All it takes these days is two bad games by a rookie quarterback to make us question whether he is going to be the right guy to lead a team for the next decade.
We freely admit we have some concerns about Teddy Bridgewater at this point — most of them similar to what Patrick Reusse wrote recently, in that he doesn’t seem to do one thing, physically, great.
Instead, Bridgewater will be relying on intangibles, which largely means football intelligence mixed with poise and presence. After three NFL starts, he’s not there yet — nor should he be.
But we should also note this: those last two starts, which have been struggles, have also been against two of the best defensive lines the Vikings will face all season. Detroit and Buffalo get hellacious pressure, and the Vikings’ offensive line is a mess. Both the Lions and Bills rank among the NFL’s top five in sacks and interceptions.
What does that mean? Well, when it comes to appraising Bridgewater’s early work, it means we also need to give some credit to the opponent. He carved up an awful defense (Falcons) in his first start. And in his next three games, he’ll face:
*Tampa Bay, which has just nine sacks this season and is averaging 295 passing yards per game, worst in the NFL (hello, Leslie Frazier, my old friend).
*Washington, which has just three interceptions this season while allowing 15 TD passes (both stats put them among the 10 worst NFL pass defenses).
*Chicago, which does rank eighth in sacks (with 19) but is allowing 8 yards per pass attempt — 28th in the league.
Sure, the Vikings and Bridgewater will have to beat better defenses at some point to prove they are legitimate. But these next three games should be an opportunity for Bridgewater to gain some proficiency, yardage and confidence.
On the flip side, if he still struggles in this stretch … well, then some of the concern will gain legitimacy, even if it is still very early in his tenure.
An associate professor in the engineering department at the University of Wisconsin has created a statistical model that is VERY favorable to your Gophers football team (and not the Badgers, by the way).
Laura McLay’s “Badger Bracketology” is an attempt, she says, to forecast which four teams will make the inaugural college football playoff this season.
The methodology, at a glance:
I start with the outcomes of the games played so far, starting with at least 8 weeks of data. This is used to come up with a rating for each team that I then rank. The ranking methodology uses a connectivity matrix based on Google’s PageRank algorithm (similar to a Markov chain). So far, I’ve considered three variants of this model that take various bits of information account like who a team beats, who it loses to, and the additional value provided by home wins. I used data from the 2012 and 2013 seasons to tune the parameters needed for the models.
The ratings along with the impact of home field advantage are then used to determine a win probability for each game. … My method is simple, but it gives us everything we need without being so complex that I would be suspicious of overfitting.
McLay actually uses three models, with 10,000 replications for each one. The most useful tool is the “ensemble,” which takes the average of the three models.
This is the first week for which the model has churned out projections for the playoff. It starts off about as expected, with Florida State as the most likely, followed by Mississippi, Mississippi State and then Alabama. Next you find Georgia, then Notre Dame and then …
Yes, the Gophers are No. 7 in the model right now. That is to say, they are the seventh-most likely team to reach a four-team college football playoff for a national championship. Seventh. Yes, that’s right out of the money. But it’s so close to the money. They’re ahead of Michigan State (No. 8), while Wisconsin is nowhere to be found in the top 25.
Much of the season is yet to be played. So much can happen. But just know that, as of now, a simulation from the University of Wisconsin says things are looking good for the Gophers.
When you have a conversation with Jerick McKinnon about how he feels he is playing, the topic of pass protection inevitably comes up. Since the day he was drafted, McKinnon has been acutely aware of how pass protection, or a lack thereof, would affect how often he is put out on the field.
Having played in a triple-option offense at George Southern, lining up at quarterback for much of that time, the rookie running back admitted right away that he didn’t do much pass blocking and that it was something he would need to continually work on to be trusted as a third-down back here.
Of course, the loss of Adrian Peterson meant that the Vikings would need him to be more than that.
And while McKinnon has impressed as a runner, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and as a receiver, with 16 catches through seven games, pass protection has been an area in which he has struggled.
McKinnon was used as a pass blocker on 24 snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus. They say he was beaten for a pair of sacks and allowed five other pressures. After crunching those numbers, Pro Football Focus concluded that McKinnon has been the league’s leakiest back in pass protection. The two sacks and seven pressures allowed both rank as the most among his peers.
The majority of those pressures came in the loss to the Lions, but McKinnon took a step in the right direction against the Bills, when he didn’t allow a single pressure in his five snaps as a pass blocker.
