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Bleacher Report – Vikings

In analyzing Bridgewater vs. Cousins, the fourth quarter is the difference

By Matthew Coller

If you spend a lot of time on social media, you know that there’s a different rumor or report every day on the future of the Minnesota Vikings quarterback position.

Over the next few weeks, the Vikings will have to make a decision as an organization on whether to spend upwards of $140 million on Washington free agent, re-sign Teddy Bridgewater, franchise tag Case Keenum or look elsewhere for a solution.

One report from Pro Football Weekly indicated that the Vikings do not plan on tagging Keenum.

If that happens, the decision would most likely come down to a long-term deal for Cousins or a short-term deal for Bridgewater (and, of course, a viable backup).

Assuming the Vikings believe Bridgewater’s knee will hold up, the decision would not be easy. Cousins has posted three straight 4,000 yard seasons and thrown 81 touchdowns, 36 interceptions with a 97.5 rating over the last three years.

Bridgewater, on the other hand, is only 25 years old, went 17-11 as a starter and was named the most accurate passer in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and led the NFL in PFF’s Adjusted Completion Percentage in 2015. Some claimed that to be a result of short passes, PFF noted: “Teddy scored his best passing grades on throws between 10–19 yards.”

So there is good reason for the Vikings to want either quarterback. And the decision doesn’t have to be about money. A cap analysis revealed Minnesota would be able to sign Cousins and keep other stars like Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.

What could be the difference maker? Head coach Mike Zimmer’s outlook on quarterback play.

On draft night 2014, Zimmer was asked why the team wanted to trade up to select Bridgewater. His answer:

“You know the thing I like about him? He wins,” the Vikings’ head coach said. “Everywhere he’s been, he wins. Starts as a freshman in high school, wins. Starts as a freshman in college and wins. This guy, he’s got something about him.”

Earlier this year, Zimmer was asked about what makes the difference between good and great quarterbacks. His answer:

“That’s the guys that usually win the big games,” Zimmer said. “There’s lots of them you have to be really careful with in situations [as a defensive coach]. Guys who are cool under pressure, that don’t let all the outside things affect them.”

Quarterback wins are hardly the best way to analyze a player, especially with so many other factors at play like defense, supporting cast, scheme etc., but we can look at some situations that play a role in why one QB wins more than another. One of those is performance in key situations.

While much of the sabermetcis/analytics community decided a long time ago that “clutch” was a difficult concept to prove, playing quarterback in late-and-close situations is much different than taking a ninth-inning at-bat. The circumstances change. In baseball, pitcher vs. batter stays the same whether it’s April or October, but when a team is down one score in the fourth quarter, defenses scheme to stop significant pass plays. They play deeper zones and force QBs to be patient, anticipate, read safeties and make accurate throws.

Bridgewater is decidedly better than Cousins in these situations. You can safely bet that it’s among the top reasons Zimmer has been Bridgewater’s biggest supporter.

Here are Bridgewater’s numbers in 2014 and 2015 (via Football Reference) when the Vikings were down by anywhere from zero to eight points in the fourth quarter:

Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Y/A 1D Rate
Teddy Bridgewater 59 85 69.4 758 3 1 10 -48 8.9 37 103.9

Here are Cousins’ numbers since becoming the full-time starter in 2015:

Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Y/A 1D Rate
Kirk Cousins 109 175 62.3 1222 8 6 5 -41 7.0 68 84.0

If we compare Bridgewater’s late-game performances over his first two years (’14-’15) to all quarterbacks with more than 50 throws in the fourth quarter down by one score over the last two years (’16-’17), we find that he was among the best of the best in the NFL, only trailing Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck (2016 only), Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady in quarterback rating.

Cousins was still fairly strong, but posted similar numbers to mid-pack quarterbacks.

