Isn’t it great when the eye test matches the stats? OK, in the case of the Vikings’ passing game, it’s not necessarily great. But it is comforting when you think you’re seeing something and the numbers bear it out.
Such is the case with the Vikings’ passing game in recent weeks, which has seen a dramatic shift to what can generally be considered safer, checkdown completions. While Teddy Bridgewater has never been viewed as a great vertical passer who is going to wear out his wide receivers with go routes and 18-yard out patterns, he was hitting his wideouts considerably more early in the season.
In the first seven games of this season — the line of demarcation being the Bears game, a 23-20 victory in which wideouts Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson made huge grabs in the closing minutes to pull out a win — Bridgewater completed 136 passes. Of those completions, 81 went to wide receivers and 55 went to tight ends, running backs and fullbacks.
In the five most recent games, Bridgewater has completed 89 passes. Of those completions, just 32 have gone to wide receivers while 57 have gone to tight ends, running backs and fullbacks.
For the season, it’s almost a perfect split: 113 completions to wideouts, 112 to all the rest, for a total of 225. But in the first seven games, 60 percent of Bridgewater’s completions went to wideouts. In the last five games, just 36 percent went to wideouts.
Now, it should be noted that not every pass to a tight end, RB or FB is a checkdown. If Bridgewater throws to Kyle Rudolph — who has definitely been more involved in the offense lately — that’s not necessarily a checkdown. A screen pass is not a checkdown. And there are certainly throws to wide receivers that could be considered checkdowns or safe decisions based on the routes they are running.
In general, though, that’s a pretty significant drop. It could signify a few things: 1) Because of poor pass blocking, the Vikings are committing more tight ends and extra blockers at the line of scrimmage, putting fewer wide receivers into routes and making it less likely a receiver will come open and more likely that a short throw to a checkdown will result. 2) Perhaps Bridgewater is being too cautious with the ball. The blame for that is tricky. He might just not be seeing open guys or taking his responsibility to manage the game too seriously. Or it could come as a result of being fearful of throwing into tight spaces because of the threat of an interception or because he’s worried that if he holds the ball while waiting for routes to develop he will get sacked. 3) Bridgewater’s inaccuracy when it comes to downfield passing is really showing.
Whatever the case, the Vikings and Bridgewater are not making teams pay for loading up to stop Adrian Peterson. Their wide receivers have just 402 yards on those 32 catches in the past five games, with no TD grabs. If the Vikings’ pass offense is going to rebound, the ball distribution needs to get back more in line with how it was in the first seven games.