Making a ‘Case’ for Case: On Keenum’s encouraging season and coming out of nowhere to earn an NFL starting job

 

Nobody saw this coming for the Minnesota Vikings. A team fresh off a monumental collapse last season that saw them fail to make the playoffs after a 5-0 start entered the 2017-2018 season with pedestrian expectations.

Devastated by injuries a season ago, including the well documented knee injury to Teddy Bridgewater, this year’s Vikings were built to challenge for a division title, led by a stout defence and a Sam Bradford piloted offence. The offensive fortunes started with a revamped offensive line — sans Alex Boone — tasked with keeping Sam Bradford upright while also paving roads for a dynamic backfield, featuring rookie Dalvin Cook. If the line held, it would be up to the playmakers to perform adequately and give one of the league’s best defences leads to defend each Sunday. If they could only stay healthy…

And then an all too familiar bug crawled into the Vikings bed.

After an remarkable week one performance, Bradford would experience discomfort in his surgically repaired knee, an ailment that ultimately would land him on season-ending IR (not the result one wants in a contract year). Then there was Dalvin Cook who with one plant of his foot tore an ACL, bringing his promising rookie season to a screeching halt. A big loss no doubt, the Vikings had depth to fall back on with the presence of Latavius Murray (signed this off-season) and Jerrick McKinnon — Matt Asiata having returned to his previously held factory job. Withstanding an injury in the backfield was doable, but life without Bradford was not something anybody was prepared for, at least not until lovable Teddy was fit to return to action.

— Enter Case Keenum —

 

Signed in the off-season to a one-year deal worth ~$2 million, Keenum was never expected to figure into a quarterback controversy, much less one involving a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. The reality of the situation is that, as high as the Vikings may be on Teddy’s ability and rehabbed knee, coupled with the importance of seeing him play before season’s end (Vikings have no quarterbacks under contract for 2018-2019), Case Keenum has played too well for Zimmer to even entertain replacing him.

Through nine games (eight starts), *YOU’RE ON THE* Case has thrown for almost 2,300 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. His rating sits at 93.7, which puts him higher than the likes of Manning, Newton, Roethlisberger, Carr, Prescott and YES even Jay f-cking Cutler!! He’s only been sacked 5 times all year, a testament not only to improved o-line play but also Keenum’s scrambling and pocket mobility. There really is no way around the fact that he’s found comfort and confidence in this offence and the Vikings are reaping the rewards. He leads the league in Total QBR (94) against the blitz.   — Keenum is sure to reap the $$$ rewards this off-season, whether it’s with the Vikings remains to be seen.

Despite playing at an uncharacteristically high level most of the season (look at his career numbers), Keenum is almost assuredly one shaky game away from being taken off the case (sorry, too easy). Recall week 5, a road game versus Chicago when Zimmer opted for a clearly hobbled Sam Bradford to start the game over Keenum. You need not have a medical degree to conclude Bradford was still gimpy and not at all comfortable, yet he was still the preferred option to Keenum. Furthermore, the man they call CASE (I may be alone in that group) was only two weeks removed from a masterful performance against Tampa Bay — 25/33 369 yards and 3 touchdowns. As complimentary as Zimmer has been of his present day starter, it’s evident, in how he speaks about him after such a performance, that Teddy (or a healthy Bradford) ultimately is his preferred option under centre.

“You never know what kind of performance you’re going to get each week, you just go out there and practice as hard as you can”. That was Zimmer’s response following the Buccaneers game when asked if he expected that sort of performance from Case Keenum. Rest assured, it would’ve been far different if Bradford or Bridgewater had posted such a stat line.

More recently, just this past week actually, the Vikings having reeled off a sixth straight win, Zimmer was once again asked how Keenum’s continued impressive play impacts the plan for Bridgewater — “Well the changes they’re… It’s going to be hard to yank him out of there right now. He’s playing good. I still have really high hopes, you know a lot of things happen throughout the course of this season so we’ll just see how it goes.” —Hardly a ringing endorsement for a quarterback who’s played a bigger role in the team’s 8-2 record than perhaps most care to admit. Would Adam Thielen be as elite with Bridgewater throwing him the ball? It’s a reasonable debate if nothing else.

I have all the respect in the world for Mike Zimmer. He’s a hell of a football coach who, like everyone, has his or her own preferences especially regarding quarterbacks. The fact remains that Keenum, for as good as he’s been, is on a short leash and is perhaps a handful of bad throws away from clipboard duties. The powers that be are much more emotionally invested in Teddy than they are in Case. US Bank Stadium was supposed to be home to a mean and rugged defence…and a loveable Teddy Bear.

But hey, here the Vikings stand, in conference contention and their city set to host Super Bowl LII (52 for non-Romans). Should the Eagles falter and the Vikings continue on this path, they could see themselves play EVERY playoff game in friendly confines. For the rest of the league, that is a scary scary notion.

For the Vikings, this isn’t how they envisioned it but they will certainly take it. Led by a fifth-year journeyman quarterback (is that a thing?) while their prized now healthy QB of the future sits on the sideline waiting for an opportunity many thought he would never be healthy enough to seize.

Rest assured, both stand to benefit from this magical ride, and perhaps one of them will once-and-for-all take the Vikings playoff hopes out of the hands (or feet) of its place-kicker.


 

I think this guy’s reaction sums it up…

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