After agreeing to a three-year deal for $20 million per season, Teddy Bridgewater will be the starting quarterback in Carolina. Bridgewater’s story is one of perseverance, as he has battled back after suffering a major knee injury in 2016 preseason workouts. This is the biggest move thus far and helps us with handicapping the NFL offseason quarterback changes.
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The quarterback took advantage of his latest chance last season with the Saints following Drew Brees injuring his thumb in Week 2 against the Rams. He lead New Orleans to a 5-0 record before heading back to the bench when Brees became healthy enough to play in late October.
After taking the reins in New Orleans, Bridgewater was checking down to shorter passing options at a level where it quickly became a running joke amongst the football watching audience. It begs the question, is the short passing game attributable to the Saints system and what they are looking to do within their offense? Or was it due to a certain deficiency that exists with Bridgewater at the position.
Like many things, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Take a look at last year’s statistics:
|Time to Throw
|Average Intended Air Yards
|Average Completed Air Yards
The Bridgewater average air yard statistics are the lowest and third-lowest in the NFL while Brees’ average intended air yards are fourth-lowest. Meanwhile, the aggressiveness percentage is tied for seventh lowest in the NFL. The future Hall of Famer Brees is clearly the better quarterback, but there is quite a lot of similarity between the two based on last year’s sample size.
However, in Bridgewater’s two seasons starting in Minnesota, his numbers paint a similar picture. Yards per attempt with the Vikings was 7.2 (compared to 6.9 with the Saints) along with 11.2 yards per completion in Minnesota (versus 10.2 in limited action for New Orleans). From my perspective, we know who Bridgewater is at this stage, and he will have a difficult time changing, even with the latest transition in teams.
Now playing for a franchise that is expected to be one of the three or four worst teams in the NFL this coming season, Bridgewater will have much less talent at his disposal than he had in New Orleans. It’s hard to imagine that Christian McCaffrey will be expected to do much more than he did last season.
But I expect he will be a default option for Bridgewater and an even bigger focal point for the Panthers. Following a season when the running back lead the league in touchdowns (19), touches (403), and yards from scrimmage (2,392), questions should be asked regarding how much more the incredible but small in stature player can take. Expectations are that check downs to McCaffrey will be abundant.
New offensive coordinator Joe Brady will be anxious to put his offense in ahead of the season, but (like all teams) will be restricted for the time being due to the coronavirus epidemic. Given the fact that Brady and Bridgewater have previously worked together in New Orleans, the terminology should be familiar, and the Panthers offense may find themselves with a slight head start when compared to other franchises adapting to a new quarterback or coordinator.
In terms of skill position players outside of McCaffery, wide receiver D.J. Moore has had two strong seasons to start his career, including a handful of breakout games. However, the quality of passes delivered to the wideout were wildly inconsistent last season. Needless to say, Kyle Allen did not serve Moore well.
Just 73.3% of passes thrown his direction were catchable (74th in the league) with a 64.4% catch rate (46th). Bridgewater lacks in several areas, but he has demonstrated an ability to throw the ball accurately during his time on the field, which should bode well for Moore.
While there are questions about what Brady and new head coach Matt Rhule will bring to the Panthers from an offensive perspective, we can clearly see the areas they should be focusing on (short passing game that completes throws at a high rate, establish the running game, take shots with their quality young wideout). But how long before opposing defenses catch on and scheme to force Bridgewater to beat them from intermediate to deep parts of the field through the air? In past instances where offenses become predictable, we usually see defensive coordinators come up with a plan very quickly, stunting any production after a few games.
Rhule rebuilt two college programs in relatively short order (inside three seasons). Will his head coaching methods translate to the NFL? This remains to be seen. From my perspective, this first season will be a long one for the Panthers, particularly in a division that should be stronger with Tom Brady expected to sign with Tampa Bay and the Saints the odds-on favorite. Carolina are (and should be) in complete rebuilding mode.
The season win total is intriguing at 4.5, but this team is still at least a year away from competing. I’m leaning UNDER the win total and will be looking to fade the Panthers to start the season.
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