Preview: Vikings brace for stout Bills run defense
The Minnesota Vikings made a move toward the future when they handed the quarterback position to first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater’s opponent Sunday, the Buffalo Bills, didn’t subscribe to the same school of thought. They proved as much when they benched second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton after four games.
So far, neither replacement has excelled.
Bridgewater, who took over for the Vikings (2-4) after Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending foot injury, flashed his potential in his first start, passing for 317 yards and rushing for a touchdown in a 41-28 win over Atlanta on Sept. 28.
The success, though, was short-lived. Bridgewater missed a 42-10 defeat at Green Bay four days later with an ankle injury and struggled mightily when he returned last Sunday against Detroit. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 188 yards and three interceptions in a 17-3 loss.
"You’re not just going to go out there and be perfect," said Bridgewater, who will make his first road start on Sunday. "There’s some throws that you’re not going to be able to control and there will be things that happen throughout the course of a game that you won’t be able to control.
"But at the same time, for me, it was an eye-opener. After my performance against Atlanta, I believe the expectation level is high. But I have a high expectation level for myself also."
Bridgewater has yet to throw a touchdown pass and his 70.8 passer rating ranks second-lowest among qualified players. Those early career statistics, however, have done little to dissuade coach Mike Zimmer of his ability.
"I believe, with all my heart, that Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the franchise quarterback here for a long, long time," Zimmer said Monday. "I believe that the team believes that, too."
For Buffalo (3-3), the quarterback change emphasized its hope to compete this season. But since Orton took over, the Bills are 1-1 – the same winning percentage they had under Manuel.
Orton threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-22 loss to New England last week. The veteran also turned the ball over twice, both of which led to Patriots scores.
"Sometimes we can’t stay out of our own way," Orton said after the loss, which moved New England into first place in the AFC East. "It’s tough to beat a good team doing that."
Orton, averaging 303.5 yards over his two starts, will face the league’s sixth-best passing defense. The Vikings have allowed 213.8 yards per game, and safety Harrison Smith is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions.
They will look to shut down a Bills offense with issues extending far beyond just the quarterback position. Despite a rushing attack headed by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and a receiving threat led by talented rookie Sammy Watkins, the Bills have managed 11 touchdowns – fifth-fewest in the NFL.
"It’s not one individual," coach Doug Marrone said. "It’s easy when it’s one individual. You just put one out and put somebody else in. But it’s up front, it’s hitting the holes, it’s believing and trusting the scheme."
Jackson, who has one of Buffalo’s two rushing touchdowns, singled out not a player but an overall lack of execution as his team’s biggest issue.
"Turnovers and penalties," Jackson said. "When you kill yourselves on drives like that it’s going to be hard to get anything going."
Buffalo has been penalized the third-most times in the NFL and was flagged eight times for 107 yards against New England.
Adding another problem to the mix, reports surfaced Monday that wideout Mike Williams had been granted permission to seek a trade by general manager Doug Whaley after the healthy Williams was benched last Sunday.
However, Williams said Wednesday he wants to continue playing for his hometown team and has ordered his agent to stop seeking trade offers.
Defensively, Buffalo leads the NFL in allowing 67.5 yards per game on the ground and has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown.
Minnesota rushed for 241 yards against the Falcons, with rookie Jerick McKinnon having 135 on 18 carries. McKinnon, though, has 64 yards on 18 attempts in the last two games.
The Vikings lead the all-time series 8-4, winning 38-14 in the last matchup Dec. 5, 2010. The teams have not played in Buffalo since 2006.