With our thoughts turning to a potential challenger for Mitchell Trubisky in the offseason, we can begin examining not only rookie options but also possible veteran acquisitions at the quarterback position. Many readers have clamored for New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, so our analysis can begin by putting the veteran passer under the film microscope. Bridgewater performed well in place of Drew Brees earlier this season, and some of his traits stand out when watching him on film.
The Touch Game
The first aspect to Bridgewater’s game this season that stands out is his touch and feel for throwing the football. When people first picture a “touch” throw in their minds, they likely envision a bucket throw on a vertical route deep along the sideline. However, there is more to the touch game than the deep ball. Sometimes, as a quarterback, you need to demonstrate feel for the underneath defenders and apply the right trajectory to a throw depending on the defensive coverage.
Take, for example, this out pattern that Bridgewater (#5) delivers to Michael Thomas, who runs this route out of the slot against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Tampa Bay drops into a Cover 2 Man Underneath coverage on this play, giving the Buccaneers two deep safeties over the top. Bridgewater executes a five-step drop from a shotgun alignment and drops this throw in perfectly, over the underneath man coverage defender with enough velocity to get the ball to Thomas before the safety can make a play on the football or the man.
Looking at this throw from the end zone angle, you can see how Bridgewater navigates the coverage and the sideline to convert this third down for the Saints:
Later in this Week 5 victory over the Buccaneers, Bridgewater hits Ted Ginn Jr. (#19) on a deep post route for a touchdown. Ginn is wide open on this play, splitting the safeties on his post route in a divide concept. What stands out to me watching this throw from the veteran passer is the subtle pocket movement before the throw:
Bridgewater faces some pressure from the left side, and is forced to climb the pocket in response. He slides up and to the right, away from danger, but as he does so his eyes remain trained downfield, and his left hand is glued to the football. This is teaching tape when it comes to the subtle art of pocket movement. Bridgewater remains at the ready to throw, and when Ginn breaks open, the ball is out:
A thing of beauty.
Here is one more example of Bridgewater’s touch, and it comes against the Bears themselves. Midway through the fourth quarter of their Week 7 contest, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-4 near midfield. Bridgewater dropped to throw and faced pressure off the right edge, and once more he was tasked with balancing the tightrope of pocket evasion and downfield passing:
This was a test that the veteran passer aced. Once again we see him evade pressure by flushing to his left, all the while keeping his eyes trained on the horizon to find a downfield target. That target appears in the form of Thomas, crossing the field from right to left, and Bridgewater drops in a perfect throw over the outstretched arms of a pair of defenders:
Bridgewater can navigate the downfield throws, and the underneath throws, with a great balance of trajectory and velocity. He would certainly bring that to a table in Chicago.
Now let’s talk a bit about the mental side. This season (and last season to be fair) we have spent a lot of time together talking about Trubisky’s mental approach to the position. Issues in that realm were perhaps highlighted when Chase Daniel stepped in against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this year, and the offense seemed to click when the ball was coming out on time and in rhythm.
That decisiveness within structure is something that Bridgewater could also bring on Day One.
Here is the first example, from the Saints’ Week 6 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Facing a third-and-13, New Orleans runs a “Pout,” or post/out, combination along the right side of the field:
Jacksonville drops into a Cover 4 coverage scheme on this play, and this route combination is ideal to run against this defense. Usually what happens is the cornerback has to stay on the post route and the safety then becomes responsible for the deep out pattern, and the receiver has the leverage advantage on the break to the outside. Here, however, Jacksonville’s secondary exchanges the routes, and the cornerback peels off the post route to cover the out pattern and the safety rotates over to the post:
If Bridgewater hesitates at all, he is throwing his tight end Josh Hill (#89) into danger. But because Bridgewater hits his drop depth and gets the ball out, the corner cannot rotate over in time:
Decisiveness leads to big plays for an offense, and on this occasion the Saints convert a third-and-long.
Returning to the Bears game for a moment, Bridgewater again showed some quick thinking on this in-breaking route to Thomas from late in the second quarter:
The QB gets the benefit of added information before the play, as pre-snap motion lets him know the Bears are in man coverage. He comes out of a play-action fake (with his back to the defense) firing on this route to Thomas working toward the middle of the field. Again, any hesitation from the quarterback here and the passing window is closed.
The view from the end zone illustrates just how quick the process is from Bridgewater:
The passer carries out the play fake and comes up throwing, without a hitch in his drop. Timing and decisiveness leading to a big gain for the offense.
We can return to the Tampa Bay game for one more example to close out the film portion of the proceedings. On this second-and-9 throw against the Buccaneers, Bridgewater not only shows decisiveness on the pass to tight end Jared Cook (#89), but we also see some of that feel for underneath defenders. Tampa Bay has a linebacker right in the throwing lane, so Bridgewater works the throw around him, leading Cook to safety:
Linebacker Kevin Minter (#91) is right in the way of this route to the tight end, but Bridgewater puts this throw outside of the LB’s reach and toward the middle of the field, so Minter cannot make a play on the football. If he waits to let Cook completely clear the underneath defender, Bridgewater’s patience will bring the safeties into play. Again, the decisiveness opens up big play opportunities for the offense.
The Nagy Fit
As we discuss with quarterbacks each draft cycle, perhaps the most important piece of the evaluation process is the scheme fit. This was illustrated in my mailbag piece last week, when I relayed the lesson from former NFL scout Dan Hatman, about how NFL personnel rooms will differ - often vociferously - about a player’s potential fit in an offense.
Bridgewater’s potential fit in a Nagy offense, however, seems to be pretty straight-forward. While there are really no such things as a pure “West Coast” or “Air Coryell” system these days, Sean Payton is a disciple of the Bill Walsh coaching tree, having coached alongside other West Coast minds such as Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan. While his offense has taken on a bit more of a vertical flavor over the past few years, the core components of such a system are still in place down in the bayou.
Nagy’s system - or at least what it strives to be - is a West Coast system. Now that flavor may have been refined and altered over the past few years with Trubisky, but given Bridgewater’s decisiveness, the scheme fit seems to be ideal between the system and the potential new triggerman.
Whether the Bears and Pace decide to move in this direction - and whether New Orleans would even let Bridgewater leave town - are questions to be answered in the offseason. But in terms of traits and fit, Bridgewater might be a very intriguing option for Chicago.