Biomechanical Review: Teddy Bridgewater, Bobbie Massie, and Cameron Fleming

To complete our review of Denver’s 2021 offseason, it’s time to look at the final wave of acquired players– Bobby Massie, Cameron Fleming, and Teddy Bridgewater.

Bobby Massie (medial centric posterior dominant) shows a very efficient medial posterior core (in both lumbar and thoracic areas) and generally high levels of thoracic efficiency (particularly in footage from 2020). In addition, Massie shows quick feet in pass protection (via efficient lateral anterior lumbar areas) and reasonably good mobility in run blocking. However, Massie’s areas of strength are supported by very heavy borrowing from medial anterior and lateral posterior lumbar areas (again, particularly in 2020). This borrowing is so heavy that on most plays (particularly pass plays) Massie spends the majority of the play bow-legged (with hips supinated), borrowing both to support his high levels of thoracic efficiency, and to keep his feet moving quickly (via lateral anterior lumbar areas).

On the field, Massie is generally able to keep his efficient center core (medial posterior) aligned in front of pass rushers via his quick feet. And on run plays, Massie shows good mobility to position himself for blocks. However, his heavy lumbar borrowing prevents Massie from being able to drive forward through his blocks in run support, and in general his base is quite weak laterally. As a result, in the run game Massie works best when team blocking, where another player prevents the defender from simply blowing by Massie’s block around the outside. And in pass protection, Massie succeeds by keeping his powerful center aligned in front of the pass rusher, but if the rusher is able to power to the outside, Massie can lose the block. Nevertheless, Massie appears to play much better one on one in pass protection than in run blocking (where he succeeds either by going directly ahead, or with teammate assistance to the outside).

Overall Massie appears to be a reasonably strong pass blocker and an adequate run blocker (when schemed correctly). However, Massie’s increasingly heavy lumbar borrowing over time is also a major red flag for continued lower body injuries. Each of Massie’s two prior seasons featured significant lower body injuries, and this trend seems likely to continue unless Massie has significantly revamped his lumbar base.

Where Bobby Massie shows high levels of efficiency supported by high levels of borrowing, Cameron Fleming (medial centric posterior dominant) profiles very much the opposite– without areas of particularly high efficiency, but also without much borrowing system-wide. And where Massie heavily favors thoracic areas over lumbar ones, Fleming favors lumbar areas (particularly posterior) over thoracic ones. On the field, Fleming shows a strong base via his powerful medial posterior lumbar areas. But Fleming’s weight combined with subpar anterior lumbar efficiency strongly compromise his mobility, both in pass blocking and run blocking. Because he lacks quick feet to mirror defenders, rushers are sometimes able to blow by Fleming to the outside. And because he is generally slow to engage blocks in run support, defenders are often able to circumnavigate his blocks. Fleming’s lack of thoracic efficiency (particularly laterally) further exacerbates this issue since defenders are often able to power though his upper body blocks to the outside, even when he engages well. Fleming’s main asset (outside from his bulk and strong base (when he can leverage it correctly)) is likely to be his availability– unlike Massie, Fleming shows no obvious red flags for injury and will likely be able to provide replacement-level play on either side of the line when needed. In addition, Fleming can be very useful in goal line offenses, where the densely packed field can allow him to use his bulk and strong base to power forward without fear of being circumnavigated. Overall, a replacement level tackle without particularly notable strengths (except in goal line situations), but also without glaring weaknesses– and with good probability of staying healthy.

Teddy Bridgewater’s (lateral oriented anterior dominant) profile offers a tale of two halves. When viewed from the front, Bridgewater’s high levels of anterior efficiency in all three biomechanical areas (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) lend him the look of a Pro Bowl QB. However, when viewed from the rear, it becomes clear why Bridgewater has bounced around the league to this point– all three of Bridgewater’s posterior biomechanical areas show noticeable stunting/ incomplete development.