McKinnon’s improved performance in that area caught the eye of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
“Jerick has played well. I thought he did better in pass protection last week,” Zimmer said today.
Defensive end Michael Johnson left Cincinnati and signed with Tampa Bay within an hour of the start of free agency seven months ago. But he admits there was a part of him that wanted to follow his “father figure,” Mike Zimmer, from his defensive coordinator stint in Cincinnati to his first head coaching job in Minnesota.
“Of course,” Johnson said today. “I came into the league under Coach Zimmer. I learned a lot under him. He’s a great coach and a great, great guy. It was a pleasure playing under him.
“That Bengals team last year, there’s been a lot of different changes and people went in different directions. Zim talked about that, saying that’s what happens when teams develop and win. Everybody gets an opportunity to continue on. That’s what happened with me and that’s what happened with him. I’m glad he got his shot. I know he’s going to do great things up there.”
Johnson got a five-year, $43.8 million deal with $24 million guaranteed to join the Bucs. He was one of several shiny new pieces that were added to a team that was widely considered to be the winner of this year’s free agency period.
Unfortunately for Johnson and the Bucs, the bottom line on the field has been a 1-5 record heading into Sunday’s home game against the 2-5 Vikings.
Johnson said he’s used some of Zimmer’s words of wisdom to help him get through the rough start. Asked to describe Zimmer in one word, Johnson didn’t hesitate.
“Tough,” he said.
“The way he approached things. We had a bad year my second year. But he always said it doesn’t matter what was going on. He’d say, `Tough times don’t last, tough people do.’ That was his mentality. These first six games here have been tough times down here. So tough times don’t last but tough people do. I’ve taken that with me from Cincinnati. I try to apply that not only in football but life as well.”
The 6-7, 260-pound defensive end was a third-round pick of the Bengals in 2009. Later that season is when Zimmer’s wife Vikki died unexpectedly at age 50. Although it came during the season, Zimmer still coached and helped the Bengals beat the Ravens.
“He went through that tough situation up there and handled it better than I would ever imagine anybody handling it,” Johnson said. “Just watching him and how he always was professional and came into work every day, trying to get the best out of you every day, that really rubbed off on all of us.
“e’s a great coach and a great man. He’s like a father figure to a lot of us up there. And the guys on offense will tell you the same thing. They weren’t working directly with him, but everybody likes Zim. He was straight up. He can be hard on you, but he was like that with everybody. You respect that about him. Guys are always going to play hard for him because you don’t ever want to let him down. You don’t want to let Zim down.”
Johnson’s new defensive coordinator is Leslie Frazier, Zimmer’s predecessor in Minnesota. Asked to describe Frazier in one word, Johnson was stumped.
“I’m still getting to know Coach Frazier so I don’t know if I can just put a word out there just yet that would describe him,” Johnson said. “You’re talking about five years with Coach Zim to get one word. I’ve barely had five months with Coach Frazier.
“But he’s cool. Coach Frazier, he’s a Southern guy as well. He’s a little more laid back. But he’s also a realist. He’ll tell you how it is as well. And he’s very positive. Always positive and believes in guys. You can feel that. So in the same sense, with him the way he believes in us, it makes us want to go out there and not let him down also. It’s been kind of frustrating because I want to be better and I want us to be better because Leslie is a good dude, man. We owe him more than we’ve been about to give him so far. But we’re going to get it going. We have a new start coming off the bye this week.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer expects center John Sullivan and guard Vladimir Ducasse will be fine for Sunday’s road game against the Buccaneers.
Sullivan passed has passed his first concussion protocol test, while Ducasse walked around the locker room on Wednesday without a brace. Ducasse said his knee was feeling better after falling on it during the first quarter on the same play Sullivan left due to a concussion against the Bills.
“I don’t know how, but I just fell and fell on top of the knee,” Ducasse said. “That was about it. I went to get up, and I couldn’t put weight on my foot. But I’m fine.”
Neither returned to the game with Joe Berger filling in at center and Mike Harris at right guard in the 17-16 loss on Sunday, but Zimmer was optimistic about the two biggest injury concerns this week.
As for his own health, Zimmer had his kidney stones removed on Tuesday. He missed practice on Friday due to a minor procedure but still coached with kidney stones on Sunday. It was about as painful as it sounds, but the health issue has finally been resolved.
“[Tuesday] wasn’t pleasant at all,” Zimmer said. “[Head Athletic Trainer] Eric Sugarman was talking to the team today, and I told him to get the video of the procedure that I had done to show the team. I think there would’ve been some [players] throwing up or something.”