Can Teddy Bridgewater Give the Minnesota Offense a Boost?

Matt Cassel has been placed on IR, and it's now up to rookie Teddy Bridgewater to turn things around for the Vikings. Can he do it?

The Minnesota Vikings haven't been granted a very easy schedule in the early stages of the 2014 NFL season.

Sure, the Vikes opened up the year against the St. Louis Rams, but they then had to play the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. In the next two weeks, Minnesota hosts the Atlanta Falcons and travels to Green Bay to play the Packers.

Three of those five teams (the Patriots, Saints, and Falcons) rank inside our top eight based on nERD. nERD, if you're new to numberFire, is our measurement for a team's expected outcome against an average team.

The Rams rank 29th, and Green Bay is 18th.

The Vikings themselves ranked just 26th, tied with the New York Giants. Minnesota's defense, though, ranks eighth according to the math. So it's pretty clear that the problem, then, is the offense, which ranks just 23rd.

Now Matt Cassel is out for the year, and Teddy Bridgewater will draw his first start against the Falcons.

As you'll see soon, it won't be too hard to outproduce Cassel, but how far could Bridgewater take the Vikings behind the eighth-ranked defense in the league?

A Close-Up on Cassel

In addition to nERD, numberFire analysis tends to center on Net Expected Points (NEP), a metric that quantifies a player or team's production in terms of points added (or subtracted) from his team's net scoring potential. Essentially, it de-emphasizes garbage production and really indicates a player's impact on his team.

Remember the part about subtracting points from a team's potential? That's what Cassel did so far this year.

Cassel's Passing NEP was -7.02, meaning his play basically cost the Vikings a touchdown in his two-plus games. That may not sound like much, and sure, the Vikings were playing some good defenses. But of the 38 quarterbacks who attempted at least 20 drop backs, Cassel's Passing NEP ranked 33rd.

He attempted 78 drop backs, which was tied for just the 28th-most in the group. On a per-drop-back basis, Cassel also ranked 33rd, losing the Vikings 0.09 points per drop back.

Cassel's struggles were too burdensome to hold off Bridgewater for long, and now that Cassel is on the IR, the rookie has a chance to improve upon some shaky production from Cassel.

Bridgewater's Potential

It wasn't too long ago when there were talks of tanking in order to be able to draft Bridgewater.

Relative to this number-one overall hype, Bridgewater has come a long way in the wrong direction after what was widely regarded as an abysmal Pro Day showing before the draft. His accuracy and mechanics became red flags, and teams who may have been "Tanking for Teddy" were willing to pass him up early on in the draft.

I'm not here to break down game tape or passing mechanics. We're all about the numbers, and Bridgewater had some of the best among all passers in this draft class. Back before the draft, Jim Sannes broke down the five best quarterbacks of the 2014 draft class and examined their stats. He concluded that Bridgewater was the top choice based on the numbers (though Johnny Manziel was a close second).

Further, Sannes also took a look at Bridgewater after the Vikings drafted him and noted, most important of all, that Bridgewater's four top comparables based on our READ algorithm were quite polarizing.

Patrick Ramsey. David Carr. Cam Newton. Russell Wilson.

Those are the four most comparable prospects to Bridgewater based on combine measurables and team situation, and it's obvious which two Vikings fans are hoping he most closely resembles.

In his first game, though, Bridgewater wasn't great, but it's a very small sample size (22 drop backs). He accumulated a Passing NEP of 0.81 against the Saints. The Saints, by the way, aren't a very good pass defense at all and rank 29th in the NFL in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.

That Passing NEP of 0.81 may seem entirely insignificant without context. It ranks 27th out of 38 quarterbacks with at least 20 drop backs. Per play, Bridgewater accounted for 0.04 points, also 27th. But there are some significant names and players who rank around him in Passing NEP, a cumulative stat.

PlayerDrop BacksPassing NEPPass NEP/PPass Success%
Aaron Rodgers1117.170.0650.45%
Ben Roethlisberger1086.910.0646.30%
Jay Cutler1284.850.0450.00%
Teddy Bridgewater220.810.0445.45%
Geno Smith109-0.250.0045.87%
Tom Brady122-1.65-0.0141.80%
Jake Locker109-3.94-0.0440.37%

The names are promising, but keep in mind that these players rank 24th to 30th out of 38 qualified passers and that Cassel ranks below this list.

It's silly to overreact to a 22-drop-back sample size, but it's clear that Bridgewater can provide an upgrade over what Cassel was giving the Vikings. With the promising collegiate numbers that Sannes discussed, Bridgewater might be able to play closer to his ceiling (Wilson and Newton) than his floor (Carr and Ramsey).

Compounding this is the success of his current comparables (which can be found on his player page). Below are the final season metrics from his five closest comparables. Ranks are compared to quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs in that season. There were 38 qualified quarterbacks in 2007, 34 in 2009, 35 in 2011, and 39 in 2013.

PlayerYearSimilarityPass NEPRankPass NEP/PRankTotal NEPRank
Jason Campbell200996.80%18.75190.031930.7318
Donvan McNabb200795.30%44.96160.091658.7810
Alex Smith201195.20%21.59150.041633.1914
Derek Anderson200795.08%48.56130.091556.4811
Cam Newton201390.01%37.30160.071783.559

That's a lot to digest, I know, but basically, those players were slightly-above-average passers based on in-season comparisons, something that would be pretty impressive for a rookie.

For an even more promising outlook on him, focus on the right-most column, which displays Total NEP rank, which accounts for both rushing and passing. These comparables, then, suggest that he can be a borderline top-10 quarterback in terms of his overall impact toward scoring points for the Vikings and that Bridgewater should be able to provide some serious rushing production to a solid passing ability.

Can Teddy Turn the Vikings Around?

It's understandable if Vikings fans are discouraged at a 1-2 start. After all, the algorithms think the Vikings have just a 10.3% chance to reach the playoffs.

However, Minnesota boasts a top-eight defense currently, despite playing the Saints, who own the best offense in football based on our math. Further, the defense is well-rounded. The Vikings rank 13th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and 11th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.

If Bridgewater ends up playing like his historical peers - even like a 2007 Derek Anderson - then the Vikings might be able to trend upward sooner rather than later. With both the Lions and Bears inside our top 11 based on nERD, the Vikings might have trouble making up enough ground to clinch the division or even squeeze into a wild card position, but with a dual-threat quarterback and one of the best overall defenses in the league, the Vikings clearly aren't going to be a pushover team in the final 13 games of the season.