ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Two weeks into the 2021 NFL season, few quarterbacks are playing as well as Teddy Bridgewater.
The veteran signal-caller ranks second in ESPN's QBR metric, and he is one of four players in NFL history to complete 75 percent of his passes and throw for at least two touchdowns and no interceptions in back-to-back games to start the year. If he can hit those same benchmarks against the Jets, Bridgewater would join Drew Brees as the only two players to accomplish the feat in three consecutive games to begin a season.
Bridgewater's success has garnered increased attention in recent days, as national analysts have taken notice of his strong start. They've taken note of his commitment to the deep pass and his ability to avoid turnovers, and those have indeed been major factors in his near-perfect performance to begin the year.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh has plenty of respect for Denver's quarterback, as he called Bridgewater "one of the more underrated starting quarterbacks in this league."
"His releases are super quick," Saleh told Denver reporters on Thursday. "He's very accurate, he's a tremendous decision-maker, he's got mobility. He is everything you'd want out of a starting quarterback. He's efficient on third down, he doesn't turn the ball over. He really is a fantastic quarterback, and there's a reason for Denver being 2-0 and racking up over 400 yards a game in offense. It's not a fluke."
A closer look at the Broncos' first two wins reveal three underrated situations where Bridgewater has thrived. And, as a result, the Broncos have excelled, as well.
When teams bring pressure …
Through two weeks, Bridgewater has been blitzed on 24 occasions — 30.4 percent of the team's total dropbacks — and he's been nearly impeccable. When facing at least one extra rusher, Bridgewater is 18-of-21 for 168 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 131.8 quarterback rating. He's been sacked three times on those dropbacks, but he's done more than enough to show teams that bringing extra pressure may not be the wisest decision.
"I think Teddy's got poise," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "I think we work a lot during the week about what pressures we're going to see. I think our guys up front have done a nice job of blocking the pressure, so there's confidence that comes with that. And each week it's different. [Thursday is] a big third-down day for us, and … the Jets present a lot of different pressures that are unique to them that we've got to get honed in on. … I think [the success is due to] Teddy's presence, his ability to make the play when it's not perfect, and then he's getting a better feel each week for the guys that he's throwing to."
When the play breaks down …
Against the Jaguars, Bridgewater made a couple of plays where he made something out of nothing. Early in the second quarter, Bridgewater was flushed from the pocket on second-and-10 and scrambled to his left and then back to his right. As he neared the right sideline, he fired a pass to Noah Fant near the sideline. It was just a four-yard gain, but it helped the Broncos pick up yardage to create a more manageable third down.
On a second-and-16 later in the quarter, Bridgewater looked to his left for his first read before bringing his eyes back across the field and flinging the ball to Javonte Williams in the right flat. Williams picked up 10 yards on the play and set up another more realistic third down. On the Broncos' first touchdown drive, it was an underrated play.
"Decision-making is huge for the quarterback, the timing is huge," Shurmur said. "… You've got to be a good decision-maker as a quarterback early in the down and late in the down. So late in the down, he's finding these receivers and then, you know, I would expect if they're not available, then he just throws it away or runs with it. But I think that's part of Teddy's charm. He's a good decision-maker."
When a big hit is imminent …
The best ability is availability, and Bridgewater has done well to avoid needless big hits against the Giants and Jaguars. Against the Giants, Bridgewater showed good awareness on his slides to avoid a big hit — and to pick up an unnecessary roughness call when he did take a blow. In Jacksonville, Bridgewater released the ball just before a charging defender hit him from behind, which likely would have resulted in a fumble if he still had hold of the football. And while Bridgewater has been sacked five times, he's avoided the big blindside hits that can knock quarterbacks out of games.
"[For] quarterbacks, it's timing, decision-making and accuracy, and he has a good clock in his head as to when the time is getting short," Shurmur said. "And he has the ability to get the ball off. He made some really good throws just before defender got there. He's able to elude in the pocket. For a guy that probably doesn't have a blazing 40 speed, he is elusive, and I think that's a gift. And I think we're all starting to see it."
Head Coach Vic Fangio was in his final season as the Houston Texans' defensive coordinator when Saleh joined the team as a coaching intern.
Fangio said Monday that Saleh had a "great work ethic" and "a good feel for the game" during their limited time together.
"You could tell he had a bright future as a coach," Fangio said.
Saleh still remembers the value of that season working with Fangio.
"It was kind of a whirlwind because I had gotten there right before training camp, and Vic, he's not much for words," Saleh said Thursday. "My head was swimming, and it was a rough year, but I took a lot from Vic. He's one of the more detailed men I've ever been around. He has tremendous conviction in his philosophy, and you can see his personality, believe it or not, in the way they play. It's been a great ride, and it's a pleasure to know him."
Fangio and Saleh have remained in touch through the years, and Fangio said Wednesday that they'd played golf together several times.
"He's got that old-man swing that goes right down the middle 200 yards," Saleh said. "I'm busy trying to pound it 300 yards while going off every fairway. He's a better scorer than I am."
And while their personalities may differ — Fangio is more introverted than Saleh — the Jets' head coach appreciates Fangio's approach.
"Vic is one of the more authentic people I've ever met in my life, and I just [have] an appreciation for who he is and how he does things," Saleh said. "Shoot, the first time I went out to dinner with him, I think he maybe said two words to me, and I was like, 'God, this guy is having a terrible time.' He got up and said, 'Hey man, that was fun. We've got to do it again sometime.' I was like, 'All right.' So, you learn the person as you get to know them, and Vic really is one of the more genuine people I've ever been around. Like I said, I'm very fortunate to have been able to cross paths with him and know him."
On Sunday, the two former coworkers will face off in Denver.
AIMING TO MAKE A QUICK RETURN
Von Miller has talked to his pass-rushing partner, and he knows Bradley Chubb will do everything possible to return to the field as quickly as possible.
"His mindset is whatever they say the time that he has to sit out [is], he's trying to cut thatin half," Miller said Thursday. "I was saying the same thing last year [trying] to come back. That's just the true spirit of a true competitor."
Miller said the bone spur in Chubb's left ankle was more severe than the one in the right ankle that required offseason surgery.
"He still played, he still gave it a go," Miller said. "He's a true gladiator, he's a true warrior and now he just has to rest up and get back here as soon as he can."
Chubb is expected back in six to eight weeks.