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How far can Case Keenum take the Minnesota Vikings?

For now, the Minnesota Vikings are sticking with Case Keenum rather than turning the ball over to Teddy Bridgewater. We have discussed in great length if and when Bridgewater should return, but haven’t closely looked at a scenario in which Keenum starts the rest of the season. Would the Vikings continue to win at their current rate? How would they stack up in the postseason? Let’s have a look…

How is Keenum winning? 

In games in which Keenum has made an appearance, the Vikings are 6-2 this season. Coming into 2017, the former Texan and Ram had won just nine games in 24 starts.

Considering his age and experience, it’s unlikely that Keenum made major leaps forward as a quarterback, yet his statistics are better this year across the board. His quarterback rating hadn’t topped 80 in his previous two stops, but it currently sits at a shiny 92.6. Keenums TD:INT ratio, Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, completion percentage is all better in Minnesota than Houston and St. Louis/Los Angeles. The likely explanation for this is the team around him is leaps and bounds better than it has been in the past.

One way to demonstrate this is the Vikings’ success on play-action throws. They current rank third in the NFL, only 0.1 yards per attempt behind the Rams.

Throws with play-action: 10.2 yards per attempt (3rd)

Throws without play-action: 6.2 yards per attempt (22nd)

While it’s true that the QB has to make the throws, play-action success tends to be driven by scheme. For example, Keenum made a good throw to Stefon Diggs on his 51-yard catch last week, but Diggs was 1-on-1 in large part because Washington bit on play-action.

In order to have success on play-action plays, the offensive line must protect well and there must be some level of convincing the team could run. Offensive coordinator tends to do said convincing by using two or three tight end sets and his power back Latavius Murray.

Last season, when Keenum was sacked 23 times in 10 games (this year he’s been sacked five times), the Rams had some success with play-action, averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, but only used play-action plays 16% of the time (compared to 27% this season). That is likely because their offensive line could not hold up to run play-action more often.

The Vikings’ two receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are on another planet from Keenum’s weapons last season. PFF ranks Diggs ninth and Thielen as the fourth best receiver in the NFL. In Los Angeles, Keenum’s top two were Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin.

Minnesota’s running game is far superior to the Rams’ attack last year. The Vikings have the third most 20-plus yard runs in the NFL this season and sit 11th in yards per game. The 2016 Rams were 25th in 20-plus yard runs and 31st in yards per game.

The Vikings’ defense cannot be overlooked as a major player in shaping the perception of Keenum’s time in Minnesota. Only two times have the Vikings’ defenders allowed more than 20 points in games that Keenum played, they rank fifth in yards against, fifth in points against and second in rushing yards per attempt against. Prior to Washington’s 313-yard passing day, the Vikings had given up 161 yards or fewer passing in each of the previous five games.

Long story long, the Vikings have put Keenum in a situation to succeed. And to his credit, he has had solid statistical success and terrific success at his No. 1 job: To win games.

Who is the real Case Keenum? 

Case Keenum will need all the things that have helped him achieve success to continue to be there in order to sustain his winning ways.

Here’s how we know: The league’s best quarterbacks can be relied upon to bring their teams back in games and come up with big plays on third and long to sustain drives.

When the Vikings have been ahead (105 throws), Keenum has averaged 8.0 yards per attempt. When he is either tied or behind (157 throws), that number sinks to 6.8 yards per attempt. That’s the difference between ranking fifth and 26th in the NFL.

On third-and-6 or more, Keenum’s quarterback rating is 49.5 on 39 pass attempts and he averages 5.7 yards per attempt. Those numbers match up to his previous seasons. With Houston and St. Louis/Los Angeles, his third down YPA was 6.0 and rating 72.7. Compare that to

Coincidentally, between 2013 and 2016 on third-and-long, Teddy Bridgewater sported the league’s best YPA at 9.4 – although only on 94 throws compared to Ben Roethlisberger’s 219 at 9.3 yards per attempt. The best QBs were above their average YPA, whereas Keenum’s mark was comparable to Brandon Weeden and Chad Henne.

