and he’ll tell you that pressure up the middle is far worse than pressure from the side.
If the Vikings’ offensive line has a potential (at least relative) strength, it is on the interior. There are still ifs involved, but on that deep ball to Johnson, the three interior linemen were John Sullivan at center, Joe Berger at right guard and Alex Boone at left guard. If Sullivan is healthy and if Berger is as good at guard as he was at center last year, those might be the Vikings’ three best offensive linemen.
And on that play, everyone executed perfectly — even tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith, who remain question marks overall. Bridgewater had all sorts of space to step into, and the extra time from the intentionally deep drop and slide up allowed Johnson to get downfield wide open. I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers throw for approximately 89 billion yards in pockets just like that. Rodgers is one of the best deep ball passers in the history of the NFL. Bridgewater has not been in the past. But on that play — in keeping with a trend from his practice work this year — he made the money throw. (Here’s the video if you don’t believe me).
I’m not saying this will happen every time, nor do I want to overstate the importance of a preseason drive. f Bridgewater’s 2016 season is a thousand-piece puzzle, the 96-yard drive capped by that TD pass was the fitting of a couple border and corner pieces together.
But if that play doesn’t happen — if Teddy gets sacked, or is pressured into an incompletion, or overthrows Johnson — he probably winds up with average numbers and the narrative is much different.
Instead, here we are — trying to find the meaning in the meaningless.