As the disappointing 2018 New York Giants season comes to a close, the conversation turns to the future and what it holds at the quarterback position. Second-year general manager David Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur continue the rebuild of a damaged roster, and their decision on arguably the most important position remains to be seen. Despite the ever-present narratives swirling in Tri-State area sports talk, there are multiple options for the QB position in 2019. Teddy Bridgewater, currently the backup to Drew Brees in New Orleans, is one of those options. Immediately, some Big Blue faithful get very sensitive about entertaining any option at QB1 outside of the incumbent starter, Eli Manning. This piece aims not to compare Bridgewater directly to anyone, but rather to focus specifically on his traits and how they could make the Giants’ offense better. That is the goal of the Giants’ coaches and personnel staff, and it should be the goal for fans.
The first aspect where mobility would help head coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s offense is in the screen game. Screens work most effectively when the pass rushers are either well off the line of scrimmage dropped off in coverage or aggressively coming into the backfield. The latter is where the quarterback needs to create space if needed while securing a throwing lane. Please see the below video from the 2017 Minnesota Vikings, where QB Case Keenum completes a screen versus an oncoming rush:
Keenum is very active in creating space to the pass rush, getting to the right spot for the proper angle and delivering a touch pass to lead the screen receiver where he needs to go. One of the oft-overlooked elements in screens is timing; a QB that understands how to maneuver the waters of the pocket really helps. Many Giants fans have questioned on Big Blue Banter (where this author co-hosts): why is the screen game so dormant in Shurmur’s first year? Frankly, because the current ability on the roster to distribute the ball accurately with timing does not look like the below:
The above tape of Bridgewater in 2015 against the Falcons completing a TE screen to now-New York Giant Rhett Ellison looks almost easy. But in reality, the details of the screen game are tedious, and rarely is anything straightforward in football. These types of screens can help in the far red zone in particular, where running back Saquon Barkley has seen some success against the Eagles, and again detailed by this author for Cover 1 ( Link http://bit.ly/BlameGameEagles). The Giants need this bell rung more, and Bridgewater consistently delivers the ball.
Another area where mobility can help is in the drop back passing game. Often, quarterbacks who possess mobility are branded as looking to exit the pocket early. There are, however, many quarterbacks that look to extend plays with their feet and agility and then keep the framework of the original play design in mind. Back in the same Falcons game in 2015, Bridgewater showed his short-area escapability to front side pressure from the defense.
Bridgewater faces immediate pressure from the right side, avoids a major collision, escapes with great contact balance, and immediately his head goes left. He combines athleticism with football intelligence of the play design, understanding where his help is and avoiding disaster. The young QB does not rely on this piece of his game to make plays; he is predominantly a pocket passer. His 6’2″ 215 lb frame is not one anyone wants taking a lot of unnecessary shots from larger defensive linemen, but ultimately, pockets will be dirtied (as many of the below examples show), and an elusive QB goes a long way towards helping an inconsistent offensive line.
The pocket mobility can be very subtle, with the quarterback having to move off his spot to a clear throwing lane in the face of a pass rush. There are numerous examples of this type in Bridgewater’s tape, particularly in the 2015 game against James Bettcher’s Cardinals defense (now, of course, the Giants’ defensive coordinator). Please see the below:
On this throw, Bridgewater’s pocket shift is coupled with excellent eye discipline, keeping his vision undeterred on his target. A timing-and-rhythm-passer’s feet are often the first steps (pun intended) that allow the ball to be delivered on schedule. The more disciplined this process is with attention to detail, quite frankly, the more accurate the passer is and more efficient the offense becomes. The Giants’ offense needs this efficiency badly and has not had it for quite some time.
Threat of Run Helps the Run Game
The above mobility can help in many areas, but one that is not often thought about is the run game. Simply the threat of running the ball with zone-read type play designs do much to hold the backside run fits and force defenders. This author felt strongly enough about this idea to write an entire piece about for Cover 1 (Link http://bit.ly/GiantsOZoneRead ). A large portion of the Giants’ run game is inside zone, often from shotgun. On these plays, the running back is looking to hit the play side interior gaps, but most optimally the backside gaps, depending on the read. Please see the below image:
Please see the below first video example from the above-mentioned piece:
The QB moves opposite the runner’s initial path, but virtually no backside defender takes notice because the only bona fide threat is Saquon Barkley. Much has been made of the consistency of Barkley’s runs, and seams would be found more regularly if backside defenders respected the QB keeper element. This is not the only way to enhance the running game, as since the bye Shurmur and Shula have used other elements to aid Barkley in his efforts (e.g. using bunch formations on the backside to create more favorable angles for backside blockers). Clearly, there is an understanding the offensive line needs as much help as it can get among the coaching staff. There are few backs as explosive as Barkley in the league, getting him to the second tier of the defense within play structure should be priority one of the running game. Lastly, a distinction must be made in regards to the zone read. This pieces does not mean to suggest it become a foundational part of the offensive game plan, but simply putting on tape a few actual QB keepers goes a long way to keeping defenders tight to their gaps.
