Minnesota Vikings: Jarius Wright

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our position-by-position look at the Vikings' roster this morning, with a glimpse at the team's wide receiver situation.


2015 free agents: None

The good: The Vikings got production from unexpected places in 2014, which might mean they have a quarterback good enough to succeed with whatever is around him. Even if the Vikings lacked a top playmaker in 2014, they've got to like how a group of young receivers meshed with Teddy Bridgewater. Jarius Wright blossomed in Year 3, setting career highs for catches and yards, and Charles Johnson went from the Cleveland Browns' practice squad to the Vikings' starting split end spot. Even Minnesota State product Adam Thielen got into the mix with a 44-yard TD in the season finale, and Greg Jennings had one of his best stretches in a Vikings uniform, catching 30 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns during the second half of the season.

The bad: Cordarrelle Patterson's second year in Minnesota was a significant disappointment. The rookie caught just 33 passes for 384 yards, fell out of the starting lineup in the second half of the season and was on the bench in the season finale after dropping a pass that turned into an interception. He's facing a pivotal year in 2015, with a decision looming next spring about his fifth-year option. And it's forgotten now, but another scrape with the law led the Vikings to release Jerome Simpson, who might have been a solid No. 3 receiver. Then again, Simpson's release is what led them to pick up Johnson.

The money -- 2015 salary-cap numbers: Jennings ($11 million), Patterson ($1.97 million), Wright ($1.68 million), Johnson ($510,000), Thielen ($510,000). There probably isn't much reason to expect a great deal of turnover with this group, but Jennings' contract number sticks out. The Vikings would save $6 million by cutting him, and that number jumps to $9 million after June 1. While Jennings looked like a valuable piece of the offense at the end of the season, his cap figure and his age (he'll be 32 in September) probably gives the Vikings enough leverage to renegotiate his deal. In the final year of his rookie deal, Wright earned a nice raise through the NFL's performance pay escalator clause.

Draft priority: Medium. If Patterson (or perhaps Johnson) turns into a true No. 1 receiver, there's not much problem here. But the feeling in some circles is that Patterson might be best used as a gadget player, which might leave the Vikings in the market for a true split end. With the 11th pick in the draft, could a reunion between Bridgewater and former Louisville teammate DeVante Parker be in the cards (see what we did there)?
MINNEAPOLIS -- If Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison and Robert Blanton are back with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015, all four will see substantial pay raises over what their initial rookie contract called for them to make.

All four players will receive pay bumps under the new rookie wage scale that was introduced as part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Players taken between the third and seventh round of the draft can trigger a Proven Performance Escalator by playing at least 35 percent of their team's offensive or defensive snaps in two of their first three seasons. Blanton, Ellison and Wright will earn base salaries of $1,574,000 in 2015, while Robinson -- who was taken 66th overall in 2012 -- will make $1,564,000, according to NFL Players Association salary data.

The salary increases total a combined $3,531,804 in 2015. The salary cap is expected to rise in 2015, possibly to the neighborhood of $140 million. The Vikings currently have about $129.8 million in cap commitments for 2015, according to ESPN Stats and Information, but that could change through releases or restructured contracts for players such as linebacker Chad Greenway, left guard Charlie Johnson or wide receiver Greg Jennings (to say nothing of what might happen with Adrian Peterson).

It's probably safe to expect the Vikings will go into the new league year with at least $15 million of cap space, and there are few pressing needs among their own pending unrestricted free agents. Even with the pay bumps for some of their younger players, they should be in a solid cap situation by the start of free agency.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our look at the 10 plays that defined the Minnesota Vikings' 2014 season. This is our second of two from the New York Jets game today; as you might expect, we'll take a look at what might have been the play of the Vikings' season.

WHEN: Dec. 7, 2014

WHERE: A 30-24 win over the New York Jets at TCF Bank Stadium.

THE PLAY: Jarius Wright's 87-yard game-winning overtime touchdown on a screen pass from Teddy Bridgewater.

WIN PROBABILITY ADDED: 38.1 percent (Vikings went from a 50.7 percent chance of winning to 88.8 percent -- for some reason, WPA models don't show 100 percent, even though it was the last play of the game.)

