Before the 2017 regular season, one of the biggest questions facing the Minnesota Vikings was whether Sam Bradford would be the long-term quarterback. Now Bradford’s status is in question every week.
Speaking with the media on Tuesday about Bradford’s status, trainer Eric Sugarman said he would not speculate on whether the Vikings’ starter would be back under center this week against the Green Bay Packers.
Teddy Bridgewater’s status is also up in the air. Sugarman said that Bridgewater is set to meet with his surgeon on Monday. He can be taken off the Physically Unable to Perform list on October 18, but there is no timetable for a potential return from a severe knee injury suffered prior to last season.
That leaves the Vikings with Case Keenum as their sure option at quarterback.
On Monday night, Keenum delivered a strong performance off the bench, leading the Vikings to a 20-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
“He showed he’s had some good stuff on tape,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think the team believes when he comes in there he’s going to go in there and play well and that’s the most important thing.”
In four appearances by Keenum, the Vikings have won two games and he’s posted a 64.5% completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Vikings’ backup quarterback has won games in different ways. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he completed eight passes of more than 15 yards. On Monday night, the Bears took away Keenum’s deep shots, so he dinked and dunked his way to 17-for-21 passing for 140 yards. The only completion over 15 yards was a 19-yard toss to Michael Floyd.
“Coverage dictates that a lot of times,” Zimmer said. “They were playing a different coverage than Tampa Bay did. I know everybody gets caught up in the shots and those things, but it’s about taking what the defense gives you and try to take advantage of it. It was a different game, a different defense, just kind of how it works out sometimes.”
During his time with the Houston Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Keenum was generally more successful throwing deep passes than dump offs and screens. Between 2014 and 2016, Keenum averaged just 5.6 yards on throws classified by NFL play-by-play as “short.” That number put him on par with Mike Glennon and Matt Cassel. The top QBs like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott averaged close to 7.0 YPA (Teddy Bridgewater was at 6.6 YPA on short throws).
On deep passes, Keenum didn’t rank toward the top of the league, but did posted a 37.6% completion percentage on downfield passes, which was similar to Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton. Matt Ryan was the league’s best at 51.7%.
This year, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have helped bump Keenum’s completion percentage up to 50% on deep throws this year (15-for-30).
It’s possible that the strength of the Vikings’ offense could help the 29-year-old QB succeed more on short throws than in the past. The mobility of the Minnesota offensive line has already paid dividends for Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon in the passing game. Between the two, they’ve gained 181 yards on 25 receptions (7.2 yards per catch).
The bottom line is that the Vikings showed against the Bears that they can adapt on offense more than you might expect with a backup quarterback. That gives them a chance to succeed while they wait for either Bradford or Bridgewater. And while the odds will be lower, Keenum still gives the Vikings some shot to make the postseason if neither comes back.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggested on Tuesday that the Vikings lock Keenum up as a long-term backup QB as soon as possible because other teams might be willing to pay him as a starter next offseason.
He’ll have more to prove before then, but at least the Vikings know what they have in one quarterback.