Panthers making most of Bridgewater’s patience, accuracy
By Steve Reed
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — Teddy Bridgewater’s patience is paying off in Carolina.
The young and surprising Panthers (2-2) have strung together back-to-back wins despite playing without All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, thanks in large part to Bridgewater’s decision-making and accuracy.
Bridgewater has excelled the past two games at taking what the defense has given him and picking up first downs. He’s completing 73% of passes this season, which ranks third in the league behind only Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Las Vegas’ Derek Carr.
Last week, Bridgewater led four scoring drives of 75 yards or more, while the Panthers controlled the clock for more than 37 minutes in a 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
“Teddy is elite at knowing where to go with the ball,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said.
The Panthers converted 64% percent of their third down opportunities on Sunday in large part because Bridgewater maintained his composure, didn’t panic and found the open man in his progression of reads.
“He’s one of the best pocket movement guys I have been around,” Rhule added. “He slides in the pocket, he finds windows and he hangs in there. (Converting third downs) is a function of Teddy knowing where to go with the ball.”
Bridgewater brings an accuracy level the Panthers haven’t had in a long time.
Cam Newton spent nine seasons as Carolina’s quarterback, but his career completion rate was less than 60% here and he had a tendency to throw off his back foot and throw high to receivers.
More than two-thirds of Bridgewater’s passes this season have been of the shorter variety — less than 10 yards downfield, according to NextGen Stats. He’s completed 84.8% (78 of 92) of those throws, while completing 62.2% (28 of 45) of his passes that went beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Rhule said it’s not that the Panthers won’t consider taking a few shots down the field when those are available.
However, with speed receivers such as D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson on the field opposing defenses are taking away the threat of the deep ball and forcing Bridgewater to beat them underneath the coverage in what Rhule called an “execution-based approach.”
“Honestly, we wanted to have an aggressive approach,” Bridgewater said after completing 26 of 37 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Cardinals.
“But we just had an opportunity where we just kept drives alive, we were converting on third downs and staying on the field. We ran the ball pretty well. We really didn’t come into the game saying we want to keep the ball away from those guys. We had an aggressive mindset ourselves and we just came away with winning the time of possession battle also.”
Added Moore: “We are just going with the flow of things. Whether that is short passes that we are hitting, or intermediate or deep passes. Whatever is working on that drive we are going to stick with — and throw in some curves every now and again just to keep the defense off-balance.”
Going with the flow of things seems to fit Bridgewater’s relaxed nature.
Teammates see him as extremely competitive, but “cool” under pressure and a player who never seems to get rattled.
“He has such a good balance of keeping us focused in, but seeing the big picture of offense, of playing football and having fun,” Panthers center Matt Paradis said. “I think he’s a great leader and he’s a lot of fun to play with.”
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