Battered and bruised Bridgewater at risk against the Browns
Easy for him to say.
On Tuesday, Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was asked about the beating that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been taking over the last three weeks, all ending with losses that evaporated the good vibes of the team’s 3-0 start. During their 23-7 loss to the Ravens in Week 4, Bridgewater was smashed under the chin by Baltimore rookie rusher Odafe Oweh, dislodging Bridgewater’s helmet and leaving him with a concussion that forced him out go the second half of that game.
“I wish Teddy prosperity,” Oweh said afterwards. “I wasn’t trying to do anything dirty.”
Whether Oweh intended to or not, the hit should have been flagged as a penalty. But either way, the damage had already been done.
After rushing through the league’s concussion protocol, Bridgewater looked wobbly the following week in Denver’s 27-19 loss to Pittsburgh. In that game, the Broncos’ quarterback threw his first interception of the season. He threw three more last weekend in the Broncos’ embarrassing, 34-24 loss to the visiting Raiders in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score made it appear. Bridgewater was sacked five times and hit on a whopping 17 occasions, or roughly one of every three drop backs.
After Bridgewater visibly hobbled his way off the practice field Tuesday, Shurmur had his chance to weigh in. And he chose to criticize… the statistics.
“Some of them (weren’t) what I would consider hits, but certainly you don’t want your quarterback to accumulate hits in any way, shape or form,” Shurmur said. “On the one where he threw a touchdown (to Noah Fant in the fourth quarter), I guess they considered it a hit. (Maxx Crosby) kind of pushed him late and he barrel-rolled out of it.”
The oddly callous comment was notable, given that Bridgewater’s absorbed seven sacks and 19 hits — and thrown four interceptions — over the last 10 quarters since suffering that concussion.
“Teddy hasn’t been a turnover guy,” head coach Vic Fangio said earlier in the week. “Once you become an unbalanced offense, the chances of throwing interceptions go up.”
Strange, then, that Shurmur hasn’t seemed particularly inclined to alleviate the pressure by running the ball, despite the fact that both Melvin Gordon III and rookie Javonte Williams have been effective when given the opportunity.
Bridgewater, for his part, seems to realize that he’ll have to save himself.
“Just get the ball out faster and continue to play in rhythm,” he said on Tuesday when asked what he can do to protect himself. “For me, as I’m dropping, I just (need to) continue to stay in rhythm, trust that our guys will win those one-on-one battles up front, and trust that our receivers will win those one-on-one battles when they’re running routes.”
That all sounds well and good, but injuries to second-year Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler have sapped the Broncos’ receiving corps of most of its speed, and while Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick are excellent route-runners, they often take an extra second to come open — and in that extra second, Bridgewater’s been finding himself on the ground. To that end, when asked about how Bridgewater’s decreased mobility would affect Shurmur’s game plan, he shrugged.
“I don’t know. It’ll be just a thing here, or a thing there,” Shurmur said. “He’s a pro. He’s been through this before, and he’ll have himself ready.”
“He” — Bridgewater — had better be. If history is any indication, Shurmur’s play-calling on Thursday night isn’t likely to offer him any protection.
Shurmur could call shallower passing routes, dump-offs to running backs and other quick-hit plays that would reduce the risk to his quarterback. But in keeping with his style, Denver’s offensive coordinator wants to chuck it deep, period.
“We had two (deep pass attempts against Las Vegas) that we missed on early in the game in the first quarter that (would) change the way the game looks. We had a walk-off, in my opinion, that we just missed on,” Shurmur explained. “We just have to keep doing it. I think it’s important to run it. I think you have to take shots. We have to hit on them, or the field gets very small. Once you let that happen, then it’s easier on the defense.”
That’s a terrifying notion. It’s hard to visualize how things could get much easier for opposing defenses than they have been since Bridgewater was injured — and then one realizes that Myles Garrett, the NFL’s sack leader with eight in six games, awaits in Cleveland.
Shawn Drotar (@sdrotar) is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn;” weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.