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The ups and downs of Case Keenum’s risk taking

“Case Keenum has a little bit of Brett Favre in him!”

It seems like every time a risk-taking quarterback comes along – especially one who throws downfield or runs around in the backfield looking for a pass – that QB gets the honor of being compared to one of history’s best quarterbacks. What’s really being said, however, is that said quarterback makes a lot of ill-advised throws.

One reason for the comparisons is that we’ve lost who Favre really was.

Several key INTs in huge moments shaped our long-term view, but The Old Gunslinger earned the nickname because of his all-time great arm and ability to make impossible throws into tight windows. In an hour-long sit-down with Jon Gruden, the former coach highlighted (at the 6:00 mark) throws between the cornerback and safety that few QBs could make.

“Ty Detmer said to me, ‘Why did you make that throw?” Favre told Gruden. “I said, ‘Because I can.'”

Most of the time, Favre operated offenses with impressive efficiency. His career interception percentage is lower than Hall of Famers of the era Jim Kelly and Warren Moon and noted “game managers” like Trent Dilfer and Rex Grossman. In his magical 2009 season with the Vikings, Favre had the NFL’s lowest interception percentage. During a three year stretch of MVP seasons, Favre averaged 37 touchdowns and 14 INTs – a fairly low mark for the era.

The “Brett Favre” in Keenum isn’t his arm strength, rather his willingness to look for a big play when there isn’t a big play available and his ability to extend plays outside the pocket.

With Favre, the good vastly outweighed the bad. So far, there has been a lot of good from Keenum’s risks, but without the arm strength of top QBs, head coach Mike Zimmer appears concerned that the good won’t sustain.

Following last week’s win over the Los Angeles Rams, the Vikings’ head coach said, “he’s got a horseshoe right now.” Key words being, “right now.”

But Zimmer followed up on Tuesday with praise for Keenum’s fearlessness.

“The thing I like the most about Case is he’s got big balls,” Zimmer said. “He’s not afraid. He’s going to pull the trigger and he is going to play like that. That’s a good thing.”

Both things can be true at once.

Keenum went viral on Sunday for his 12-yard completion to Adam Thielen. There’s good and bad within this play alone. The Vikings’ quarterback kept his eyes down field in the face of pressure from his backside and in front of his face. On the All-22 film, you can see Adam Thielen throw his hand up and run to space. Keenum wouldn’t have spotted Thielen had he been rattled by the defenders in his grill or the impending hit

The problem with this throw is that Keenum wasn’t able to put any velocity behind the ball because of the proximity of the rusher to said grill. It was more of a shot put than a throw. If the corner had reacted a little quicker or the ball hadn’t been in the exact right spot, it would have gone for an interception or at best an incompletion. Coaches wouldn’t advise their quarterbacks to routinely float passes down the field while under extreme pressure.

On Tuesday, Keenum called himself out for being overly aggressive on the play below.

“You want to give your guys a chance, but some chances are better than others, some risks are better than others,” Keenum said. “Take the third down we threw to Adam last week. Pretty well covered by LeMarcus Joyner, I had a chance but you might check it down at that point and get a first down. There’s a lot of give and take and different ways you can look at it.”

Keenum has a receiver come wide open underneath that would have easily resulted in a first down, instead he launched the ball down the middle of the field to a blanketed Thielen.

The Vikings’ two top receivers Thielen and Stefon Diggs have given Keenum a reason to believe in risky throws as they have routinely won one-on-one battles down the field. But that doesn’t make a throw into tight coverage always the right play.

NFL.com’s Next Generation statistics list Keenum 11th in “Aggressiveness,” a stat determined by the closeness of defenders to targets. That number might be a little high on the list for Zimmer’s liking.

Comparable QBs in terms of aggressiveness include mostly rocket-armed QBs like Jameis Winston, Matt Stafford and Matt Ryan. Quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Trevor Siemien and DeShone Kizer also have similar aggressiveness ratings. Jared Goff and Alex Smith have the lowest percentage of throws into tight coverage.

And while Keenum has landed four of six long bombs over 40 yards, but his throws between 20-40 have not gone particularly well. He’s completed just 6-of-21 throws with two interceptions and a 38.7 rating on downfield tosses. By the way, Brett Favre had a rating of 119.3 on throws between 21-30 and 106.3 on throws between 31-40 yards in 2009.

Anyway – the takeaway here is that Keenum’s “gunslinger” or “gamer” mentality can help him in some ways, especially with Thielen’s ability to improvise when things break down. But there’s a curve on risk taking. If Keenum continues to throw passes into coverage or force throws with pressure in his face, things might not always go as well as they have so far – unless he actually does have a lucky horseshoe.





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