This time last season, quarterback Case Keenum was backing up Jared Goff with the Los Angeles Rams after leading them to a 3-1 start. Over that span of games, Keenum’s play was pedestrian as he completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 825 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Even though the Rams were off to a surprising start, everybody knew it wouldn't last. In his next five starts, Los Angeles went 1-4 and Keenum’s play continued to regress.
He had two games where he threw at least two interceptions, including a four interception performance against the New York Giants in Week 7. After this poor display, it was clear that Los Angeles needed to turn the starting job over to Goff, which they did in Week 11.
Keenum would not see the field again for the Rams, except in Week 15 against Seattle Seahawks. In that game, Goff suffered a concussion late in the fourth quarter, putting Keenum back in temporarily.
Keenum’s two-year stint in Los Angeles and St. Louis was not memorable to say the least. However, fast forward to this season and Keenum has looked like a totally different quarterback under center with the Minnesota Vikings.
The University of Houston product has the Vikings in first place in the NFC North with a record of 10-2. It’s crazy to think that a Case Keenum-led team has a chance to win homefield advantage throughout the NFL playoffs, but here we are.
The obvious question everybody wants an answer to is what is the difference between last year and this year for Keenum? Well for starters, he has better pieces around him, especially at the skill positions.
Last season with Los Angeles, Keenum threw the ball to a wide receiver unit composed of Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and Brian Quick. For those keeping count at home, this is not an impressive trio of wide receivers, despite Britt having a career-year with 68 receptions (111 targets) for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns.
Then, if matters could not get worse, running back Todd Gurley was having a down year, the tight end position was nonexistent, and the offensive line played horrible.
According to Football Outsiders, the Rams’ offensive line was ranked 29th in the NFL in pass protection, giving up 49 sacks with an adjusted sack rate of 8.1 percent.
When you take a look at those various elements, it is clear why Keenum is playing better with Minnesota. All he has to do is stay within his limits and not make costly mistakes.
Currently, Keenum is playing behind a better offensive line as Minnesota is ranked first in the league in pass protection, only giving up 12 sacks with an adjusted sack rate of 2.9 percent.
Then when you examine the Vikings’ weapons, their wide receiver unit is better the 2016 Rams as they have Stefon Diggs on the outside paired with Adam Thielen, who is having a breakout year with 74 receptions (112 targets) for 1,056 yards and three touchdowns. They also have Jarius Wright and Laquon Treadwell.
Beyond the wide receivers, Keenum has a reliable option at tight end in veteran Kyle Rudolph and a formidable running game with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Despite losing outstanding rookie running back Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL earlier this season, Minnesota has continued to feature a strong running game.
With all those weapons at his disposal, it is not shocking to see why Keenum has been the surprise star of the NFL through 11 games this season. Right now, he is completing a career-high 67.5 percent of his passes for 2,703 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
While his numbers may not scream MVP, it's a vast improvement from the last two seasons with the Rams. Keenum is taking what the defense is giving him and when the pocket breaks down, showing great awareness to find one of his playmakers.
If you take a deeper look at his numbers, you can see that as the game progresses Keenum also gets stronger. In the first quarter, his completion percentage is only 63.2 with a touchdown and two interceptions.
However, it increases substantially in the second frame, going up to 69.1 percent and with nine touchdowns and an interception.
Finally, his completion percentage hit its high mark at 71.6 in the third quarter, where teams usually make adjustments after the half. Also, another reason why Keenum has been successful is because of his play in the red zone.
Keenum has been spot on with 12 touchdowns, 17 first downs, and only been sacked one time. This tells me that not only is he getting the ball out of his hands quickly, but once again knows where he wants to go with his passes.
It has been fun thus far this season watching Keenum rejuvenate his career with the Vikings. No one thought that he would lead this team to a potential playoff berth, especially coming into the year as a backup to Sam Bradford.
With Bradford being shut down, Keenum has grabbed the starting quarterback reins and does not look to be giving them up anytime soon, despite Teddy Bridgewater being healthy again.
If the former undrafted free agent, who set numerous record at the University of Houston can continue to play well for the rest of the season. He will have earned the right to be the starting quarterback heading into the next season.