It isn’t easy throwing a football outdoors in Minnesota after October.
Passing a ball 30 yards downfield in the face of a pass rush becomes more difficult when you can barely feel your fingers. Minnesota Vikings third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can attest to that. The Vikings have played their home games the last two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, the outdoor home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, while awaiting completion of their new home, U.S. Bank Stadium.
Bridgewater and the Vikings have had to play in some brutal wintry conditions, with last year’s gut-wrenching loss to the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC Wild Card game an extreme example. But the Vikings equipment staff can put the long underwear back in storage. The Vikings will open their new indoor home Sept. 18, and perhaps no one will benefit more from the move than their young quarterback.
Bridgewater is 17-12 in 29 career starts (including one postseason game). Twenty-four of those 29 games have been played outdoors and Bridgewater is 15-9 in those games.
The Vikings are 5-3 in games Bridgewater started at home when the temperature was 40 degrees or colder according to statistics from NFLWeather.com. Offensive production in those games, however, ranged from explosive to somewhat feeble. The Vikings scored at least 30 points in four of the games and were limited to 13 points or fewer in the other four. Bridgewater completed 142 of 207 pass attempts (68.6 percent) for 1,615 yards (an average of 201.9 yards per game), 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Those numbers are rather indicative of Bridgewater’s entire NFL body of work: respectable, yet not exactly impactful. A closer look at the numbers shows plenty of room for improvement.
Bridgewater completed more than 20 passes only once in the eight games. He threw for 300 yards only once and threw for 209 yards or fewer in five of those contests. Four of his 11 touchdowns came in one game against the Chicago Bears.
The sample size is relatively small, but it’s large enough to signify a couple of things. Mainly, it reflects Minnesota’s conservative offensive approach that is predicated on superstar running back Adrian Peterson.
That approach is even more apparent in cold-weather matchups, as the Vikings ran the ball 224 times and had 208 pass attempts in those eight games. Remember, the Vikings went 5-3 in those eight contests. Interestingly, the Vikings had more handoffs than dropbacks in all five victories.
So it’s clear that Minnesota has a formula to maintain balance and let the run set up the pass. It’s also verification that Bridgewater has mainly been utilized as a game manager through his first two seasons — to pretty good success.
It will be interesting to see whether Minnesota’s offensive philosophy will change now that it will be playing eight home games (and at least one road game) indoors each year. Bridgewater’s sample size indoors isn’t large, but it’s enough to notice an intriguing contrast in how he has been used.
Bridgewater has played five games indoors, including two against NFC North rival Detroit and his NFL debut at the Superdome in New Orleans. The Vikings went 2-3 in those games, which is not an indication of how well Bridgewater played.
He completed 113 of 160 attempts (70.6 completion percentage) for 1,290 yards (average of 258 passing yards per game), four touchdowns and three interceptions. Bridgewater has five 300-yard passing performances in his career; three of them came indoors.
It appears the Vikings loosened Bridgewater’s leash more indoors, but that might not have been the primary reason for success, as they continued to rely heavily on the ground game.
If the small sample sizes were indicative of anything, it was Minnesota was much more aggressive indoors than it was in cold weather. Part of this is just natural football logic — it’s easier to run in the cold than throw — but it’s also a worthwhile trend that could become more noticeable inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota’s winning formula will continue to rely on getting Peterson 20 touches. But don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Norv Turner lets his quarterback play a more substantial role in the offense in general, especially at home.
A change of venue might be part of what ascends “Touchdown Teddy” to the next level.