Water Under the Bridge: Is Teddy Bridgewater a Good Fit for the Carolina Panthers?

By Joanne Kong

Twitter: @KongFu4U

Teddy Bridgewater was the 32nd pick in round 1 by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2014 NFL Draft, and the second drafted quarterback that year. Bridgewater started as a rookie in 2014, finishing with a 7-9 record and 3rd in the NFC North. In his 2nd year, Bridgewater led the Vikings to a 11-5 record and 1st in the division, ultimately losing the Wild Card game to the Seattle Seahawks. With the success of their new quarterback, the Vikings were hoping for a trip to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, that looked bleak when Bridgewater tore his ACL before the 2016 season. And just like that, Bridgewater went from an ascending starting quarterback to the IR and then a back for Drew Brees on the New Orleans Saints. Bridgewater had five starts in the 2018 season in place of an injured Drew Brees, wining all of them. Then he started another nine games for the Saints in 2019. Now, Bridgewater has gotten a starting job back, this time with the Carolina Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers have made some drastic changes to their coaching, filling top positions from college ranks. They have a new head coach in Matt Rhule from Baylor and a new offensive coordinator in Joe Brady from LSU. Brady has gained a reputation as one of college’s premiere offensive strategist after leading LSU to the 2019 National Championship as their passing game coordinator. But he didn’t just come out of nowhere, as he also worked with Sean Peyton and the New Orleans Saints as an offensive assistant for two years prior to heading to LSU.

With Joe Brady heading the Panthers offense, it was inevitable that there would be some roster changes. Newton’s contract was ending in 2020, and there was a lot to consider. Newton’s mobility was compromised with a foot injury and two shoulder surgeries in 2017 had apparently impacted his throwing mechanics, both of which were concerning with regard to in-game consistency. Brady favored a passing offense, which Newton’s play style didn’t quite fit.

With Newton gone, the Panthers still had a core group of offensive weapons. Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel all were returning and had significant potential in Brady’s offense. But there were several holes to address. Clearly, the Panthers needed a quarterback and needed depth at receiver past Moore and Samuel. And these weren’t the only issues for the offense. The Panthers, like many teams, have had problems on the offensive line, in particular at left tackle. For Brady’s offense to be effective, the quarterback would need a reliable pocket so as to have time for routes to develop and to properly go through progressions.

Teddy Bridgewater would be that quarterback. As a back-up to Drew Brees for two years, Bridgewater was already familiar with Brady’s offense style, and had been very successful filling Brees’ shoes behind center.

Although the Carolina Panthers started the season 0-1 with a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, 30-34, Bridgewater connected on 22 of 34 pass attempts for 270 passing yards (good for the 10th most passing yards among QBs in Week 1) and a passing touchdown and Christian McCaffrey picked up essentially where he left off by managing 96 rush yards and 2 touchdowns after being shut down for most of the first half of the game. Bridgewater connected with newcomer Robby Anderson from the New Jets six times for the 115 yards and a touchdown. Unlike Newton, who had 15 rushing attempts and two rushing touchdowns with the New England Patriots in week 1, Bridgewater only had 54 rushing years in four attempts, clearly accentuating Brady’s aerial offensive scheme, but taking advantage of run lanes when available.

Bridgewater’s usage and performance in week 1 was right in line with his 2015 Pro Bowl season, where he focused more on passing than running with a 64.7% completion percentage (as compared 65.3% in 2015) and 2.9 % TD percentage (as compared to 3.1% in 2015) and just 4 carries (compared 2.8 per game in 2015).  In all, Bridgewater appeared to be a decent fit for what Brady wants to do on offense in Carolina, at least through week 1.

There are several factors that led to the Panther’s loss in week 1, most important of which was the defense. Carolina’s corner Donte Jackson went down in the first quarter with an ankle injury and rookie corner Tony Pride wasn’t quite up to the task allowing a 45-yard gain to rookie Henry Ruggs III and a 23 yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. In addition, during the fourth quarter, a decision was made to hand off to the full back Alex Armah on a critical 4th down, and not McCaffrey, who was stopped at the line.  Importantly, Bridgewater’s performance did not appear to be one of the major reasons the Panthers didn’t pull out a week 1 win.

Obviously, Week 1 doesn’t dictate the entire season. But if the Panthers’ want to make it to the post season, they need to continue playing to their strengths, which essentially consists of keeping Christian McCaffrey as involved as possible, while continuing to make Bridgewater comfortable with his receivers.

Up next, I discuss Philip Rivers in his new home with the Indianapolis Colts!

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