WHAT THEY SAID: Wright: "That’s the first time I ever had not only a walk-off touchdown, but I did it in OT. So I can say this is one of the happiest moments of my life and I thank God for the opportunity."

HOW IT HAPPENED: After forcing the Jets to punt on the first possession of overtime, the Vikings lined up in '11' personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers), with Wright split wide right, Greg Jennings in the slot and Kyle Rudolph flexed out at tight end. They initially had a longer pass play called, but Bridgewater had the option to check into a screen pass if he felt pressure coming. He used a hard count to get the Jets to reveal pressure and changed the play at the line. The Jets brought a 'zero blitz,' sending seven men after Bridgewater without any deep safety help, and the quarterback flipped the ball out to Wright as Jennings, Rudolph and center John Sullivan set up blocks. Wright eluded one tackler, and after Sullivan got a push on Sheldon Richardson, Wright outran the defensive tackle down the right sideline, getting him to give up his chase at midfield as the receiver raced into the end zone for the game-winning score.

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: The pass was Bridgewater's longest touchdown of the year (though Wright covered most of the distance), and it showed one of the things the Vikings like most about the young quarterback. He'd changed a couple of plays earlier in the game after using hard counts, and his management of game situations at the line of scrimmage seemed far beyond his years during his rookie season. The screen play was a staple for the Vikings most of the season -- Bridgewater connected with Wright for 52 yards on the same play during his first start -- and in addition to showcasing the QB's growing connection with his young receiver, it gave the Vikings their second "walk-off" win in a manner that provided hope for the future.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our look at the 10 plays that defined the Minnesota Vikings' 2014 season. Today, we'll examine Teddy Bridgewater's touchdown run from his first career NFL start.

WHEN: Sept. 28, 2014

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Teddy Bridgewater
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsTeddy Bridgewater rushes for a 13-yard score during the Vikings' 41-28 win over Atlanta in Week 4.
WHERE: A 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium.

THE PLAY: Teddy Bridgewater's 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

WIN PROBABILITY ADDED: 9.4 percent (Vikings went from a 68.3 percent chance of winning to 77.7 percent).

WHAT THEY SAID: Bridgewater: "(It's) just being a competitor, wanting to score worse than the other guy wants you not to score. In that situation, just tried to do whatever I could to get the touchdown."

HOW IT HAPPENED: The Vikings and Falcons were tied at 14 in the second quarter, with the Vikings trying to finish off an 80-yard touchdown drive. They lined up on a second-and-8 from the Falcons' 13 with Jarius Wright and Chase Ford to Bridgewater's left, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson to his right, and Matt Asiata to Bridgewater's left in the backfield. Bridgewater took a shotgun snap, initially looking for Ford to beat his man on a post route, but when the Falcons' Kroy Biermann got past Matt Kalil, working to the outside before cutting back inside of the tackle, Bridgewater took off. He outran tackle Tyson Jackson, found running room to his left and dove for the end zone before cornerback Robert Alford could tackle him. The rookie popped up and coolly walked off the field with the game ball from his first rushing touchdown tucked under his left arm, as TV cameras showed his mother Rose Murphy celebrating on a sun-splashed afternoon.

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: Bridgewater became the first quarterback ever to run for more than 200 yards during a season in Norv Turner's offense, and while it doesn't seem like he'll make a staple of his game, he showed this season he is able to scramble when necessary. The touchdown was Bridgewater's only rushing TD of the year, and he hurt his ankle on a goal-line play later in the game, but in Bridgewater's electric debut as a starter, the touchdown dive created something of a signature moment. It was the only touchdown Bridgewater would be involved with until Oct. 19, and it highlighted a day in which he threw for 317 yards, which still stands as his career high.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A day after the ignominious end to his 2014 season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson sounded contrite about what went wrong in his second year, saying "I blame myself for everything" and adding he wants to "take full advantage" of a pivotal offseason before his third year with the Vikings.

