Luke Inman contributed to this story.
The Minnesota Vikings keep running into quarterbacks with limited experience. Sunday, they’ll face another wild card in Detroit’s David Blough, the undrafted rookie from Purdue who made his career debut on Thanksgiving.
“I thought he threw the ball well, moved in the pocket,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s a very smart guy, one of our coaches (Adam Zimmer) coached him in the East-West game, so we tried to get a report on him the best we could. But I thought he played really well, made some really good throws, had a chance to win the game at the end. It was 24-20, but they just ran out of time. He has our ultimate respect just like everybody else who we play.”
Two of the Vikings’ losses this year come against veteran backups Chase Daniel and Matt Moore. Daniel entered in the first quarter for the injured Mitch Trubisky having started two games in the last five seasons. Moore started in place of Patrick Mahomes, his seventh start in the last eight seasons. Both played relatively savvy, mistake-free games to beat the Vikings.
Minnesota is 3-0 this season, however, when facing quarterbacks getting their first taste of NFL experience. The Vikings held rookie Daniel Jones to 182 yards and sacked him four times in his third career start back in Week 5, a 28-10 win. Three weeks later, they faced rookie Dwayne Haskins in the second half against Washington, intercepting him once and sacking him twice in seven dropbacks. Three weeks after that, the Vikings were initially caught off guard by Brandon Allen in his second career start, but held Allen to just three second half points as they stormed back from a 20-0 deficit.
And now another mystery awaits in Blough. Does this run of young quarterbacks seem strange, Coach?
“That’s part of the NFL,” said Zimmer. “We’re just glad our guy is staying upright.”
Blough put the Lions in front 17-7 in the first half last Thursday and engineered a field goal drive in the fourth quarter to give Detroit a 20-17 lead, but the Bears’ David Montgomery scored a touchdown with 2:22 remaining to spoil Blough’s first start. He finished 22 of 38 with two touchdowns, one interception and two sacks, while converting eight of 16 third downs.
Pro Football Focus tracked Blough as having 21 of his pass attempts within 10 yards or less of the line of scrimmage. But the first-year passer made some nice throws downfield, as well. Blough finished 3 of 5 on passes beyond 20 yards, including this first quarter touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay.
Then there was this second quarter pass to Golladay (below), thrown right on the money over the top of two defensive backs. Blough wasn’t shy throwing the deep ball in his first game, a similar approach to pre-injury Matthew Stafford, who was one of the most aggressive quarterbacks in football.
“They’ve adjusted with each quarterback,” said Zimmer of the Lions, who are now on QB No. 3, “but a lot of their stuff is the same.”
Blough exhibited good pocket presence throughout the game, like on the first-half play below where he dodged Khalil Mack on the rush, smartly stepped up in the pocket while staying behind the line of scrimmage and hit Golladay for 29 yards. All four of Golladay’s catches went for 20 yards or more.
“He does a great job of preparing each week,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of the quarterback. “I think he’s really grown through the season, through the meetings, through the reps that he’s taken on the field. When he had that opportunity, it really wasn’t surprising that he’d go out and try to make the most of it.”
While the following ball wasn’t completed, it showed some natural intuition for manipulating the pocket. Vikings players praised Blough’s mobility in the locker room this week, though Blough only recorded one rushing yard against Chicago and was not a scrambler during his Purdue career.
“He goes out, he does what he needs to do,” said defensive end Danielle Hunter. “He’s able to scramble and make plays as we saw on film.”
Ultimately, though, Blough only generated three points in the second half, passing for 101 yards with an interception after halftime.
The Vikings have fared well against young quarterbacks as games have progressed and scripted portions of opponents’ playcalling sheets have gotten exhausted. Jones, the Giants first-round pick, went 14 of 26 with an interception, three sacks and no touchdowns in the second half back in Week 5. Allen for the Broncos went 10 of 22 with no touchdowns and two sacks in Week 11.
Blough was less effective late in the game against the tough Bears defense. He made a few risky throws down the stretch, including this toss into double coverage with 1:00 to go.
On the same drive, he threw slightly behind an open Danny Amendola inside the Bears’ 10-yard line that could’ve given Detroit a 1st and goal.
One play later, he took a 13-yard sack against Chicago’s blitz, which set up a near-impossible 4th and 22. Blough had a 23.1 passer rating when under pressure in the game.
From the Vikings’ standpoint, it’s challenging to know what they’re up against with Blough compared to a quarterback like Stafford, who’s faced the Vikings 19 times.
“It’s hard to study them because they don’t have a lot of film,” said cornerback Trae Waynes. “If you have somebody who has years of film like Stafford you know how they play, you know their style. It’s a lot different playing someone when you don’t have as much film, so it’s hard to really see what he does, his tendencies and stuff like that. We’ve just got to be particular and detailed.”
Minnesota hopes to move its record to 7-3 under Zimmer against rookie starters with a win on Sunday.