MINNEAPOLIS -- When Teddy Bridgewater was preparing for his second year as the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback, at the helm of a team with a commanding running game, a stout defense and a rickety offensive line, the progress of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson seemed like a good benchmark for him.
Wilson, who beat out Matt Flynn out for the Seahawks' starting job as a rookie, was leading a team with a commanding running game, an elite defense and a rickety offensive line. The Seahawks won a Super Bowl in Wilson's second season largely because the second of those three commodities was arguably in its own class, but Wilson showed some ingenuity as a playmaker and the mature presence that had Vikings coaches raving about him after they worked with him at the 2012 Senior Bowl. The Vikings had spent the 12th overall pick on quarterback Christian Ponder the previous year and wound up picking Josh Robinson 66th overall. Wilson went to Seattle at No. 75.
A coaching regime later, the Vikings have laid a similar foundation as the Seahawks with a quarterback whose magnetic leadership qualities evoke some comparisons to Wilson.
"He's doing like our quarterback," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We build our team around the running game, playing defense and special teams, and the quarterback is the point guard, you know? He spreads the ball around. I think Teddy's doing a great job of that. He's resourceful with his movement and getting out on his feet when he has to."
But while Bridgewater's numbers stack up favorably to Wilson's in some respects, he's still got a ways to go in others.
"He’s been playing some great football," Bridgewater said about Wilson. "He’s smart with the football, not turning it over. He knows how to escape to keep plays alive when things break down. I think that’s some of the areas that we’re similar, but I could continue to just get better. He’s playing at a high level; it’s obvious in his playing ability that they’ve been successful the last couple of years."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson completed 63.5 percent of his passes in his first 23 NFL starts, throwing for 4,607 yards, 37 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while being sacked 53 times and pressured on 34 percent of his dropbacks. Bridgewater, who made his 23rd career start on Sunday, has completed 64.9 percent of his passes in those games, throwing for 5,049 yards, 22 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while being sacked 67 times and pressured on 31.9 percent of his dropbacks.
There are a couple big differences to point out between Wilson and Bridgewater. First, there's little dispute that Wilson has the edge on Bridgewater in terms of speed, which has probably helped him avoid sacks and fare better under pressure. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson had a 28.8 QBR under pressure in his first 23 starts, compared to Bridgewater's QBR of 9.4. Neither mark is outstanding, but by starts No. 22 and 23, Wilson was learning how to extend plays and make throws on the run; he went 7-for-8 when he was under pressure outside the pocket against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 13, 2013, throwing for 119 yards before coming back four days later and firing three under-pressure, outside-the-pocket strikes for 53 yards and a touchdown. Bridgewater hasn't been as sharp on the run -- he has hit three of his 12 throws outside the pocket for 40 yards when pressured in the past two weeks -- and has often resorted to running or throwing the ball away. He's been wise to live to fight another down, but Wilson's ability to buy time has translated to more plays downfield under pressure.
The touchdown-to-interception ratio is the other major difference between the quarterbacks, and it's one of the areas where Bridgewater could stand to learn the most from Wilson. In his first 23 starts, Bridgewater is 11-for-36 on balls he has thrown into the end zone, with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has a QBR of 23.4 on those throws. Wilson, on the other hand, threw 21 touchdowns in his first 47 passes into the end zone in his first 23 starts, with no interceptions. Most of Bridgewater's end zone interceptions have been on longer shots -- he has actually thrown only two picks when the Vikings have been inside the red zone, and one of his end zone picks was on a Hail Mary against the Jets last year -- but for a team that's 28th in the league in touchdowns this season, taking better care of the football on throws into the end zone would help. Bridgewater underthrew a ball for Kyle Rudolph last week that was intercepted in the end zone. If he put more on the pass, he's got another touchdown, one fewer interception and the Vikings would have had a 14-0 lead on the Falcons. If Bridgewater can get better in those situations, both he and the Vikings' offense can make major strides.
We should also note that Wilson turned 24 halfway through his rookie season; Bridgewater just turned 23 last month. It's easy to forget how young Bridgewater is considering how much he has played (and won) at a tender age. He also isn't going to be Wilson; the two play in different schemes, and it appears Wilson has more autonomy as a runner than Bridgewater has.
But there are enough similarities between the two players -- in stature, their standing in their locker rooms and the construct of their teams -- that Bridgewater can use Wilson as a role model of sorts.
"The biggest thing that stands out about Russell is that he’s a winner," Bridgewater said. "That’s what everyone aims for in this position. You want to be a winner."