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Film review: Keenum’s been called a ‘gunslinger,’ but quick reads have keyed success

In the second half of the Minnesota Vikings’ 14-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons, they dominated possession of the ball, at one point killing more than eight minutes of the clock on a single drive. At the center of their success was Pat Shurmur’s play calling and Case Keenum’s ability to make reads both pre and post snap.

Following a Falcons punt, the Vikings started at their own 11-yard line. That was not a particularly promising situation considering they had struggled to create offense in the first half, but Keenum got the drive started with a 6-yard completion to Adam Thielen.

Big chunks on first down are huge in the Vikings’ offense, which has had great success on third-and-short (more on that to come). So this small successful play sparked the Vikings’ touchdown drive.

Prior to the snap, the Vikings send Jerick McKinnon in motion out wide. The cornerback stays put, indicating the Falcons are in zone coverage. At the bottom of the screen, you can see the other cornerback is playing off the line of scrimmage with outside leverage – another hint that he will be going backward following the snap.

Stefon Diggs comes underneath, holding the strong safety in place as Thielen runs a quick out.

Below you can see the safety beginning to backpedal as Diggs comes his way and the gap between Thielen and the corner.

One key to this play is the Vikings’ blocking assignments. Riley Reiff takes his man outside as the Vikings double team the defensive tackle to create a throwing lane for Keenum.

Here is the play at full speed:

These are essentially run plays through the air. High percentage throws almost guaranteed to bite off a few yards (and with the potential for a big play if someone misses a tackle). Of Keenum’s 360 throws, 221 have come under 10 yards and he’s averaging 5.7 yards per attempt with a 73.7% completion percentage. Those numbers aren’t special, but they indicate the Vikings are often moving the ball with short throws and maintaining possession (the Vikings rank third in the NFL in time of possession).

Successful plays on first down lead to short third downs, where the Vikings have been the best in the NFL this year. Later in the drive, Keenum hit Laquon Treadwell open over the middle for a key first down that kept their 15-play driving moving.

It started with Keenum’s work at the line of scrimmage. The linebacker follows Kyle Rudolph in motion, indicating that the Falcons are in man coverage.

The Vikings have a mesh concept with two receivers running crossing routes. When Keenum takes the snap, he know the linebacker will follow Jerick McKinnon on the wheel route, taking him out of the equation in the middle. That leaves the two corners covering Diggs and Treadwell and the safety, who is stepping up to play robber.

Keenum waits until the robber makes his decision, then goes the other way to Treadwell, who is open for the first down.

Again the Vikings’ offensive line does a terrific job. Both the right end and defensive tackle are forced outside and the other defensive tackle is double teamed and turned, giving Keenum a perfect view of the entire field and a place to step up before tossing Treadwell the ball.

Here is the full play:

So while his occasional standout, gunslingin’ play under pressure over the past few games might be more memorable (and dangerous), Keenum’s work at the line of scrimmage and success on short throws won the day in Atlanta. That success requires a complete effort, from the play-caller to the offensive line to the wide receivers.

  • Andrew Stead

    The tape (and the laws of physics) don’t support the idea that Reiff can choose where the DE goes on the first example. On the second example, absent a twist, there isn’t any other place for the DE to go but wide. The passing lanes are there, but that’s because of the number of rushers on that side and the OL blocking them. It’s a nice job by Reiff/Easton, but they can’t choose what angle the rushers take.

    Shurmur has a good, qb-friendly system. Keenum is (aside from a few ill-timed, high risk plays) doing a good job executing it.

    Still, in 9 other games this year the Falcons gave up at least 20 points. They gave up 17 to Glennon’s Bears, and 7 to the Cowboys who were down Elliot and Smith, and decided to give a back-up LT no help, resulting in approximately 37 sacks. We’ve all seen what a woefully over-mated LT does to an offence.

    The Vikings are winning, Keenum is the QB. Those two things are far more correlative than causitive.

    • Theguds

      Nice critique of the analysis. Though if we have on a continuum with correlation being one and causation being 10. I’d say Case gets 6 or even 7.

      • Theguds

        I take that back a solid 6.

        • Andrew Stead

          QB is very important, but Matt Cassel “won” 11 games for the ’08 Pats.

          I see the same 10-2 with Teddy, he’s never gotten to drive this kind of car and has the age/pedigree to presume some improvement. Bradford had the game of his life in this offence against what we now know is a pretty good Saints D.

          • tk6

            Ditto on the Teddy call! One thing many people keep forgetting about Teddy is the horrible line he had to work with!! You cannot compare ANYTHING Teddy did in ’15 to what he may or may not do now because the offensive line is totally changed!

          • Theguds

            Nobody is forgetting the purported horrible O-line of 2015, this has been the main argument for Teddy on this message board. As you would attribute Teddy’s 22nd ranking in passing totally to the O-line. I in turn would say yes in part, but also it was due to Teddy’s inaccuracy; unwillingness to throw in to tight windows; and yes holding on the football to long. And lastly, his arm strength wasn’t to die for either. Case has a weaker arm(which is my biggest pet peeve) but he’s proven he knows how to adjust to that limitation.

          • Theguds

            Speculation. It is also speculation for me to say we’d be losing with Teddy. What we know for certain is that Case is 9-2. So what’s your argument, start Teddy? This is what can happen when a QB gets injured. Ask Tony Romo or Drew Bledsoe or the countless other QB’s who lost their jobs due to injury. And these were QBs with a proven winning track record year after year. Coaches have to go with what they see in front of them.

          • Theguds

            How about Bradford’s performance in 2016? An O-line that has been labeled the worst in NFL history by profootball focus and unlike Teddy in 2015 he had no running game. Yet he threw for 3800 yards and probably would have cracked 4000 had he played all 16 games.

            Case is averaging 245 yards/game this year. Bradford averaged 258/game last year. He’d probably be averaging near or over 300/per game this year based on 2016.

            If anybody deserves the keys next year I’d think it should be Bradford, no?

  • Gordon Guffey

    Posted: 1 hour ago
    ESPN’s 1-on-1: Randy Moss Talks With Adam Thielen

    Watch the full interview of Randy Moss interviewing Adam Thielen, which ran on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown last weekend.

    • Drediock

      Good links. I found Randy annoying though how he played the race card.
      Why does it make a difference what color a receiver is? Like Theilen said “I dont go out thee thinking Im a white receiver”

  • Carl Rasmussen

    Your diagrams, commentary, and video clips are so helpful in helping we casual fans understand the game! Thank you!

  • Gordon Guffey

    I believe Pat Shurmur and the staff members he was allowed to replace with his own people this offseason has played a big part in the offense as a whole ~

    Teams win and lose as a whole but bad coaching ((( Jeff Fisher )))) can bring down the best of talent ~ Its been shown over and over ~ We got to see this first hand when Zimmer took over the defense ~ He made the talent on hand shine ~

    • Wilbur One

      Exactly right, and my sunglasses are never more than inches away from my glass of beer.

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  • brian199511

    Paralysis by analysis or analysis by paralysis, I forget which one, maybe both. A “W” is what matters. On the road in Atlanta no less. If the Vikings beat Carolina on the road, and I believe they will, this team is for real. The “force” is with them. I prefer Star Trek so maybe we go Klingon on the rest of the league. Phasers on slaughter.

  • MC

    hes missing so many downfield reads its ridiculous, easy comeback route on the second one that diggs is known for taking to the house


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