As we analyze Keenum’s numbers, we should keep in mind that different quarterback grading measures stats tell us different things. Take for example ESPN’s QBR, which ranks Keenum as the third best QB in the NFL this year. Not only is it a supremely small sample, but also its function is to grade the results of plays and put value on yardage gained at different times in the game rather than telling you whether a QB made a good throw or not.

It tells you about the situations a QB has been in and the results.

Here is the career distribution of single-game QBR scores for Keenum.

Great games Good games Mediocre games Bad games
98.9 72 48.5 24.7
95.9 69.8 46.3 21.8
90.2 64.4 44.5 6.2
79.4 57.2 42.9 4
55.9 36.3
54.4 36

The takeaway should be that under varying circumstances, Keenum’s results have been widely varied, but the majority of his career performances fall somewhere in the middle – which isn’t a bad thing for a fill-in QB.

There are also stats that look more at a quarterback’s process, but of course they will be more subjective.

Pro Football Focus’s grades for Keenum’s play this year aren’t that different than from his past two seasons.

How could that be? Well, a stat like QBR would give Keenum huge credit for a 50-50 ball tossed downfield, even if Stefon Diggs ripped it from the hands of a defender. PFF would specifically grade whether it was a good throw.

One thing that helps Keenum is that he isn’t a typical game-managing backup. While he’s only gone 7-for-24 on throws of more than 20 yards, at least he’s been willing to look for big plays and given Diggs and Thielen a chance to do their thing downfield.

So looking at Keenum through PFF’s lens, he’s still making enough good throws to rank 17th in the NFL, but is likely having his numbers inflated by the play and scheme around him.

It’s fairly common for quality backup quarterbacks to have very solid stretches. Brian Hoyer was at the helm on a Texans team that made the playoffs in 2015 at age 30. He tossed 19 touchdowns and only seven INTs that season. Over the long haul, however, Hoyer and Keenum’s career numbers have been very similar.

No two players are exactly the same, but if you were creating quarterback tiers, Keenum and Hoyer would fall into the same category of QBs who can win games, but do not drive wins.

The Near Future

Maintaining his level of quality results against the upcoming opponents will not be easy for Keenum, even with a strong supporting cast. The group includes two former NFL MVPs (possibly three if Rodgers plays) and the league’s leader in yards/attempt.

Upcoming quarterback matchups:

Jared Goff

Matthew Stafford 

Matt Ryan 

Cam Newton

Andy Dalton 

Brett Hundley or Aaron Rodgers

Mitch Trubisky

Upcoming defensive points allowed rank:

The group of defenses isn’t impossible, but only two rank in the bottom half of the league in scoring defense.

Rams (3rd)

Lions (21st)

Falcons (11th)

Panthers (4th)

Bengals (12th)

Packers (18th)

Bears (13th)

Talkin’ about Playoffs?

Recent history does not look kindly upon unproven quarterbacks or QBs with a history as a backup or fringe starter. Since 2010, the only times a backup-level QB beat a Pro Bowler was in 2010 when the Mark Sanchez Jets took down Tom Brady and the Patriots and TJ Yates beat Andy Dalton (2011).

Since then we’ve seen Nick Foles lose to Drew Brees (2013), Brock Osweiler fall to Brady (2016) and Matt Moore lose to Ben Roethlisberger (2016).

Here’s how the playoffs would look if they started today…

Wild Card Round:

Russell Wilson vs. Drew Brees

Cam Newton vs. Jared Goff

In the hunt…

Matt Ryan

Matthew Stafford

Aaron Rodgers (?)

Dak Prescott

Bottom line

Considering his solid play over the first half of this year, there’s a great chance that Keenum could lead the Vikings to a division title and continue to play at a fairly high level, but recent history doesn’t give him much of a shot against former Super Bowl winners, league MVPs and up-and-coming star quarterbacks.

However, Keenum has done an excellent job leading a team that is in win-now mode. Many teams would have fallen apart when losing their starter for all but six quarters of the first nine games.

  • Purp1eOne

    “Considering his solid play over the first half of this year, there’s a
    great chance that Keenum could lead the Vikings to a division title and
    continue to play at a fairly high level, but recent history doesn’t give
    him much of a shot against former Super Bowl winners, league MVPs and
    up-and-coming star quarterbacks.”

