Case Keenum has figured out a football hack: Throw the ball to Adam Thielen every time and you will succeed.
The Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback won his seventh straight game with a 30-23 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday. As per usual, Keenum did a good job avoiding the rush and made a few exceptional throws – the most notable coming on a 22-yard touchdown pass that he dropped in the bucket to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
But Keenum mostly just looked for Thielen – a model that continues to prove itself successful week in and week out. Over the past three weeks, Thielen has 22 receptions, including eight catches for 89 yards on Thursday, using his exceptional ability to find open space and catch everything thrown his way to drive the Vikings’ offense up and down the field.
Keenum did enough in the first half to hang on to victory in the second, despite the Lions (and the referees) making things interesting down the stretch. He also did enough to quiet questions about Teddy Bridgewater – for now.
The biggest question still surrounding Keenum is whether his performance is sustainable. Is he Rich Gannon – a career backup who just needed a chance? Or is he Nick Foles – a system guy whose talent shortcomings were covered by his surrounding cast. Either way he continues to build a sample size that suggests he can keep winning.
On Thursday, he came up with a key play late that killed the late Lions comeback. With just over four minutes remaining in the game, the Vikings badly needed a first down up 27-23. On third down, Keenum backed away from the rush and flipped the ball to receiver Stefon Diggs, who got away from a tackler for a first down. Two plays later, Diggs took a screen pass 37 yards to set up a field goal to make it 30-23.
Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have made for a top-10 running game this year. They took care of business on Thursday, combining for 139 yards on the ground – marking the eighth time the Vikings have cleared 100 yards on the ground.
Against the Lions, Keenum reduced the number of high-risk plays from previous weeks. There may have only been one or two passes that he shouldn’t have made – and one of those deserved a pass interference penalty. A ball flung into coverage while Keenum was under pressure on third down with 3:42 left also could have spelled disaster had it been picked off.
Most importantly, his play was good enough to win when the Vikings’ defense wasn’t perfect. The Vikings allowed a touchdown drive late in the first half to bring the game 20-10 and a 43-yard bomb to Marvin Jones (while having 12 men on the field). The Vikings were also penalized nine times for 74 yards. That’s the second time he’s come through without requiring an elite defensive performance. In Week 10, they gave up 30 points and still won behind Keenum.
Head coach Mike Zimmer won’t be pondering a quarterback change now and probably shouldn’t even if Keenum struggles next week against Atlanta.
However, the thought has to remain in the back of his mind: Is this for real? Could Keenum really be a guy who leads an offense to 92 points in three weeks? Could his throw-to-Thielen theory work every week? Did offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur really unlucky the brilliance hiding in Keenum?
There’s still plenty of time to find out with key games on the way. For now, the Vikings get a 10 day break and Zimmer can have a week off from answering quarterback questions.