Focusing first on his thoracic areas, Bridgewater’s combination of high anterior efficiency with stunted posterior areas means that his throwing mechanic is only accurate to a particular depth of field– beyond roughly 20 yards, Bridgewater’s mechanic breaks down. One way to look at it is that his throw is all ‘slap’ and no ‘punch’– any throw that can be made a slap-type anterior-driven motion, Bridgewater can make accurately and quickly, but beyond that ‘slap’ range– one you start needing to involve posterior muscles, or ‘punch’ muscles (imagine a cross or straight punch, if you know boxing terminology) Bridgewater’s accuracy/ control is lost. Nevertheless, his high levels of lateral anterior efficiency translate to very quick horizontal pivots and good accuracy to a wide but shallow range. Bridgewater also shows good timing and anticipation within this wide/ shallow cone and throws a very soft/ catchable ball.

These skills– quick horizontal pivots/ high horizontal range coupled with good timing/ anticipation– make Bridgewater an excellent fit in Pat Shurmur’s horizontal misdirection/ run after the catch offense. He can find the open horizontally aligned receiver and get him the ball softly and in stride so as to maximize yards after the catch. However, Bridgewater’s lack of vertical throwing ability makes it easier for defenses to scheme against him, since they can move safeties up and play the shallow patterns more tightly. In addition, Bridgewater’s lack of throwing velocity (again due to underdeveloped posterior thoracic areas) makes it much harder for him to punch the ball across the goal once inside the red zone. The two deficiencies– lack of velocity and poor deep passing ability– may explain Bridgewater’s low TD totals through his career; he is neither able to throw behind a defense via deep throws, nor punch the ball in for a TD through crowded red zone defenses.

Examining Bridgewater’s other biomechanical areas shows that a lack of posterior cervical efficiency (and synchronicity with thoracic areas) likely further caps Bridgewater’s deep passing ability, as he is likely unable to accurately throw to a specific depth of target (and his throws generally arrive on a line). Looking at his lumbar areas, Bridgewater pairs quick feet via high levels of anterior lumbar efficiency with poor straight ahead run power/ speed due to somewhat underdeveloped posterior lumbar areas.

Overall, Bridgewater appears to perfectly fit Pat Shurmur’s need for quick horizontal pivots and accurate/ timely horizontal throwing in his offense. In particular, Jerry Jeudy would likely benefit tremendously from Bridgewater at QB, due to Jeudy’s ability to separate quickly via horizontal cuts (and run elusively after the catch). However, Bridgewater’s deficiencies in deep passing/ velocity likely cap his scoring ability and make defensive scheming much easier. An excellent floor play at QB, Bridgewater can run Shurmur’s offense (in a horizontal sense) extremely well, but will likely cap out at no more than ‘adequate’ due to issues with touchdown scoring through the air.

Taken as a whole, the 2021 offseason goals seemed to be:

1) shoring up Denver’s pass defense (particularly the secondary) in a very strong passing division
2) building a complementary offense that would prevent undue stress on Denver’s defense
3) to that end, combining adequate QB play with a power rushing offense

This last goal is why it seems very likely that Teddy Bridgewater will begin the season as Denver’s starter. While Bridgewater has struggled to score touchdowns through the air in his career, he was most successful at putting up points (and winning games) in New Orleans, where his scoring deficiencies were hidden by a power-rushing goal-line offense (with superlative line play and excellent RBs). This combination– a horizontally-oriented pass offense and a powerful up-the-middle rushing offense– can highlight Bridgewater’s strengths in moving the ball between the 20s, and hide his weaknesses in scoring by simply powering the ball across the goal via the running game. In particular the acquisitions of Meinerz and Williams (with their superlative straight ahead power) seem to support this goal, while Massie (when healthy) will help support a horizontally geared passing game, and Fleming can help power the ball into the end zone from the outside. A ball-control offense would also help support Denver’s defense, by putting together long drives and keeping Denver’s defense rested and off the field.

While to my eyes Lock is a more talented thrower/ athlete than Bridgewater in a properly fitting vertically oriented scheme (ie not Shurmur’s), the combination of Bridgewater, Shurmur’s horizontal misdirection offense, a power rushing offense, and a strong pass-stopping defense can make for a winning team. Again, this is the blueprint that was laid out by New Orleans in 2019, when Bridgewater won five of six games via a similarly horizontally-geared offense, a power rushing offense, and a strong pass-stopping defense. If Denver can maintain health on defense while successfully building a complementary power rushing-capable line, the Broncos may be able to repeat that winning formula in 2021.