Bridgewater shoulders blame for Vikings’ offensive struggles

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is rushed by Detroit Lions defensive end George Johnson (left) and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah after releasing the ball during the second half on Sunday.

Ann Heisenfelt/Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Expecting a rookie quarterback to be a savior of an offense missing its best running back, tight end and key piece of the offensive line is a stretch; expecting the same rookie to do so in just his second NFL start against the league’s top-ranked defense is unreasonable.

This is Teddy Bridgewater’s world.

Living up to immense expectations as a first-round draft pick and the Minnesota Vikings’ hopeful solution for a decade-long quarterback problem is what’s been placed upon Bridgewater’s shoulders.

Minnesota’s coaches aren’t asking Bridgewater to be the savior for the league’s 27th-ranked offense — the breakdowns have been across the board — but there was the rookie quarterback Wednesday putting the load on his own shoulders.

"We could have played better," Bridgewater said of last week’s 17-3 loss. "We all could have played better, especially starting with me. In the passing game, I got to be much quicker in my decision-making, get the ball out of my hands faster and just get the ball to our playmakers and allow them to make plays."

The Vikings’ offense stalled continually, accounting for only 212 yards of offense and was 3 of 14 on third downs. Bridgewater was in the center of the storm, finishing the day 23-of-27 passing for 188 yards. He threw three interceptions, two on tipped passes and was sacked eight times for 45 yards.

Bridgewater took his share of the criticism, but blame is worthy to be spread throughout the offense.

"We have to be there to support him and he has to be there to support us," receiver Greg Jennings said. "Obviously he probably wishes that he could play better. But I guarantee you if you ask all 11 guys that had an opportunity play on that offensive side of the ball, we would all say the same thing. We could play better."

The most glaring factor Sunday was Minnesota’s inability to stop Detroit’s defensive line from putting pressure on Bridgewater. According to Pro Football Focus, Bridgewater faced pressure on 51.1 percent of his dropbacks.

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Asked how many of the sacks were on him, Bridgewater responded: "Majority of them. Sometimes a defense is just going to cover a play pretty well, but there were multiple times on Sunday where I found myself holding on to the ball, where a guy was running wide open down the field or running across the field wide open."

Receivers struggled at times to get separation and had four drops on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. Again, Bridgewater accepted responsibility.

"I’m pretty sure I can throw a much better ball," Bridgewater said. "I can have better ball placement and sometimes we’re asking those guys to make the difficult catches where I’m sometimes throwing the ball behind a wide receiver. I think that I can be better in my ball placement and throwing the ball on time."

Bridgewater isn’t alone in trying to turn around the offense, though. Some of the responsibilities are assumed for Bridgewater, but the Vikings want to help their rookie quarterback as he grows into the position.

"I believe, with all my heart, that Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the franchise quarterback here for a long, long time," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "I believe that the team believes that, too. Guys in the organization, the players, everybody believes this guy will be the future — and a bright future for this organization. We have to make sure we continue to help him to be successful — playing, coaching, whatever it is . . . I’m glad he’s got his low spot out of the way and he’s ready to go back to work."

While coaches work on fixing protection issues, Bridgewater tries to resolve his own deficiencies.

Bridgewater’s focus this week is getting through his reads quicker, playing faster. He said one improvement is having a better understanding of where he wants to go with the ball before the snap and working on his pre-snap reads.

"You have to have the mental clock in your head," Bridgewater said. "It’s usually whenever you take that fifth step, the ball should be going. You should be allowed to take at least one hitch to throw it to a wide receiver. If you’re on your second hitch, moving up in the pocket; that means you need to be getting the ball out of your hands to the checkdown. So, for me, I can count numerous times where I was taking more than two hitches or more than one hitch, holding on to the ball."

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Zimmer was asked about how Bridgewater would respond to getting hit so many times because of pass protection. The answer likely applies to the total package with Bridgewater.

"I’m not worried about him," Zimmer said. "He’s got a very tough mindset. He’s a great competitor. He’s got mobility in the pocket, so he can move. I’m not very concerned about that and we’re going to block better."

Bridgewater’s teammates don’t fear any residual affect from Sunday’s game.

"His composure and the way he sits back there in the pocket, you can’t replace that with anybody," receiver Jarius Wright said. "I think he’s going come right back out and sit right in the pocket and make the same throws that he did earlier in the year."

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