It was difficult to tell exactly what Patterson wanted to fix in his time away from the team, but the Vikings look like they'll have plenty of options for Patterson should he want more structure in his offseason. Coach Mike Zimmer said on Sunday he had a plan for Patterson -- which he was scheduled to discuss with the receiver on Monday -- and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he wanted to bring all of his receivers down to South Florida to work out with him. Wide receiver Greg Jennings said on Sunday he wants to work out and watch film with Patterson during the offseason, adding, "As long as I'm here, he will not fail. I refuse to allow that to happen, and he has to refuse to allow that to happen.

Patterson said he wanted to spend a couple of weeks with Bridgewater, adding he had already talked with Zimmer about getting someone to work with him in the offseason. "Just like a Teddy or somebody who know the full offense," Patterson said. "[Quarterbacks coach] Scott [Turner]. Whoever. Just work with them, whoever it be. If it have to be in Minnesota or back in South Carolina, somewhere. Just to work with them, make sure that I get everything done, how Coach [Norv] Turner wants to run his offense.”

From what Zimmer has said on a few occasions this season, and what Jennings said on Sunday, sharper route-running is as important to Patterson's growth as anything he might still need to learn about the Vikings' offense. Time will tell whether Patterson masters that, but the way the Vikings used their receivers this season -- elevating Jarius Wright, Charles Johnson and, on Sunday, Adam Thielen over Patterson -- should tell the former first-round pick the team isn't going to wait on him forever.

"It wasn't the year I wanted, like I had last year," Patterson said. "I feel like last year was a good year for me and I felt like I was going to come back and capitalize off that. Week 1, you know, things was good. But after that, it just started going downhill."

Vikings: Chad Greenway questionable

December, 26, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings aren't saying whether Chad Greenway will play in the final game of the 2014 season, and their designation for the linebacker on this week's injury report doesn't reveal much either. But despite the fact Greenway didn't practice all week, it remains possible he'll suit up for the season finale against the Chicago Bears.

The veteran linebacker injured his knee on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, and returned from his father Alan's funeral on Wednesday. He stayed off the field on Friday, as the Vikings went through their third outdoor practice of the week, but coach Mike Zimmer said the decision to sit Greenway out of practice was largely precautionary.

Asked if Greenway is the type of player who could play without practicing, Zimmer said, "Yeah. I mean he probably could have practiced today but we didn’t want to aggravate it more. We’ll just see how it goes."

The 31-year-old has one year left on his contract, and could be a candidate for a restructured deal, since his 2015 salary cap figure currently sits at $8.8 million. He's rebounded from a disappointing 2013 season, and seems to have worked well with Zimmer, but with Gerald Hodges improving, there's a chance Sunday's game could be Greenway's last in Minnesota.

"I guess we’ll find out," he said. "I don’t have an answer there. Obviously, I think when I’ve been healthy I’ve played well. But I have no idea.”

The Vikings also listed linebacker Brandon Watts as out with a hamstring injury. Audie Cole was taking snaps in the nickel with Hodges, and he figures to start at one outside linebacker spot if Greenway is unable to go. Zimmer said the Vikings would likely activate a linebacker from their practice squad; that could be third-year man Josh Kaddu, who has been on the Vikings' practice squad since Sept. 9.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver Jarius Wright, who practiced in a limited capacity for the first time this week on Friday, were both listed as questionable with ankle and low back injuries, respectively.

Vikings appear thin at LB for Sunday

December, 26, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are in the middle of their final full-team practice of the 2014 season, and it's looking as though they'll have to do something about their linebacker depth between now and Sunday's season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Chad Greenway and Brandon Watts were both absent from the practice field as the Vikings worked outside on Friday, suggesting that neither will be available for Sunday's game. The Vikings already had ruled Anthony Barr out for the rest of the season; Greenway and Watts could join Barr on the sidelines with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.

At the moment, the Vikings have just three healthy linebackers on their active roster. Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges were taking first-team snaps in nickel situations while the Vikings practiced on Friday, and it stands to reason that Cole would start at strongside linebacker, with Jasper Brinkley in the middle and Hodges on the weak side if Greenway is unable to go.

