Norv Turner had to wait one more week than he would have liked, but the Vikings offensive coordinator is eager to see how rookie Teddy Bridgewater performs in his second career start.
In the first start, two weeks ago against the Atlanta Falcons, Bridgewater threw for 317 yards and rushed for a touchdown before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. That performance was impressive enough for Bridgewater to garner NFL Rookie of the Week honors for Week 4.
Now, Turner says, the challenge for the young quarterback will be adjusting to the adjustments that this week’s opponent, the Detroit Lions, can make after getting a chance to watch the film from Bridgewater playing in a meaningful game with the Vikings offense tailored specifically to his skills.
“He’s a young player that, it’s going to be fun to watch him play every time he goes out because you learn more about him,” Turner said. “Defenses are going to do things differently. We’re going to see some things different than we did from Atlanta. They have a full tape on him, on the things we did. There’s things they will do to try to counter what we did in terms of the running game and the style of run we had. Obviously, they’re an outstanding defense and it’ll be a real challenge for our offense.”
Bridgewater practiced again this morning — excluding tight end Kyle Rudolph, it was a full house at the practice, including outside linebacker Chad Greenway — so I think no formal announcement about him starting Sunday is needed at this point. But the challenge of facing a Detroit defense that ranks second in the NFL in points allowed should be tougher than Atlanta’s 29th-ranked unit.
Under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who had previously been the defensive backs coach for the Ravens, the Lions could choose to disguise and mix up their coverages in an attempt to the confuse Bridgewater. But Turner believes he will be prepared for whatever they throw at him.
“He works so hard at it and like I said a long time ago, the stuff we did in training camp, I don’t know if you’re going to see more difficult looks than what we saw against our defense,” Turner said during his weekly press conference yesterday. “There’s a back-log of experience from that. It’s different than games, obviously, every time you go play they’re going to have a new wrinkle for you, they’re going to have something for us that is directed towards Teddy. We have to adjust to it.”
The circumstances were right for a Wild victory on Thursday. It was Minnesota’s season opener, at home, against a team against whom it conquered in last year’s playoffs and therefore had gained a certain mental edge.
What we weren’t quite prepared for, however, was the level of dominance the Wild achieved in its 5-0 rout of Colorado.
It was a new kind of dominance, one we don’t really remember seeing from the Wild (or if we did see it on occasion, it felt a little bit like a fluke or mirage).
It was the kind of dominance that comes with confidence — a confidence that grew, we would imagine, from a combination of last year’s playoff performance and the knowledge that, 1-18, the Wild has one of the deepest groups of forwards/defensemen in the league.
There are no real weak links — no line combinations that make you cringe, no defense pairs that make you wonder. There is certainly still a hierarchy, and the top line of Parise/Pominville/Granlund was fantastic, but every line can score and every defensive pairing brings something to the mix.
The Wild will not win every game or even approach the level it played at Thursday in every game. But if Minnesota can even approach that level in most games it plays this season, there is reason to believe this team could be very, very good.
In a market that would love a dominant team, that’s a nice thought and a great way to start the season.
For our Week 6 installment of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Josh Katzenstein, who covers the Lions for the Detroit News. The Wayzata native and University of Minnesota alumnus answered five questions about the Vikings-Lions matchup at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Q: Where is the Lions offense through five games coming off a 14-point performance against the Bills?
JK: It’s hard to imagine the Lions have reached their peak on offense considering they’ve only scored more than 24 points in one of the first five games. There’s definitely reasons to be concerned. Since the Giants game in Week 1, quarterback Matthew Stafford has really struggled to stretch the field even when wide receiver Calvin Johnson was available.
Wide receiver Golden Tate has looked really, really impressive and worth every dollar that they spent on him this offseason. Besides Johnson and Tate, they don’t really have any production out of their receivers. [Rookie tight end] Eric Ebron has flashed some potential, but it doesn’t look like the coaches or Stafford necessarily trust him 100 percent just yet. There were some plays where he was wide open in the Bills game last week, and Stafford just didn’t go to him.
Q: What’s the status of running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Calvin Johnson? How will that change the game plan?
JK: I don’t know how much will change from the Bills game. I think running back Joique Bell returning is actually huge for the Lions. He’s by far their best between-the-tackles running back. He’s good in the pass game too, and I think the coaches really used him more the first couple games when he and Bush were healthy. I don’t know if Bush’s absence will matter a whole lot in this game, especially because the Lions will have [running back] Theo Riddick, who flashed a lot of potential in the offseason, and [running back] George Winn, who looked really solid against the Bills last week.
But with Calvin Johnson out, it takes away by far their best offensive weapon. Stafford has proven over the years that he’s struggled when Johnson isn’t in the game. Though Golden Tate has looked uncoverable at times this year, I just think that Stafford is a little lost when Johnson isn’t on the field. That’s something that one of the Bills cornerbacks said last week was once Johnson went out, it looked like Stafford didn’t know what to do.
Q: The Lions have always had a good defensive line, but why has the entire defense taken that next step this year?
JK: It’s the secondary by far. Not only are they playing above expectations, they’re playing out of their mind. It’s everyone in the secondary. [Cornerback] Rashean Mathis looks like he’s back to being 26, 27 years old. He’s been a really solid cornerback. Cornerback Darius Slay, now in his second year, looks like an ascending player. It was something a lot of people were saying this offseason but through five games is definitely proving to be true. [Free safety] Glover Quin has always been their best defensive back at safety. He’s good against the run, he’s good against the pass and now they’ve had [strong safety] James Ihedigbo. Go back the past two games, and he looked like everything that they hoped for. He’s been really solid against the run, had a few good pass rushes and even played decent in coverage last week.
I would expect, at some point, some fall off just because I don’t think they’ve felt the impact of losing [linebacker] Stephen Tulloch just yet. Just looking at the rest of the season though, they’ll get rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy back in Week 10. There is reason to think even if the Lions don’t remain the top defense in the league, I would certainly think they’ll finish in the top 10.
Q: Will kicker Matt Prater, who was signed this week, cure the Lions kicking woes?
JK: It’s really hard to say. If you’ve looked at what Prater has done in his career, and especially last season, I think the answer should be yes. My only concern for the Lions with Prater is we don’t know how much emotional toll he has taken with his off-the-field issues. He spoke really openly and honestly about his alcohol addiction the day after he signed. You don’t know until a guy gets back on the field after enrolling in a 12-step program like he did 1 ½ months ago. Now that he’s six weeks sober, there are a lot of reasons to think he should be the kicker he will be but nobody can tell how much he’s impacted by everything that’s going on emotionally.
Q: What do the Lions need to do to win on the road?
JK: They have to establish a run game, which is something they haven’t been able to do in the first half of any of their games this year. If Calvin Johnson can’t play then they need to be able to threaten the Vikings with something else. They’re going to obviously be ready for whatever Tate can do. If Bell can get going, I think that’ll give the Lions a much better chance.
On defense, they just need to make sure they account for wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at all times and also make sure they contain quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. As much as I think Bridgewater will threaten them with his arm, the Lions are probably a little bit more worried about what he can do with his legs. They haven’t faced a quarterback that’s as mobile as Bridgewater has looked the first few weeks.