Asking NFL players and coaches to share details is kind of like asking the president of the United States for his launch code.
They tend to get suspicious.
But we pressed on, risking an FBI intervention, because we wanted the details of three plays. Just three plays out of 40 that would help explain why rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater received such universal praise for the poise he showed last week in New Orleans and the potential he possesses heading into his first NFL start on Sunday against the Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium.
“There are some various different things,” quarterbacks coach Scott Turner said. “We don’t want to give away too much, right?”
In a perfect NFL media world, this is the point when we’d go Tom Cruise, shake our fist and scream, “I want the truth!” Instead, we picked away at the pertinent parties throughout the week, trying to hurdle the clichés in our path like a life-size human form of Super Mario.
Below is what we came up with from Bridgewater’s NFL debut in relief of injured Matt Cassel during last week’s 20-9 loss at the excessively loud Superdome.
The first play illustrates how quickly Bridgewater is capable of reading a situation. The second shows what his mobility brings to the play sheet. And the third helps show that Bridgewater’s eyes don’t immediately abandon the pass when things break down.
10:48, second quarter
The situation: The Vikings trail 13-3 and face third-and-7 from their 40-yard line. Cassel is being carted to the locker room because of a broken foot as Bridgewater, the 32nd overall pick in this year’s draft, lines up for just the third regular-season snap of his NFL career.
The formation: Four wide with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson right, tight end Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright left and running back Matt Asiata in the backfield next to Bridgewater, who is in the shotgun.
What happened after the snap of the ball seemed simple. In fact, press box observers even joked about what a great job the rook did when Asiata took a 4-yard check-down pass behind the line of scrimmage and raced 41 yards.
Actually, according to the guys who make their living coaching this stuff, it was indeed impressive on Bridgewater’s part.
“Matt was Teddy’s fourth read on that play,” Scott Turner said. “Teddy’s starting on the whole other side of the field with his reads. Physically, that’s not a difficult throw at all. But mentally, getting through that progression quickly, that’s a big play for Teddy in the game.”
Bridgewater’s first reads were to Jennings and Patterson to the right and then Rudolph more toward the middle. They were covered and there wasn’t time to dance around.
“They blitzed the guy who was supposed to be covering Asiata,” said Scott Turner, referring to linebacker Curtis Lofton. “Teddy saw that and got to that fourth option quick.”
It helped that center John Sullivan stonewalled Lofton at the line of scrimmage. For all the heat the line is taking, Sullivan is one of three linemen in the league with a 100 percent pass blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus.
Asked about Bridgewater’s patience on the play, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said, “Well, that’s the thing that I think Teddy has — an outstanding maturity level.”
9:09, second quarter
The situation: Still trailing 13-3 three plays later, the Vikings face third-and-6 from the Saints 16-yard line.
The formation: Four wide again with Rudolph and Wright to the right and Patterson and Jennings to the left. Bridgewater is in the shotgun.
Norv Turner made the right call at the right time against the right defensive formation.
“Blue Right Draw,” said right guard Brandon Fusco. “And I think they might have been messed up with their defensive alignment because it was a weird look we hadn’t seen before.”
The Saints had two down linemen toward the left side of the offensive line. The perfect situation for a quarterback draw between Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt.
“It’s just ‘go,’ ” Bridgewater said of his assignment. “Just catch it and go.”
Actually, Scott Turner said, Bridgewater has to read the defense first to see if it will work. If not, he has to change the play at the line of scrimmage.
He was reading the defense when Sullivan surprised him with the snap, which is done on a silent count in venues as noisy as the Superdome.
“Yeah, it just caught me off guard,” Bridgewater said. “I was still trying to communicate a call with the offensive line when the ball was snapped. But I was just able to react and try to make a play.”
With all of Cassel’s experience, it’s not a play he could pull off.
“They were lined up so far to the left that the only guy we really had to block was my guy,” Fusco said. “Sully worked up to the linebacker behind my guy but didn’t really have to touch him because Teddy got out of the gate fast. Real fast.”
Bridgewater was tripped up after 9 yards, but not before future opponents took notice.
“He can make positive plays out of negative situations, not only with his arm but with his feet,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “It can create stress issues for people who are trying to defend him.”
9:17, fourth quarter
The situation: It is second-and-17 following a sack at the Vikings 22-yard line. The Vikings trail 20-9.
The formation: Patterson is wide left, MarQueis Gray is tight right with Jennings in the slot next to him and Wright wide right.
By this time, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a big enough lead to get real aggressive. At the snap, he sends six defenders after the rookie.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro gets past Loadholt on the right, while end Junior Galette comes past Matt Kalil on the left. Lofton rushes up the middle and is met by rookie running back Jerick McKinnon.
With pressure off both edges and traffic in front of him, the pocket disappears quickly. But Bridgewater’s eyes are still looking downfield as Vaccaro hits his right shoulder.
Bridgewater withstands that shot and cocks his arm as Lofton makes contact with his helmet. The ball then comes out quickly as Lofton is pulling Bridgewater to the left. Jennings catches it for a 15-yard gain.
“He’s compact and he’s got a quick release, which helps him in tight areas like that,” Scott Turner said. “In this case, he also was getting hit and didn’t have a lane to throw. I really don’t know, to be honest, how he found Greg and got it to him.
“I think it was unbelievable composure to get it out of there and then hit Greg perfectly. So that, to me, was a play where you say, ‘It’s encouraging to have a rookie who can make a play like that.’ ”
Bridgewater said he allowed himself a special celebratory moment early this week before getting right back to work.
“I gave myself a moment Monday morning,” he said. “When I woke up, I just told myself, ‘Hey, your dream is finally here, it’s coming true.’ … It’s one thing to be named the guy. For me, I just want to continue to be the guy for a long time.”