The Vikings signed linebacker Justin Anderson to their practice squad earlier this week, and they also have Josh Kaddu on their practice squad. One or both of those players could get added to the active roster before Sunday for linebacker depth; if the Vikings aren't going to use some of their injured linebackers on Sunday, it'd be easy enough to put them on injured reserve to clear roster space for additions from the practice squad.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who hasn't participated in a practice all week, was on the field on Friday, indicating he'll have a shot to return from an ankle injury on Sunday. Wide receiver Jarius Wright also returned from a low back injury for the open portion of Friday's practice.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It seems hard to believe now, considering how big of a part of the Minnesota Vikings offense Jarius Wright has become. But as Mike Zimmer recalls it, one of his first interactions with the wide receiver came this spring, when Wright was operating as though his place on the Vikings' roster wasn't a given.

"When I first got here, they were out running routes and he was talking about, 'I'll do anything to make the team,'" Zimmer said. "Now he's become a big part of a lot of things that we're doing, but he's taking advantages of these opportunities and he's worked really hard to do it."

[+] EnlargeSheldon Richardson
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJarius Wright took a screen pass 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown on Sunday.
One can sympathize with Wright if he thought the days he's enjoying now would never come. He spent the first half of his rookie season recovering from a sprained ankle and sitting idle on game days, until Percy Harvin's own sprained ankle created an opportunity for Wright to play. And then, after he caught a pair of long touchdown passes in the Vikings' playoff push in 2012, Wright was something of an afterthought for much of 2013, catching only four more passes in 16 games than he did in seven the previous year.

Wright was the Vikings' fourth receiver for much of training camp. But when the team cut the already-suspended Jerome Simpson, Wright seized his opportunity right at the same time the quarterback he'd worked with the most before the season -- Teddy Bridgewater -- was moving from the backup job to the starting spot.

The third-year receiver has already set career highs in catches (32) and yards (478) with three games left, and he's punctuated his first two 100-yard games with big gains off the same play -- a screen from Bridgewater that Wright took 52 yards in the QB's first start and 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown on Sunday.

Wright has run most of his routes on the perimeter. He gained 23 yards on a reverse on Sunday, and bulked up enough in strength coach Evan Marcus' weight program to be an effective run blocker this season. In short, he's growing up to fit a larger role in the Vikings' offense.

"He has grown so much in terms of reading defenses, reading coverages and understanding route structure," receivers coach George Stewart said. "The second area I've seen him grow is physical toughness. He's gotten bigger. He's fast. His willingness to go in and block people, that's been better. It's the toughness and the ability to see things as a football player."

Wright and Bridgewater got many of their snaps in training camp and the preseason together, and in Bridgewater's first start, Wright had the best day of his career, catching eight passes for 132 yards. Against the Jets, Bridgewater found Wright on three screens -- including the game-winner -- and a jump ball that Wright wrested away from Darrin Walls on a free play, setting up Blair Walsh's field goal attempt at the end of regulation.

"They have a natural feel for each other," Stewart said. "It's good seeing those two guys work together. You talk about our future -- opening the new stadium, Jarius will be going into Year 5, Teddy will be going into Year 3. You'd like that to continue to work that way, because now you have some cohesiveness within the group."

The future for Wright has rarely looked as bright as it did on Sunday, when he maintained a tight grip on the football he'd lugged 87 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Far removed from whatever shadow he was in at the start of his career, he's become a key piece of the Vikings' offense.

"He's another kid that's always got a smile on his face," Zimmer said. "(He) always relishes the moment that he has, the opportunity to be here in the NFL, and to be with the Vikings."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Grade the performance of Teddy Bridgewater on a curve, if you must, since the Minnesota Vikings rookie was facing a New York Jets defense on Sunday that's allowed the highest opposing QB Rating the league this season. But considering what Bridgewater didn't have around him by the end of Sunday's game -- Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, three of the Vikings' five opening-day offensive linemen and a consistent running attack -- it's difficult to call his performance on Sunday anything other than the best of his short career.

By the time he used a hard count to identify a Jets blitz and check to a screen that Jarius Wright took 87 yards for a game-winning score, Bridgewater's numbers were impressive: 19-for-27, 309 yards, two touchdowns (which should have been three) and an interception (which came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half). But it was the rookie's command of the offense that was most impressive.

