Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is playing a new style of football
Former New York Jets and current Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has long been known as a conservative game manager.
Those days are no more. As we enter Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season, Bridgewater is one of the most aggressive and explosive quarterbacks in the NFL.
Bridgewater’s average pass attempt this season has traveled 9.9 yards downfield. That is the sixth-highest average among qualified quarterbacks, trailing only Russell Wilson (10.4), Tom Brady (10.3), Josh Allen (10.2), and Trevor Lawrence (10.2). Zach Wilson (9.8) sits one spot behind Bridgewater.
To boot, Bridgewater has thrown 13 passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield, tied with Lawrence for the most in the NFL.
This is new territory for Bridgewater. As a member of the Panthers in 2020, he ranked 25th out of 32 qualifiers with an average target depth of 7.6 yards. With the Saints in 2019, he ranked 34th out 34 with a mark of 6.1 yards.
The new style has worked wonders for Bridgewater. He enters Week 2 with the NFL’s sixth-best passer rating (120.7) and second-best QBR (82.7). Denver’s offense has been successful under his leadership, ranking eighth in the NFL in points scored per drive (2.63).
Denver’s revamped version of Teddy Bridgewater will offer a new type of challenge for the Jets’ young secondary, which has been surprisingly great through two weeks.
The Jets’ first two opposing quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Mac Jones, are among the most conservative quarterbacks in the NFL. Darnold’s average target depth of 7.7 yards ranks 23rd out of 32 qualifiers while Jones’ average of 5.7 yards ranks 29th.
New York’s cornerbacks thrived against the laid-back styles of Darnold and Jones. The Jets’ cornerback unit is the only one in the NFL to have committed zero penalties and allowed zero touchdowns so far this season. The unit also ranks sixth-best among all cornerback units in the league with an average of only 5.9 yards allowed per target.
A checkdown-happy quarterback isn’t necessarily easier to defend than a gunslinger – they just offer two different types of challenges. The Jets’ cornerbacks have proven they’re up to the task of facing the former.
Conservative quarterbacks put pressure on the cornerbacks to make tackles, which is something not all corners can do well. These ones can. Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, and Javelin Guidry have combined to make 33 tackles while missing only three. That’s a miss rate of 8.3%, well below the 2020 positional average of 12.9%.
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Against Bridgewater, these corners will have an opportunity to prove they can hold up against aggressive quarterbacks as well.
Aggressive quarterbacks give the cornerbacks substantially more opportunities to make big plays (interceptions, pass breakups, forced incompletions) than conservative quarterbacks do, but they obviously will challenge the cornerbacks with deep passes much more often.
The ceiling for cornerback play rises thanks to the increase in big-play chances, but the floor lowers thanks to the increase in chances to be burnt for a long touchdown.
While the Jets’ corners have been great so far, they have yet to showcase what they’re capable of when the ball comes their way on a downfield throw. The unit has zero interceptions and one pass deflection (courtesy of Carter II).
That lack of play-making production is not the fault of the players. They simply were almost never challenged by Darnold or Jones (largely thanks to their tight coverage discouraging Darnold and Jones from trying to throw at them). Chances to make splashy on-ball plays have not been there.
Bridgewater is likely going to challenge the Jets’ cornerbacks very frequently. We will get a great look at how Hall, Carter II, Echols, and Guidry respond in those situations.
Can they prevent big plays down the field just as well as they prevent big plays underneath?