Throwing Motion/Side-Arm Release
One thing that really stands out about Teddy Bridgewater is his throwing motion. His delivery is very side-arm, causing his elbow to remain low throughout the process. On intermediate and deeper throws, this can lead to inaccuracies. Misses can have a tendency to be high, but on tape it seemed to be mostly lateral misses from back in 2015. This seemed to stem from throws where his weight shift did not drive enough to his target, and the throwing motion was exacerbated to his left side. Please see the below picture from the preseason game against the Giants in 2018:
What is interesting is statistically, back in 2015 his adjusted completion percentage (stat compiled by PFF) was 79.3% (ranked 11th for QBs), so his overall accuracy was still very high. PFF also compiled that only 10.7% of his throws were over 20 yards in the air, which is near the bottom of the league that year. So much of a quarterback’s success depends on what he is asked to do on a consistent basis. If the era was the early 90s and a coordinator was asking Bridgewater to make a lot of seven-step drops driving the ball downfield for 15-25 yard intermediate isolation routes, then yes, his release or motion is going to be a red flag. But if the throws are made selectively, a player like Bridgewater can actually flash on film, with his delivery allowing him to change his arm angle when needed. This allows a high level of comfort when “throwing through trash” with defenders’ arms near the throwing path. Please see the below against the Giants in 2015:
The pass rusher on this play is clearly in the throwing lane of the go route, yet Bridgewater makes it look easy and delivers the ball on time with great placement. Many astute football fans may be surprised at the low 10.7% of throws more than 20 yards downfield, as the offensive coordinator for the Vikings in 2015 was Norv Turner. Turner is one of the most successful Coryell “system” disciples, known for their deep ball prowess. In reality, the system is more a language than a strict playbook, and Bridgewater’s quick release flashed on many third reads in progressions. Please see the below example from the same Giants game as above:
Bridgewater very quickly eliminates the first two reads on the progression then identifies the change in coverage from pre-snap (defensive lineman dropping off) and holds to the very last instant, when he delivers a strike and takes a hit from the pass rush. The ball is where it needs to be when it needs to be there. The frequent use of side-arm delivery, coupled with traits like starting his left plant foot very early in the process, gives him the confidence to make these types of plays. Every offense can benefit from a quick release that becomes even quicker with good play speed.
The fact is most NFL playbooks rely on the quick game (short and intermediate route combinations from 1-10 yards), and this is where Bridgewater really thrives. These schemes place timing close to the top of the priority list, and one example comes to mind from the Vikings’ wildcard playoff game against the Seahawks in 2015. Bridgewater flashed at multiple points through the game, despite the somewhat conservative approach in play-calling. Please see the below receiver screen pop pass executed to perfection:
The power play-action fake takes time to execute, but Bridgewater’s good footwork and quick release allow him to deliver the pop pass on-schedule before the zone coverage collapses on the receiver. There was, as is the case on most of these examples, pressure in Bridgewater’s face. It cannot be overstated; good QB footwork coupled with a quick release is like a map and flashlight when trying to complete passes in the dark cave of NFL secondaries. Bridgewater has both, and honestly at times reminds of Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco.
The final aspect of Bridgewater’s game that must be highlighted for his fit with any team, particularly the Giants, is the ability to make throws with anticipation. This can be critical in a timing and rhythm offense that is very dependent on YAC (Yards After Catch). With a skill position group that includes Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, it is clear Big Blue has some of the most elite explosive players in the league. But sometimes the more understated throws are simply made more catchable by a well-timed ball. Please see the below example for the Seattle playoff game in 2015:
Bridgewater’s release on this throw comes as the receiver is still in the vertical stem of the route. This leaves the man coverage virtually no chance to make a play at the catch point. This is a key distinction between quarterbacks that can deliver with anticipation and those that rely on arm strength to fit into tight windows. Ultimately, both would be best, but over-reliance on strength without any ability to anticipate is a ticking turnover time bomb. Bridgewater’s throws diffuse defenses full of ballhawks.
Throwing with anticipation can provide other types of benefits in terms of adjusting to variables that happen rather often on the chaotic gridiron. Bridgewater’s playoff start against the Seahawks had a great example of this late in the 4th quarter on a play that got them far into field goal range (for the placekicker to infamously whiff, apologies to any Vikings fans reading this).
There are few examples of such a high-level throw in the clutch when it counts the most, especially for a young quarterback. The underneath zone defender is moving to jump the angle route, so Bridgewater calmly resets his feet then throws an absolute strike with perfect placement. The time it took to reset allowed the over the top zone defender to contest the catch point. This is what command of a passing game looks like, where subtle nuances even in critical moments fail to rattle a quarterback.
Right off the bat, many will claim that the above all-22 film examples all take place in 2015. This brings up the unbelievable injury and recovery effort that Bridgewater has undergone since his season-ending knee injury in 2016. To say it was extreme is an understatement; he almost lost his leg. This report has no insight into this injury, but it looks to the history of Bridgewater’s character and work ethic through all his levels of football. Personally, he and his family have faced hardship, and adversity often forges leaders. This is perhaps the biggest element of Bridgewater’s game that this piece neglects: his leadership. General manager David Gettleman has placed a high premium on this trait in his free agency signings. This is very significant when turning anything around. It starts with quality people. So yes, his injury risk exists, but football is a violent game.
In conclusion, Bridgewater’s traits can add a lot to many teams in the NFL. But in particular, the distribution of the ball on schedule from unstable pockets is something the Giants have not had for a very long time. Bridgewater’s efficiency as a floor and his playmaking ability as a ceiling make him a very attractive free agent. At this point in the piece, it must be stated that Pat Shurmur worked with Bridgewater before his injury (and through it, for that matter) in Minnesota, but yes, it is meant to be an afterthought in a piece like this. Too often media pundits focus on the scheme fit or labeling quarterbacks as ones that would work in a certain system. The traits are the foundation, and some may seem foreign to fans because they are so rarely discussed on broadcasts on Sunday and elsewhere. The bottom line is that Bridgewater is certainly an option to pursue in free agency, and ignoring this fact is to ignore football fundamentals as well as the very apparent weaknesses of the Giants offense. Head coach Pat Shurmur has preached winning the next game as priority one. Bridgewater in a Big Blue uniform gets the team closer to that objective for week 1 in 2019.