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Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater Face Uphill Climbs In First NFL Starts

Rookie quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater are set to make their first NFL starts and will have their work cut out for them.

Blake Bortles

Both Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater were thrust into their first tour of NFL duty on Sunday afternoon.

Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, replaced an ineffective Chad Henne in the midst of a blowout at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, while Bridgewater, the final pick of the first round, came in for an injured Matt Cassel in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Bortles and Bridgewater were named Week 4 starters by their respective coaches soon after, and on Sunday each will get their first official NFL start.

Bortles will lead the Jaguars on the road to San Diego to face a red-hot Chargers team that’s coming off victories against the defending Super Bowl champions and the previously-undefeated Buffalo Bills. San Diego owns the ninth-ranked run defense and the 14th-best passing defense, and has racked up seven sacks over the first three weeks of the season.

But an even bigger obstacle for Bortles is not the defense he’ll be lining up against, but the offensive weapons he’s forced to work with.

Allen Hurns made a splash in Week 1 and top wideout Cecil Shorts III is back at full health, but there are more basic areas of the offense that are not up to par for a rookie quarterback. Jacksonville’s line through three weeks is making a solid case to be the worst in the NFL, and as a result the pass protection is nearly non-existent and the running game is extremely ineffective.

The Jaguars have allowed 17 sacks already, six more than any other team in the first three weeks. The offensive line allowed Washington rack up 10 in Week 2 and Indianapolis posted four last week, and neither of those teams are notorious for strong pass rushes.

Jacksonville is also ranked 30th in rushing, averaging 3.5 yards per attempt and 64.7 yards per game, as free-agent signee Toby Gerhart has failed to be the workhorse many expected him to be. This could be a chicken or the egg sort of deal — maybe Gerhart is not as talented as the front office viewed him — but with the line putting forth such a terrible effort in pass blocking, it wouldn’t be shocking to learn they struggle creating running lanes, too.

For Bortles, the uphill battle comes in the form of not having a running game to lean on and minimal protection when he does have to drop back to pass, which might be more than a rookie should have to. Bortles had an exceptional preseason and wowed many of us with his play week in and week out, and did so with the same cast of characters he’ll be playing alongside Sunday. For the No. 3 overall pick, it’ll be on his shoulders to get this offense going.

Bridgewater will make NFL start No. 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, who last Thursday ravished the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on primetime television. The Vikings have dropped two in a row since defeating the St. Louis Rams in their opener, largely because of the latest rash of injuries and suspensions to plague the offense.

Obviously, there will be no Adrian Peterson on Sunday. In Peterson’s absence, Matt Asiata has proved to be exceptionally average, with a 3.0 yards per carry mark. Rookie Jerick McKinnon is a talent sitting behind him, but has failed to earn snaps on offense. As a result, the usually potent Vikings rushing attack is ranked second-to-last in the NFL.

The Vikings will also be without tight end Kyle Rudolph, a safety valve for Bridgewater when options downfield aren’t open.

Without the starting running back and tight end, a suspect offensive line, Norv Turner must cater an offense around what he does have at his disposal: a rookie quarterback, a dynamic wide receiver, and a handful of mediocre pieces around them. It’ll be a challenge, especially against the Falcons, who just last week feasted on poor quarterback and line play.

Bridgewater can succeed if he can somehow find a way to make Cordarrelle Patterson a prominent part of the offense, be it handing the rock off to him or finding him as a receiver. Patterson has been inconsistent through the first three weeks, but you can blame the game plan and quarterback play as much as anything. The rookie needs Patterson to be the most dynamic player on the field if the Vikings are to make it a game this weekend.

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