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Bradford's Best Passing So Far Outdoes Imperfect Conditions

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —How many times is a perfect pass thrown in an NFL game?

The question seems simple enough, but it is somewhat hard to measure because of varying definitions of "perfect" or even willingness to use the descriptor.

When asked to estimate a quantity per game on Thursday, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said, "Too many, on the opponents."

Spoken truthfully by someone who has committed much of his career to preventing any completion by an opponent.

In the case of Sam Bradford and the Vikings offense so far, then there are escalating factors in the evaluation.

Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner both pointed to performance under pressure, accurately delivering the ball in spite of defenders closing in and creating imperfect conditions. The ability to be unaffected in those situations creates opportunities to out-execute a good play by the defense on short-, middle- and long-range passes.

"To me, anytime you're getting pressure, like there was a play where it was fourth-and-2 against Green Bay. And he fades away, and he hits [Stefon Diggs]," Zimmer said. "There was one, he was getting hit, there was one when he threw to Jarius [Wright] against [Houston] and caught him in stride. You know, it was a 10-yard gain, but it was really a great throw. I look at them as great. I don't know about perfect; I look at them as great throws."

Bradford took a hit from Packers linebacker Clay Matthews but not before fitting the ball in to Diggs in the middle of the field. It extended a drive that ended with Minnesota's first touchdown in a regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

He also took a hit from Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus but delivered the ball to Wright on a crossing route to convert third-and-6 at the end of the first quarter. It was the first time Bradford had thrown a pass to Wright in a game, but the ball hit the receiver in stride.

Turner, meanwhile, thought of another Bradford-to-Diggs connection that was good for a 25-yard touchdown against the Packers. Bradford launched the ball from the 34-yard line down the seam to Diggs, coolly facing down a pending hit by Mike Daniels, in the middle of the end zone, putting the ball past cornerback Damarious Randall but leaving Diggs plenty of room to get his feet in bounds. Diggs even overcame activity that drew a pass interference call on Randall to make the catch.

"He just throws a good ball, so I just try to make the plays for him and do my job at least," Diggs shrugged after the game.

Turner, an NFL veteran of more than 30 years, said Thursday that "it's as good of a throw as I've been around."

"That touchdown to Diggs in the Green Bay game off of the play-action, the corner actually undercuts it, and Sam's getting hit as he throws it, you can't throw a more perfect pass than that," Turner said. "It's not an 8-yard pass, it's a 30-yard pass down the field to the back of the end zone. So, it was a pretty incredible play, and those plays end up being the difference in winning and losing."

Turner said the play to him was "as good as it gets" because of the degree of difficulty.

"A lot of throws that you make and you should make when a guy is running free, and then there's those special plays that very few people can make," Turner said. "You're getting pressured, you're getting hit, it is tight coverage, and you manage to complete it, and you obviously don't put your team at risk."

Xavier Rhodes said he's seen "plenty" of perfect passes by opponents since he's been here.

"I've seen them with Aaron Rodgers. You've seen that," Rhodes said. "He's very accurate in his throws, and the receivers adjust to the ball great. Those guys seem like they're on cue."

Rhodes also mentioned previous battles with former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and the chemistry he had with Matthew Stafford, as well as facing Atlanta's receiver-quarterback tandem of Julio Jones and Matt Ryan.

"Those guys were on point with it, too," Rhodes said.

How about Sam here?

"Accurate. A lot of perfect throws in practice and also in the game," Rhodes said. "It would be to a point where only the receivers can get to them. It's amazing, good to watch."

Rhodes said the touchdown to Diggs against Green Bay was "beautiful."

"I mean, it's just amazing to me how accurate he is," Rhodes said. "It's hard as a DB to get to the ball. The DB is literally on the receiver, and he's still finding a way to fit it in.

"I would hate to be that DB at that point," Rhodes continued. "It's more frustrating as a DB and you're in great coverage, and the quarterback still fits the ball in to the point where only the receiver can get it. It's like, 'What can you do?' Can you be in better coverage when you were already in great coverage? It's one of those things, as a DB, where you've just got to come back the next play and continue to be in great coverage, and hopefully he makes a mistake."

Safety Andrew Sendejo said the offense making a play can be an unavoidable part of the game.

"I think we can all say that," Sendejo said. "Sometimes there's going to be good coverage and a guy is going to put it right where it had to be.

"With the quarterbacks and receivers we face these days, that will happen," he added. 

Defensive backs have help, however, starting with the defensive line. Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards pointed out the role that an effective pass rush can play in limiting the damage against the Vikings.

"That's the one thing we believe in, the one thing we teach, and our players understand it," Edwards said. "They've done a great job of it thus far this year. So, for us, it's understanding what we need to do leverage-wise in coverage to give them time to get to the quarterback. Our rushers understand what's happening protection-wise. So, it all kind of ties hand-in-hand.

"You look at the success we've had hitting some of the quarterbacks we've faced thus far, that's what it has been a combination of, and I think our guys are on the same page and understand that it's all tied hand-in-hand," Edwards added. "We don't want to give up big plays, big throws down the field. So, we have to be disciplined in the leverage of the coverage, and we've got to be able to understand what they're doing protection-wise to be able to get into good rush lanes for the quarterback."

Opposing passers have completed 55.5 percent of their passes for 1,194 yards, thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions and have a rating of 65.3, the lowest passer rating allowed by a team this season.

View images from the Thursday, Oct. 20 practice at Winter Park.

Rhodes and Vikings defensive backs have appreciated the help.

"Our d-line gets to the quarterback a bunch and they have to get the ball out quick, so it's more of check-downs than anything," Rhodes said.

Bradford, meanwhile, has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 990 yards in four starts. He's thrown six touchdowns, no interceptions and has a rating of 109.7 that ranks second in the league (the NFL maximum passer rating is 158.3). All of this is in spite of learning a new system since arriving on Sept. 3 after being traded by Philadelphia, this Sunday's opponent.

New Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson said Bradford's accuracy was on display the first day he worked with the quarterback this spring during organized team activities.

"Once he gets even more comfortable with those guys, it just sort of escalates from there, so yeah, he's definitely one of the most accurate guys," said Pederson, attributing Bradford's success rate to a full offseason in good health, impressive timing with the football on passes of varying lengths, and plays being made by Vikings teammates.

"He's smart, and he makes good, accurate throws, so he's tough to defend that way," Pederson said. "I've always said this as a former quarterback: it's hard to defend the perfect pass, and he knows how to put the perfect pass out there."

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