He checked to a slant on a third-and-5 in the second quarter, hitting Charles Johnson for 8 yards, and threw the ball away on the ensuing play after his hard count revealed a Jets blitz. He set the edge with a block on Wright's 23-yard reverse, and two plays later, he took the ball to the Jets' 2 after Matt Asiata's motion out of the backfield cleared a defender out of the middle. On throws that traveled at least 15 yards, Bridgewater went 4-of-7 for 122 yards and a TD, according to ESPN Stats & Information; one of those was a 27-yarder to Wright after a hard count created a free play. He was pressured on 12 of 32 dropbacks, but was sacked just three times, as he moved effectively in the pocket to buy himself time.

In short, the rookie ran the offense with the savvy of a player much older than he is.

"That’s the thing that the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy," coach Mike Zimmer said. "(It's) the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job and I think the way loves playing this game."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' offense after a film review of Sunday's 30-24 win:
  • According to ESPN Stats & Information, Matt Asiata had to get 29 of his 54 yards after contact on 19 carries Sunday, as the Vikings' battered offensive line struggled with 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson. In addition to three sacks, the defensive end stopped Asiata for 2 yards and no gain, as guard Joe Berger struggled to move the 6-foot-3 Richardson on both plays. Asiata's best run of the day was an 8-yarder, on which he gained 4 yards after contact.
  • As we mentioned, Bridgewater was under heavy pressure from a Jets defense that committed plenty of resources to the blitz; the Jets brought extra pressure on 10 of his 32 dropbacks. They sent six rushers on six plays, and seven rushers on three. Richardson's sack for a safety came when Charlie Johnson and Matt Kalil couldn't handle a stunt, and Kalil was called for holding after he fell on Jason Babin, Right tackle Mike Harris gave up pressure, too, allowing two hurries. Kalil did have a solid day as a run blocker, making a nice block on Asiata's seven-yard gain in the second quarter.
  • The Vikings continue to find a larger role for Wright, using him on the screen plays and reverses they used to designate for Patterson (who saw just one snap on offense). Bridgewater threw two other screens to Wright out of the same formation as the game-winner, handed him the ball on the aforementioned reverse and found him for 27 when his hard count drew Ben Ijalana into the neutral zone.
  • Johnson has become Bridgewater's favorite target, and his route-running shows why; he beat his man off the line on the TD, sold a downfield route before coming back to the QB on what should have been another TD pass (before Johnson fumbled) and burned Phillip Adams with a stutter-step on a 40-yard pass the receiver couldn't hold in the end zone. Johnson has dropped a couple passes in the last three weeks, but if he'd had a better grip on two balls, he would've finished his day with five catches for 143 yards and three scores.

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 9, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 30-24 win in Week 14:

Earlier this month, when Bridgewater was struggling with his accuracy (particularly on several overthrows against the Green Bay Packers), Vikings coaches noticed a minor flaw in the quarterback's delivery. Bridgewater was dropping his arm as he loaded up to throw the ball, leading to higher-arcing throws that eventually sailed past receivers.

"If you're dropping it down, the trajectory is coming out a little bit higher," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I think that's why he was overthrowing some of the balls."

In the two games since the Vikings' loss to Green Bay, Bridgewater has completed 34 of his 48 passes, connecting on deep throws to Jarius Wright (on Nov. 30 against Carolina) and Charles Johnson (on Sunday against the New York Jets). Zimmer believes Bridgewater has gotten stronger now that he's had almost a full season in an NFL weight program, and he sees the rookie throwing with more velocity late in the year. As the quarterback refines his mechanics, his arm continues to look better.

