Vikings' Bridgewater can hurt Lions in multiple ways

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Teddy Bridgewater

Allen Park — One of the hardest positions for a rookie to adjust to in the NFL is quarterback. In the Lions' two meetings against the Vikings last season, they saw two different teams, largely because of the improved play of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The Lions swept both games from their division rival for the first time since 1997, but they were privy firsthand to the Bridgewater's development during his rookie season.

Compounded with the difficult transition to the NFL, Bridgewater didn't have the luxury of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikings offense struggled a bit last season, but Bridgewater was able to right the ship and to gain some confidence toward the end of the year, helping the Vikings to a 7-9 finish.

Minnesota is projected to be one of the surprise teams in the NFC this season, with the return of Peterson, who missed all but one game last season because of legal trouble, and the maturation that Bridgewater has made, becoming one of the best young passers in the NFL. He was selected 32nd overall and was the third quarterback taken.

As much as Peterson will be a focal point for the Lions defense in stopping the Vikings in Sunday's game at TCF Bank Stadium, Bridgewater is just as dangerous with the ball, making an impression on Lions coach Jim Caldwell.

"He's done some rare things," Caldwell said. "He's done some things that you typically don't see second-year guys do and he did it in his first year. He played against us the first game; the second game you thought he'd been playing for 10 years. He's got talent, he's got ability, he's smart, he's tough, he's got poise, he can run, he can throw — he's a pretty impressive guy.

"But, he was that way coming out of college, too. Perhaps, there were some doubters when he first got drafted, but you look at his body of work and that young man's pretty special."

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Noted as a dual-threat quarterback coming out of Louisville, Bridgewater has been able to hone his passing skills as well, completing at least 70 percent of his passes in five of his last six games, including a 72-percent completion percentage in Monday's loss at San Francisco.

"I know just watching him last year when we played him early and then we played him late, you could really see the development in terms of his decision-making and making sure he got the ball to the right person faster, and he shows great accuracy," Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.

"We're going to have our work cut out for us and we've got to make sure that we're on top of our coverage, making sure once the ball's thrown, if we can't get our hands on it, we don't intercept it, that we tackle."

Bridgewater's improved accuracy hasn't translated to wins just yet, though. In the last six games, Bridgewater is 124-of-172 (72 percent) for 1,461 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. But the Vikings are just 3-3.

Against the 49ers, Bridgewater's stats were better, but the Vikings haven't been able to establish balance in the offense. Peterson had just 10 carries for 31 yards and Minnesota managed just a field goal in the loss, which Bridgewater knows isn't the formula for their success.

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"We know that Adrian is going to be a huge part of the offense and a huge part of our success. We just look forward to getting him going," Bridgewater said.

"It was totally uncharacteristic of us out there Monday night. That's not the team that we've been seeing throughout training camp and throughout the preseason. It was an eye-opener for us, it woke us up and we know now that it's time to go."

One of the keys for the Lions defense is trying to keep Bridgewater out of his comfort zone and making him pass quickly. The problem is that there isn't much to which the second-year quarterback hasn't adjusted.

"The big thing is with him, he's not one-dimensional. So you're going to have to address him from a number of different areas," Caldwell said. "Some guys you want to force out of the pocket and force them to throw on the run. He throws well on the run and he's going to keep his eyes down the field as well.

"Some guys you want to keep in the pocket, but he can throw in the pocket fairly well, also. So he's proven that he's well-rounded. It's going to be a difficult task to say the least, so we have our work cut out for us. It's going to take pass rush, it's going to take coverage, it's going to take the whole gamut."