When you think about backup quarterbacks, the first thing that comes to mind is: “Game manager.” But Case Keenum was far from a game manager on Sunday as the Minnesota Vikings’ scheme included a barrage of deep passes. The result: Complete demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense.
Here’s a stat you might not expect: Keenum went 21-for-52 on passes that qualified as “deep throws” by NFL official play-by-play last season. Keenum’s 40.4% completion percentage on deep throws was higher than that of Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Matt Stafford.
So the Vikings allowed Keenum to do what he does well by working the ball down the field.
From the third play of the game, it was clear the Vikings had no intention of dinking and dunking. After back-to-back solid runs by Dalvin Cook, the Vikings looked deep. Keenum’s throw didn’t exactly reach Elway-like velocity, but it dropped out of the sky into the hands of Adam Thielen for a 45-yard gain.
“[Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur] has a good understanding of what we do well,” Thielen said. “He puts us in those situations to do the things we do well. We have a lot of great talent on this offense, so there’s no focus on one guy, he’s able to spread the ball around.”
Stefon Diggs was, as per usual, upgradable. The Vikings essentially put the game on ice by going deep to Diggs on the final drive of the first half, hitting him for a 47-yard strike. Minnesota’s top receiver then rose up over his defender for Keenum’s second touchdown of the game.
Diggs didn’t leave anything to chance in the second half, breaking a 59-yard touchdown off a simple out route to put the VIkings up 28-3.
“To see [Keenum] go out there and make those passes and have confidence in all the receivers, we came out swinging and when your quarterback is bringing that energy, you just try to match it,” Diggs said.
The Vikings clearly knew this about the Bucs: Their secondary was beat up. Brent Grimes, one of the league’s better corners, was out and then Tampa’s other starter Vernon Hargreaves went down. So they could not stop Minnesota’s top-notch receiving duo.
The Bucs also don’t have much for pass rush outside of Gerald McCoy, who was playing Sunday despite an ankle injury. Noah Spence left in the first half and Kwon Alexander was out.
Give Keenum time and he can hurt you. Really.
Against the Steelers, Keenum was often under pressure and went just 6-for-16 with Pittsburgh defenders breathing down his neck. But when given a chance to throw, he was consistently accurate, finishing 25-for-33 with 369 yards and three touchdowns.
Dalvin Cook also played a big role in the offense’s success. He played ground-and-pound, but he was also successful in the passing game – which was one of his strengths at Florida State. He caught three passes for 34 yards in the opening half, including a 16-yard catch that helped set up the Vikings’ first touchdown.
Cook ended the game with 27 runs for 97 yards and 72 yards receiving on five catches.
If the Vikings have to be without Sam Bradford for a long period of time, there should still be concerns tab out how their offense will perform under Keenum, but Pat Shurmur gave plenty of reason on Sunday to believe Minnesota’s offense can make the most out of its situation.