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The Case for Keenum

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Why Case Keenum makes the most sense to continue as starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The smoke-and-mirrors rumors of the Vikings pursuing Kirk Cousins have been circling for the past couple weeks, but at the end of the day, you can’t ignore Case Keenum, who went from back-up to the Vikings MVP last season.

Without Keenum’s performance last season, the Vikings would not have gone 13-3 in the regular season- their best record in 20 years, and first appearance in the NFC Championship game since 2009. After Sam Bradford’s surprise knee injury, Keenum was called up for what looked like short-term duty, filling in until Bradford would be back in a week or two. Which then turned into longer duty, until maybe Teddy Bridgewater was ready to take over. Then it became sort of a prove-it year for Keenum, who was signed on a one-year, $2 million deal. And prove-it he did.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory:

I invite anybody to look at that video and tell me what Kirk Cousins can do that Case Keenum cannot.

Keenum finished the regular season with:

  • 98.3 passer rating (7th best)
  • 7.03 ANY/A (adjusted net yards per attempt), (7th best)
  • 67.6% completion rate (2nd best)
  • 7 INTs (1.5% rate) (tied 4th best)
  • 69.7 total QBR, (2nd best, behind Wentz, above Brady)
  • 4.37% sack rate, (6th lowest)
  • 3rd down conversion rate: 43.5% (3rd best)
  • Red zone conversion rate: 57.9% (9th best)

Keenum also led the league in Football Outsiders’ passing defense-adjusted-value-over-average (DVOA) metric last year, at 28.2%, which measures the added value over an average quarterback in the same game situations. He outperformed Tom Brady. Kirk Cousins finished slightly below average, and 18th overall. Cousins best year came in at 20.9% in 2016.

One of the reasons Keenum did so well was his ability to deliver under pressure. In fact, in terms of QBR rating, Keenum had the 6th best season of any QB under pressure since 2009, once again outperforming Tom Brady, and Carson Wentz. And last year was Brady’s best year of his career under pressure.

Meanwhile, last year Kirk Cousins led the league in sack yards, with 342 on 41 sacks, and also led the league in interceptions under pressure, with 9. And if you’re thinking Cousins faced a lot more pressure than Keenum with the Redskins beat-up offensive line last year, think again.

Cousins was pressured on 36.6% of his drop-backs according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), while Keenum was pressured on 39.3%.

Looking at Keenum’s stats overall, he was a top 5 quarterback last year, the Vikings’ MVP, and was a top 10 candidate for NFL MVP last year. He was the NFC Player of the Month in November, in which he led the Vikings through the toughest part of their schedule, all but securing the NFC North title after beating Detroit on Thanksgiving day, and going 4-0 after the bye-week - beating the Redskins on the road, the Rams at home, Detroit on the road, and the Falcons on the road- one of the more impressive win streaks the Vikings have had in many years.

Keenum had an average passer rating in that crucial stretch of big games of 116.7. He completed 74% of his passes, with 9 TDs and 2 INTs. His ANY/A during that stretch was an outstanding 9.07. That’s called delivering in big games.

Beyond his stats, Keenum has been a leader on offense, and players have rallied behind him all season.

Keenum over Cousins?

The big question for Keenum is can he repeat his 2017 performance in the future. He took a huge jump last season from anything he’s done previously, and most would agree he was able to do so because of a better supporting cast and better coaching than he’s had with the Rams and Texans. He’ll have the same supporting cast next season, but hopefully with a better running back for 16 games in Dalvin Cook, and hopefully a better offensive line if the Vikings are able to upgrade it in the off-season, barring injury. He’s got the same QB coach in Kevin Stefanski, and a new offensive coordinator in John DeFillippo, who did a pretty good job in coaching Carson Wentz into a break-out year last season.

Speaking of Wentz, are people wondering whether Wentz will slip back to his rookie year stats next year? Are they averaging his two years and saying he’s really a mediocre QB at best? Are they saying Wentz won’t be able to repeat the kind of year he had last season?

But Kirk Cousins, he’ll be better. This we know. According to Kirk Cousins fans anyway. Look at 2015 and 2016. This is the quarterback he will be in Minnesota. Forget about 2017, because the offensive line wasn’t as good. Oh. Did I mention that Keenum was under pressure more often than Cousins was last season? And that Keenum was one of the best QBs under pressure last year while Cousins was mediocre or worse? He had a 66.3 passer rating against pressure, 20th in the league.

My point here is that while there is a question whether Keenum can repeat the kind of season he had last year, there are other questions for Kirk Cousins. Particularly:

  • Can Cousins improve his performance under pressure? He won’t have as good an offensive line as he’s had in Washington, anchored by Trent Williams at LT (and yes, Williams was still much better than Riley Rieff last year), and Brandon Scherff at RG. Morgan Moses at RT is also much better than Remmers/Hill have been this year in pass protection. Just for comparison last season, here are the PFF Pass Protection grades for offensive linemen who saw more than 150 snaps for both teams:

Redskins: Williams 80.3, Moses 67.9, Scherff 74.6, Rouiller 64.4, Long 67.8, Lauvao 30.2, Kouandjio 74.4.

Vikings: Remmers 73.0, Reiff 48.1, Hill 46.1, Berger 79.2, Elflein 46.1, Easton 46.6, Sirles 45.2.

Add to that the fact that Berger may not be back with the Vikings this season, and you can see that the ability to perform under pressure will be a big factor in a QB’s success for the Vikings next season. Cousins has not done well under pressure. Keenum has.

  • Can Cousins improve his performance on 3rd down and in the red zone? Cousins has not done well for two years now in the red zone, when it matters most. Keenum way outperformed Cousins in the red zone last year (97.2 passer rating vs. 83.8) and even outperformed Cousins in 2016 with the Rams. Cousins has averaged only an 83.5 red zone passer rating over the past two years.
  • Can Cousins improve his performance in big games against good teams? If Cousins is to fulfill his purpose (and contract) he better start beating playoff teams when it matters, and not just losing teams when it doesn’t.

You cannot dismiss these questions about Cousins, while questioning whether Keenum can continue at the pace he set last year. In fact, it seems less of question for Keenum to continue where he left off with the same team, compared to whether Cousins can improve over his performance last year with a different team- and a worse offensive line - particularly as he’s not done well under pressure.

Price Tag Is Important Too

Kirk Cousins would likely cost the Vikings somewhere between $8 - $10 million a year more than Case Keenum. However you want to slice it, that difference is the cost of a high-quality starter.

Is Kirk Cousins really that much better than Case Keenum?

Will the Vikings be as successful with Cousins and not that other high-quality starter they could have had with Keenum?

Pretty difficult to answer that any other way than a big, fat NO.

Keenum proved it for the Vikings last year, and he should be extended.

Poll

Who would you rather sign?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Kirk Cousins
    (844 votes)
  • 71%
    Case Keenum
    (2114 votes)
2958 votes total Vote Now