"You can see a little bit more velocity coming," Zimmer said. "He's so accurate that at times it looks like he's floating it on some of the outside breaking routes. It looks like he's floating it, but the ball really jumps out of his hands. I have seen a lot lately where he's gunning it a little bit harder. [Offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] talks about throwing it with a grunt."
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Minnesota Vikings beat:

During Sunday's game against the New York Jets, as his team let a 2-10 opponent rally from a 21-12 deficit and send things to overtime, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer decided there would be no Victory Monday, which players enjoyed the previous week after a 31-13 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Zimmer had promised to alter the team's practice schedule if it beat the Jets on Sunday, and he will keep that promise. But the coach figured there would be plenty to learn from watching the film on Monday. He also wanted to talk to them one more time about the game -- because he knew what he had to say to them after the game wouldn't be as pleasant as they might have expected.

"I never, ever want to take for granted a win -- I know how hard it is to get wins in this league -- but I am trying to develop a mentality here of a championship football team," Zimmer said. "I want our performances to be good and strong each and every week, and so that was really my frustration after the ball game, but I do appreciate how hard our guys fought."

The Vikings will officially finish with a better record this season than they had during a 5-10-1 campaign last year, and they have a chance to get to .500 on Sunday with a win against Detroit. The intermediate steps of progress are just way stations to Zimmer, who seems to have an easier time envisioning what he wants from his finished product than he does waiting for it to get here.

"One thing this team has is a lot of heart and a lot of fight," Zimmer said. "We just have to clean up some mistakes and just keep trying to pound the mentality that I want these guys to have each and every week so that we can eventually grow to where I want us to get to."

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The play that sent the Minnesota Vikings home victorious on Sunday has been in Teddy Bridgewater's repertoire for situations like these ever since his first NFL start.

Remember the screen pass Bridgewater threw to Jarius Wright during the Vikings' win over Atlanta on Sept. 28? It came barely a minute into that game, with the Falcons showing a "zero blitz" -- or a pressure with no safeties back in coverage -- on third-and-7. Bridgewater appeared to change the play at the line and flipped a pass to Wright, who looped behind blocks from Greg Jennings and tight end Chase Ford for a 52-yard gain.

The play shows up in the Vikings' offense at least once a week, out of a number of different personnel groupings. Charles Johnson took a screen 24 yards on the Vikings' first series last week, lining up alone on the left side of the Vikings' formation and following a block from Matt Kalil. Wright nearly took one for a touchdown earlier on Sunday against the New York Jets. And in overtime, with the Vikings backed up in their own territory on third-and-5, Bridgewater checked to the play to beat the Jets on one of their own pet calls.

New York had given Bridgewater trouble with zero blitzes all day, and coach Rex Ryan had another one called, with hopes of forcing a quick throw (or possibly a turnover). The Vikings had a longer pass called, but Bridgewater had an option to check to the screen. His silent count got the Jets to show their pressure, and Bridgewater changed the play to the screen.

"The check was built into the call, so if he saw something, he was going to check to that," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He did that several times today."

The Vikings set the screen up the same way they did in the Atlanta game, with Wright to the outside of Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Jets brought seven, Wright picked up blocks from Jennings and Rudolph and took off, with nothing but space in front of him.

"As I broke free I saw Sully [center John Sullivan running down field] and I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is going a long ways,'" Wright said.

Jets coach Rex Ryan blamed himself for the loss, saying it was his call on the blitz and complimenting Bridgewater for making the check once the Jets showed their hand, but not every rookie quarterback would have as firm a grasp of pre-snap adjustments as Bridgewater seems to have. He finished 19-of-27 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His turnover came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and he would've had three TD passes if Johnson hadn't fumbled at the goal line. Bridgewater has shown marked improvement in a number of ways during the second half of the season, and the Vikings' comfort level with him at the controls of their offense is no small thing.

"That's the thing the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy is the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job, and the way he loves playing the game," Zimmer said. "The franchise is Teddy's; I know that was a good headline for you. That's what he needs to do; he needs to take it over. This is his team now."

Bridgewater demurred, saying the team belongs as much to backup guard Vlad Ducasse as it does to him. But on the field, he showed a command of the game that will get his teammates to follow him anywhere.

"That's where you see him maturing; you see he's getting a good grasp on the whole offense," Johnson said. "He's smart. He's able to see things like that and help us win on them."

