On Monday, we did not get any clearer a picture of whether Sam Bradford will be under center at US Bank Stadium Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings face the Tampa Bay Bucs. That means there’s a chance that Case Keenum could start again for the Vikings.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Keenum had his good and bad moments. He completed three passes of more than 20 yards and did not turn the ball over. However, the former Texan and Ram walked away gaining only 3.7 Yards Per Play on passes and completed just 54.7% of his throws.
If Keenum is called upon again, the Vikings can improve his performance significantly by doing a better job in protection.
“We did have some communication issues.,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “There was a couple times we were late off the ball. It wasn’t just on him, it was a combination of things.”
All quarterbacks are better when given a clean pocket, but Keenum has a particularly wide gap between his play when under duress and when he has time to throw. Sunday’s game reflected that.
According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum completed just 6-of-16 passes for 52 yards when pressured, but went 14-for-21 with 115 yards when he had time to throw.
The problem: He was only kept clean on 53.8% of his dropbacks.
Both tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers allowed four pressures each and Keenum was sacked twice.
Zimmer said that solving the pass-pressure issue is about more than just the offensive line improving. It’s on Keenum too.
“Sometimes we’re protecting at a certain depth and the quarterback is too deep,” Zimmer said. “Did we get beat sometimes? Yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it protection issues.”
Giving Keenum time to throw allows Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs’s routes to develop. And the former Houston star can get them the ball on intermediate routes. Last season with the Rams, Keenum had a 95.5 rating when throwing between 11 and 20 yards.
It might come as a surprise, but Keenum can hit the occasional deep ball, too. In 2016, he went 5-for-12 on throws between 31 and 40 yards.
The Vikings will also have to give him more support out of the backfield.
While first half struggles were largely caused by weak run blocking, it was clear the Vikings needed more out of their running attack early in the game. Dalvin Cook finished the game with 64 yards on 12 carries, but he only rushed six times for three yards in the first half.
One of the ways to avoid getting stuffed is to not become predictable. Last season, Keenum averaged 7.7 YPA on first down. His best throw on Sunday, a 24-yard toss to Adam Thielen, came on 1st-and-10.
In the passing game, Cook and Jerick McKinnon need to be much more effective in order for Keenum to win. They combined for nine yards on five catches.
And of course, the Vikings’ defense can’t commit penalties that allow their opponents extra opportunities like they did against the Steelers. Keenum simply isn’t good enough to bring his team back in games. Last year, he had a 68.0 rating while trailing, but an 87.8 rating when tied and 78.9 when ahead (and averaged 7.8 Yards Per Attempt).
Bottom line is: The Vikings didn’t offer Keenum much help in his first game, but they also played against a Super Bowl-contending team. In order to win with Keenum under center, they will need better protection, more out of the running backs and a sharper defensive performance.