    Unfortunately Teddy does not either since he is even more unproven and still has yet to step on the field after that devastating leg injury.

    Right now Case is the best chance the Vikings have.

    • Duh

      How can you say TB is unproven then say Case is the best chance? Makes no sense. Pure speculation.

      • Wonky Pops

        Teddy hasn’t shown Vikings fans that he can drop back to pass, escape a collapsing pocket by running to his right and then planting his feet in order to throw back to his left among other scenarios. Keenum just won Fedex player of the week for his most recent performance on the field. One QB’s performance is proven, and the other isn’t at this time. Teddy will get his chance to prove he’s capable of being an NFL QB again when the time is right for the team. Until that time comes, and he performs up to the standards expected of an NFL QB, he will remain “unproven”.

      • Purp1eOne

        Isn’t Teddy built on speculation? He was an average QB when he got hurt and needed to take that next step….. still hasn’t. Teddy is a nice kid but he is not what some make him out to be. Could he turn into something? Sure, but he hasn’t yet. Case is doing what some point back to all the time for Teddy because Teddy’s stats are not all that….. WINNING!!!!

    • Tristan Mireles

      Teddy lead VIKINGS to 11-5 in his second year. Made it to the playoffs and if it weren’t for Blair Walsh missed hooked field goal, we wld have had a real chance at making a run in the playoffs. He had a 65.3% completion percentage with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL . Keep in mind that Teddy wasnt asked to do much, we were a very predictable run, run , pass team and only passed on 3rd downs. But when we needed him, Teddy would perform well under pressure. Defenses wld stack the line because they knew we were no threat to really push the ball upfield and we were most likely running. Keep in mind we had one of the worst pass blocking lines in the NFL. On almost 70% of the time he wld drop back Teddy wld be under pressure. Yet Teddy still managed to complete 65% of his passes & get us to 11 wins and make the playoffs. That seems pretty proven in my book. I’ll trust whatever Zimmer decides to do. I’m pretty sure he knows much more then you and I. Lol #goVikings#SkullVikes

      • badzeitgeist

        All that is true, but it acts as if an injury that could have cost him his leg never happened. You can’t just assume without evidence that he will be the same QB he was — physically or mentally — before an injury that was potentially career-ending. It could impact his mobility, his strength, his durability, his flexibility, his willingness to stand in a collapsing pocket, his speed, etc.

      • Andrew

        I love Teddy but most of those 11 wins were won by a field goal by Blair Walsh.

      • Theguds

        Wasn’t asked to do much or couldn’t do much? They game planned to his abilities at the time. Really 70% of the time? And all those times Teddy felt pressure, it had nothing to do with him holding onto the ball? I’m sure we had line issues that year but not worse than 2016.

        If it were proven, then there would be no question about the decision to start him this week or next week. Zim admitted he didn’t think that much about who would be starting this week. When Andrew Luck returns from his hiatus he will be starting immediately because he is proven.

  • Wonky Pops

    And in conclusion, Coller’s exercise in pessimism turns out to be an exercise in futility. Optimism wins in the end.

  • Cory Robinson

    He was 3 points from beating Brady in 2013 u obviously didn’t do that much research. Most qbs lose by 20 or more against beast so he is doing just fine

    • Ikana Juana Leighere

      Exactly Cory; I saw that game as I lived in Houston at the time and he ACTUALLY had the Texans in the lead before the defense broke down and gave up the eventual lead. I have no doubt Keenum will do well tomorrow and going forward. He can be a starter for this league; with this team or any other for that matter and people are going to see that.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Its sad the Vikings have to go through another season of dealing with who is the starting QB ~ It was so nice to know the Vikings didn’t face this problem last year and the thought was much the same heading into this year ~ Then Bradford happened ~ Another knee problem ~

    Case And Teddy are system QB’s ~ You can cut it and dice it any way you want too ~ Neither is a Brees or Brady or even Bradford ~ Neither is going to win shootouts every week ~

    If Teddy is capable of {{{ helping l}}} lead the Vikings to a 11~5 season then so is Case ~ The deep balls can help take the pressure off the defense white giving a team a overall boost ~ So can a throw into tight coverage for a first down at key time in the game ~ This is where Case is the better QB ~ IMHO ~ But they are both system QB’s ~

    Doesn’t mean Teddy cant get the job done if the Vikings have to call on him ~ Capable if Teddy is the old Teddy or better ~

  • SM

    Ride Case on a short leash until he stumbles. Either way give TB game time at home vs. the bears and also time against the bungals. This ensures two viable options in post season.