Minnesota Vikings film review: Offense

December, 2, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' offense was only on the field for 24:12 and 48 plays during a 31-13 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and it wasn't asked to carry a major load after the Vikings returned two blocked punts for touchdowns in the victory.

But offensive coordinator Norv Turner set up a game plan to get Teddy Bridgewater comfortable early in the game, and the Vikings have to be encouraged with how well it worked.

Fifteen of Bridgewater's 21 throws traveled fewer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and the rookie completed a season-high 73.3 percent of those throws. The Vikings trusted their receivers to pick up yards after the catch against Carolina's defense, and on several occasions -- mostly notably Charles Johnson's 24-yard gain on a first-quarter screen pass and Greg Jennings' 17-yard, second-quarter touchdown -- that strategy paid off. Vikings receivers gained an average of 4.53 yards after the catch on Sunday, and a group that had dropped four passes in the previous two games didn't have that problem on Sunday.

The Vikings started Bridgewater off with a series of high-percentage plays that gave him a chance to use his mobility -- Turner called two bootlegs on the team's first TD drive, and two of the QB's first five throws were screens to Johnson and Jarius Wright. Bridgewater hit his first five throws of the day -- and by the time he got the ball in a two-minute drill, where he's been at his best, he effectively had a chance to put the game away.

"We just wanted to start fast this week," Bridgewater said. "We knew coming into this game we just wanted to get completions and find some rhythm, establish some rhythm, and we did a great job of that today."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' offense after a film review of Sunday's game:
  • On Bridgewater's two deep balls -- a throw that barely missed Johnson and his 35-yard connection to Wright four plays later -- he had easier throws available. He had a shallow crossing route for Kyle Rudolph on the throw to Johnson and could have thrown quick screens to Jennings or Matt Asiata on the Wright play. But Bridgewater made two of his better downfield throws of the season, finding Wright after he beat one of the Panthers' few press coverage attempts. The Panthers played off the Vikings' receivers most of the day, which gave Bridgewater room to hit short throws and allow his receivers to run.
  • As a whole, the Vikings' pass protection was better than it had been in recent weeks. Bridgewater was still pressured on eight of his 25 dropbacks, but one of those came when running back Joe Banyard missed a blitz pickup in the second quarter (Banyard didn't play much after allowing a hit on Bridgewater), and tight end Rhett Ellison allowed a hurry. Right tackle Mike Harris allowed a pair of sacks, and Matt Kalil gave up a hurry when he pushed Mario Addison into Bridgewater on a deep dropback, but Kalil made a key block on Johnson's screen, and the Vikings' interior linemen -- Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan and Joe Berger -- did a good job controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage.
  • With Cordarrelle Patterson only playing three snaps, the Vikings created a bigger role for Wright; in addition to the deep pass, Bridgewater found him on a screen pass, handed off to him on a jet sweep, and the Vikings motioned Wright into a tight split to serve as a run blocker on several occasions.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings began Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers with the goal of getting Teddy Bridgewater in a rhythm early, and they succeded. Bridgewater hit his first five throws of the day, all on short passes or a screen that Charles Johnson took for 24 yards, and finished the day throwing 15 of his 21 passes less than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But the Vikings want to build an offense that can stretch the field, and it was on the two downfield throws Bridgewater made that coach Mike Zimmer saw progress. He put a 45-yard throw just beyond Johnson's reach in the third quarter -- on a play where Johnson wanted interference on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and Zimmer said he "thought we could have went up and got after a little bit better" -- and came back four plays later with a 35-yard strike to Jarius Wright on third-and-3.

On both plays, Bridgewater passed up shorter options to take shots downfield when his read of the Panthers' coverage told him he could do so. That, Zimmer said, was a sign of maturity.

"It's third-and-[3] and he's throwing the ball 40 yards down the field and puts the ball on [the] money," Zimmer said. "He got the right look. There were a couple times he had the right look defensively and went to the right place even though it wasn't the safest throw. Those kinds of things are the things I'm talking about when I see his progression and he's always getting better."

Bridgewater talked about several throws Sunday -- like his touchdown to Greg Jennings -- where he knew what he wanted to do before the ball was snapped. He saw single coverage on the deep ball to Wright and made a quick decision to give his receiver a chance, putting just enough air under the ball for Wright to track it down.

