In general, NFL defenses tend to bring pressure when facing young or inexperienced quarterbacks and sit back against veteran, experienced quarterbacks. The thinking is that blitzing a young quarterback will force quick decisions in a process that is already facing enough hurdles, while blitzing a veteran will only lead to a defense becoming exposed against a quarterback who has developed enough poise to make good decisions in the face of pressure.
With that said, one would assume the Atlanta Falcons will bring a blitz-happy attack to Minnesota this weekend with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater making his first career start. But that assumption may not be true. With Bridgewater come intervening factors to the theory mentioned above, and that makes Atlanta's blitz strategy versus Teddy Bridgewater this week's opponent X-factor.
The two intervening factors to a tried and true NFL theory that when facing a young quarterback it's best to blitz are: 1) Atlanta doesn't blitz a lot in general, and 2) Bridgewater possesses the one physical trait that can burn the blitz best – mobility.
Let's take a look at the first factor:
Atlanta Blitz Frequency vs. the Pass (2014)1st Down: 3 blitzes in 30 attempts (5th fewest)
2nd Down: 9 blitzes in 41 attempts (9th fewest)
3rd Down: 8 blitzes in 34 attempts (7th lowest)
4th Down: 0 blitzes in 0 attempts
Atlanta's relatively low blitz frequency (vs. the pass) is consistent with the theory mentioned above, as the Falcons have faced only veteran, experienced quarterbacks through three weeks – Drew Brees in Week 1, Andy Dalton in Week 2 and Josh McCown in Week 3).
The second factor is Bridgewater's mobility. Even the most aggressive and skilled blitzing defenses must be careful when they decide to go after a mobile quarterback. If defenders are not disciplined in their gaps and sound in their tackling, a mobile quarterback can slip away to buy time and make throws or to pick up yardage with his legs. Bridgewater, while a pocket passer by nature, did escape pressure last week versus the Saints to both buy time to throw and tuck the ball to run; Bridgewater had six carries for 27 yards last week.
For comparisons sake, the Saints last week actually blitzed Matt Cassel more frequently than they blitzed Bridgewater, sending more than four defenders after Cassel on six of 12 drop backs (50%) and sending more than four defenders after Bridgewater on 11 of 27 drop backs (40.7%).
What will the Falcons do? Will they subscribe to the theory that blitzing an inexperienced quarterback is the way to go? Or will they take into account Bridgewater's mobility and sit back, which is more their typical style anyway? Regardless of what they do, it will be incumbent on Bridgewater to read it correctly and respond appropriately, and it will also be important for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner to anticipate Atlanta's strategy and put Bridgewater and Co. in the best possible position to succeed.