Player (2016-17) Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Y/A 1D Rate?
Ben Roethlisberger 68 91 74.7 951 8 1 4 -30 10.5 43 132.6
Andrew Luck 49 74 66.2 583 6 1 4 -27 7.9 29 111.5
Drew Brees 78 106 73.6 878 8 3 3 -23 8.3 51 111.3
Russell Wilson 80 123 65 1028 8 1 3 -23 8.4 45 109.4
Tom Brady 35 57 61.4 469 3 0 4 -23 8.2 23 105.1
Teddy Bridgewater (2014-15) 59 85 69.4 758 3 1 10 -48 8.9 37 103.9
Aaron Rodgers 33 55 60.0 361 5 1 2 -10 6.6 20 102.2
Derek Carr 60 115 52.2 803 10 1 2 -14 7 38 100
Matt Ryan 46 86 53.5 607 8 2 0 0 7.1 29 97.4
Dak Prescott 60 105 57.1 742 6 1 3 -21 7.1 36 94.2
Jameis Winston 80 136 58.8 973 9 3 10 -64 7.2 56 93.8
Carson Palmer 56 93 60.2 620 3 0 9 -77 6.7 30 90.8
Brian Hoyer 36 58 62.1 324 2 0 2 -11 5.6 15 88.6
Matthew Stafford 88 143 61.5 1077 5 3 6 -35 7.5 46 87.7
Alex Smith 64 98 65.3 688 4 3 4 -29 7 33 86.6
Eli Manning 103 159 64.8 1127 6 5 6 -42 7.1 47 85.1
Kirk Cousins 71 115 61.7 842 5 5 5 -41 7.3 45 80.4
Sam Bradford 43 59 72.9 339 1 2 4 -36 5.7 18 78.3
Andy Dalton 60 112 53.6 695 3 2 10 -64 6.2 29 74.1
Marcus Mariota 67 124 54 701 5 3 6 -30 5.7 38 74
Cam Newton 42 75 56 471 1 1 5 -35 6.3 27 73.8
Tyrod Taylor 33 55 60 403 2 3 8 -45 7.3 19 72
Ryan Fitzpatrick 20 33 60.6 290 2 3 3 -19 8.8 14 71.5
Tom Savage 36 59 61 431 0 2 3 -18 7.3 20 69.2
Jay Cutler 20 37 54.1 242 1 2 7 -40 6.5 12 60.9
Case Keenum 48 87 55.2 515 3 5 5 -34 5.9 23 60.3
Philip Rivers 74 140 52.9 914 3 8 8 -49 6.5 41 56.7
Joe Flacco 65 115 56.5 528 1 4 5 -38 4.6 27 56.7
Carson Wentz 39 83 47 402 0 2 9 -40 4.8 18 51.4
Josh McCown 32 57 56.1 367 0 4 12 -94 6.4 14 46.5
Blake Bortles 59 124 47.6 555 2 8 11 -61 4.5 26 38.9

The first impression of Bridgewater as a starter for the Vikings’ head coach came in his first NFL start against the Atlanta Falcons. The Vikings got the ball early in the fourth trailing by one point and Bridgewater led his team down the field with three intermediate completions.

Watch:

For the crowd that likes to point out Bridgewater’s lack of touchdown passes in his first two years, you will notice the Vikings hand off to Matt Asiata for the touchdown. The Vikings will not be considering fantasy stats as part of their analysis of Cousins vs. Bridgewater.

Bleacher Report film analyst and writer Doug Farrar wrote an in-depth Twitter thread about the differences between Cousins and Alex Smith. One of his criticisms of Cousins is applicable to his struggles with the game on the line:

Primary issue I see with Cousins in his 2017 tape is his processing speed and ability to adjust. It’s not that he’s hopeless in this regard, but he doesn’t seem to have that in-play adjustment level to veer off his original palette of reads and make the better call on the fly.

— Doug Farrar (@BR_DougFarrar) February 17, 2018

Where the Vikings stand in their timeline is relevant to digging into every detail of each quarterback. They were a good enough all-around team to go 13-3 with Keenum, a career journeyman, last year. But in the playoffs, Keenum finished with the second lowest rating of all playoff QBs. If the Vikings do not turn back to Keenum on the franchise tag or for a long-term deal, they will be looking for someone who can take them that extra step.

Naturally, Bridgewater’s knee health makes him the more risky option – though it could be argued that the price for Cousins makes him just as risky considering he could end up as an Andy Dalton-type option who can only take a team so far.

The post In analyzing Bridgewater vs. Cousins, the fourth quarter is the difference appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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