Entering the 2015 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings were a popular pick to contend for – and possibly snag – a Wild Card spot. Ten weeks into the season, however, the Vikings (7-2) are hoping for much more than that.
Minnesota is atop the NFC North and battling neck-and-neck with Arizona (7-2) for a first-round playoff bye.
The Vikings have a lot going for them: Adrian Peterson leads the league by a landslide with 961 rushing yards (Chris Johnson, with 734 rushing yards, is second), and the defense ranks ninth in total defense (336.6 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (17.1 points). In fact, the Vikings have held opponents to 19 points or fewer in seven of their last eight games.
Those are all good things.
But there’s also Teddy Bridgewater.
“Unfortunately, I think everybody has kind of cooled off on Teddy,” former Vikings linebacker and current Fox Sports college football analyst Ben Leber said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “That’s not really Teddy’s fault. Teddy ended the season last year on such a high note. He did so many good things – took care of the football, had that poise in clutch situations – and so everybody came into this year with such high expectations and I think it was just a little bit unfair. So I think the rest of the public is kind of coming down to earth on what they expect out of a second-year guy. He’s doing a lot of good things. He’s not getting a lot of time in the pocket, he’s got a banged-up offensive line with the Vikings and they can’t really get into their offensive system that Norv Turner wants to get into because of that. So they’ve had to change some things.”
Bridgewater has been under center far more this year than he was last year – having Peterson in the backfield will do that to a young quarterback – but he has still performed at a high level. Granted, Bridgewater has just nine touchdowns (seven pass, two tush) in nine games, but he has completed 64.2 percent of his passes and is making smart decisions with the football.
“Early on in this season, Norv Turner had sort of an identity crisis,” Leber said. “Is he going to run the offense through Teddy, or is he going to run it through Adrian? It took a few games to kind of figure it out, but once they put Adrian back as a deep dot with Teddy under center – sometimes with a fullback in front of him – that’s when the offense started taking off. That’s when Adrian started picking up big chunk yardage and I think Norv kind of realized, ‘All right, I’m running this offense through Adrian. I’m going to ask Teddy to take care of the football, be the true game manager and see if we can win some football games.’ And that’s kind of what’s going on.
Minnesota, by the way, leads the league in rushing yards per game (147.2) and is third in yards per attempt (4.8). Thus, the Vikings don’t need Bridgewater, who just turned 23 last week, to carry them.
But remember: While the stats may not be there, the skills are.
“I think the evolution of Teddy is still going to take a lot of time,” Leber said. “I think he has a ton of talent, a lot of skill, he can do a lot of good things. But it’s just going to take a little more time.”