    And like Guff mentioned, maybe we’ll see Sam then too.

    • Wonky Pops

      You just painted a beautiful rainbow on my screen.

  • David Prestin

    What were the stats/ratings for the quarterbacks that played on keenum’s old teams while he was there? Goff was winless with last year’s rams while Keenum lead the same team to 4 victories. So 0-7 for Goff while Keenum was 4-5 with the same players. Coaching, surrounding talent, etc play a huge part in a QBs success or failure. For the first time in his career, Keenum has the luxury of having quality in all areas a QB needs to be successful.

  • Drediock

    Fair enough arguments. But. we have no evidence Teddy would be any better either
    but going back to Case. I’d argue he could very well go all the way. I compare him to the type of player he reminds me most of. Phil Simms. Who IMO unlike Case was vastly over rated but like Case had an outstanding supporting cast and a legendary type Defense. Particularly the 1986 Giants team (that won the Superbowl on Jan 1987)
    Sims stats that year compared to Keenums stats this year in comparable stats. Keep in mind Simms was MVP of the Superbowl that year
    Sims completion 5 that year 55.3% Keenum 2017 64.9%
    Sims Avg 7.5 yards, Keenum 2017 7.3 (thats damn close)
    Sims avg 217.9 yards per game. Keenum 2107 239.2 yard per game
    Simms TD% 4.5 Keenum 2017 4.2% (again. damn close)
    Sims had 22 int and an int % of 4.5, 2017 Keenum with only 5 ints its hard to project Case throwing another 17 picks this year. Case int % is1.9%
    Simms was sacked 45 times through 16 games 2017 Keenum through 9 games…5 times
    Sims QB rating in his Superbowl MVP season 74.6
    Keenums QB rating in 2017 92.6

    What does this all say? Keenum can take us as far as he takes us. More legendary QBs have performed much worse and won MVP awards

  • badzeitgeist

    Pure passer rating is the hardest on Keenum, but more advanced stats show him doing much better. The article mentions ESPN’s QBR, where he is third. But 538’s Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) has Keenum second to Brady.

  • Tbone

    Minnesota is the perennial post season flop.
    The reason is they don’t really play anybody except the NFC north schlock, and a few AFC pushovers.

    The LA Rams are about the same boat. Yes, they have Jarrod Goff, but have they played anyone serious?

    So, what’s likely to happen here is 1 of these teams is going to win and the other lose, but it won’t really matter because both teams will get throttled in the post season,, and probably early.

    Give Keenum some due for playing good enough to win. He’s one of these guys looking to get paid so he’ll keep stepping up so long as they don’t give him too much money early and spoil him.

    • David Prestin

      So, was your first post prior to the game and this is your post game post trying to save face? LoL at both posts.

  • Tbone

    Viking fans are some of the most gullible fans believing to the end that their team is SB caliber. Usually, they lose big and early and then pack it in for next year.

    Bradford didn’t last long either, what a deal he turned out to be.

    • David Prestin


  • Doug Finsler

    Look people, it doesn’t matter who the qb is. The issue with this team is that they’re just not that good. The defense is not elite. They’ve had some moments but when it matters, against good teams, they’re average. The offense is lucky, at best. This is not a playoff team. The coaching is also a major problem. Don’t know how to win.

    • badzeitgeist

      I’d say that comment hasn’t aged well. . .

      • David Prestin

        LoL…..ya think?

    • MR

      Look, Finsler, you are out of touch with reality, very ignorant. Are you an alcoholic Packer fan? Each sentence that you wrote is nonsense.

  • David Prestin

    Zimm names Keenum starter for week 12


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