The rookie has talked about his need to play faster on several occasions this year, and as he said on Sunday, that has more to do with making quicker decisions than it does with the speed of his release. When Bridgewater is able to trust what he's seeing before the snap and know where to go with his first read, he's more confident in his ability to find his receivers downfield.

Zimmer also credited the Vikings' strength training program for improving Bridgewater's deep ball, and though the Vikings want to get to a point where they can attack defenses more than once or twice a game, it's worth noting how much more fluid the entire process looked when Bridgewater did try to push the ball downfield Sunday.

"Each week in practice, whether it's 7-on-7, we're throwing routes on there or in live action, we're taking shots with those balls, whether it's a deep post, a deep out cut, a deep crossing route or just a '9' route," Bridgewater said. "We've been having some success each week in practice and we've been making progress. Today we hit one out of the two."

Minnesota Vikings film review: Offense

November, 25, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's become a regular part of Teddy Bridgewater's job as a rookie quarterback to throw in the face of pressure; the Minnesota Vikings passer has faced pressure on 30 percent or more of his dropbacks in five of his eight games this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There were easy throws on Sunday that Bridgewater missed in the first half of the Vikings' 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers -- a deep overthrow to an open Charles Johnson on the Vikings' first series, a ball he threw too high for Jarius Wright against zone coverage at the end of the first quarter -- but there were also throws that Bridgewater might have been able to hit with more time to set his feet, and bigger plays to be made with more time to throw.

He spent an average of just 2.36 seconds in the pocket on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and again had to resort to numerous checkdowns, like an off-balance eight-yard throw to Jerick McKinnon after Jayrone Elliott got around Matt Kalil, and a screen that lost two yards later in the same series after Elliott again used a speed rush on the left tackle.

Bridgewater hit his longest TD of the year to Johnson on a play that was impressive for its simplicity -- he froze safety Morgan Burnett and fired to the back of the end zone for a 22-yard score after Johnson beat Tramon Williams -- and the Vikings found room to work on underneath crossing routes to Kyle Rudolph and Greg Jennings several times. But the day for Bridgewater, as many have been during his rookie season, was a mixed bag.

"There were a ton of plays left on the field," Bridgewater said. "Whenever you're playing a team as good as the Green Bay Packers, you want to make sure you're making all of those plays."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' offense after a film review:
  • Kalil's day has been well-documented -- he was flagged three times for 35 yards -- but he wasn't the only one allowing pressure on Sunday; Mike Daniels bull-rushed Joe Berger on his way to a sack of Bridgewater, Phil Loadholt allowed pressure that forced Bridgewater to escape the pocket in the first quarter and McKinnon failed to pick up Micah Hyde on a blitz that turned into a third-quarter sack. Bridgewater was blitzed on 38.6 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the Packers mixed up their pressure effectively, with Mike Neal getting to Bridgewater on a stunt that left both Kalil and Charlie Johnson blocking Daniels and a blitz where Clay Matthews batted Bridgewater's pass after coming clean to the backfield.
  • McKinnon was the Vikings' leading rusher with 54 yards, on a day where he had to make several defenders miss in the backfield, but Joe Banyard did a nice job in his first carries, gaining eight yards in the second quarter off a solid down block from Rudolph, on a play that could have gone for much more had Banyard made one man miss. He carried five times for 26 yards, and caught three passes for 19 yards, including a one-handed grab in the second quarter.
  • The Vikings will once again have to reinvent their run-blocking scheme with Loadholt out for the year; they pulled him and John Sullivan effectively on several runs, but with both Loadholt and Brandon Fusco gone, the Vikings can't use their power running game as effectively as they'd like.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson, once again, mostly played in three-receiver sets, as Johnson got much of the work in the base offense. Patterson finished with two catches for 18 yards, but did a nice job of gaining separation from Sam Shields on a 10-yard in-breaking route in the second quarter. Time will tell how big of a role Patterson will play against Carolina, after he sustained knee and ankle injuries on a kickoff return Sunday.