The Vikings Ride the Arm of Case Keenum to the NFL Playoffs

Not good enough for Bill O'Brien, Case Keenum leads the Vikings to the playoffs
Not good enough for Bill O'Brien, Case Keenum leads the Vikings to the playoffs Photos by Groovehouse
The NFC’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs is the Minnesota Vikings with a 13-3 record. Not many predicted the Vikings would end up in this spot. Especially not after starting quarterback Sam Bradford was essentially knocked out for in the first game. And especially not when Bradford’s backup was Case Keenum, the former starter for the LA Rams.

Thinking like this should have been nothing new for Keenum, however. He was barely recruited out of college. He had to beat out a more touted recruit to gain the UH quarterback job. He went un-drafted, and he bounced around the practice squads of the Texans and Rams before getting action in the team’s disastrous 2-14 season after Matt Schaub fell apart. He lost the first eight NFL games he started, and was not wanted by Bill O’Brien, a so-called quarterback guru and offensive genius.

Keenum ended up with the Rams, and that was like serving in a special kind of hell. The NFL even had to conduct an investigation after a clearly concussed Keenum was left in the game after a vicious hit. And Jeff Fisher’s offensive-style as coach of the Rams was so unimaginative and misguided that even Bill O'Brien looks like an offensive mastermind in comparison.

Many of us who watched Keenum quarterback the Cougars have always been puzzled by the NFL’s treatment of him. He was never just a system quarterback. He could throw deep, he could throw short. The offense under his command at UH wasn’t just one where he threw to a space. It was set up to where Keenum was making multiple reads and working with receivers to read their routes so as to anticipate where they might split off.

Keenum threw for 19,217 yards in college. He threw 155 touchdowns. He was twice awarded the Sammy Baugh trophy as the nation’s best college quarterback, and he was twice the Most Valuable Player of Conference USA.

But he was bypassed in the draft, and it seemed as if the Texans just signed him because he was a local kid. The Texans lost his games when he played, but the Texans lost lots of games that season. He was dealt an offense where Gary Kubiak loved to go to one back or empty back sets, leaving Keenum with no protection against onrushing blitzers. The team was also without Arian Foster that season. It was a mess of a season.

This season could have been a mess for the Vikings. Bradford was out and Teddy Bridgewater, the team’s former No. 1 draft pick was still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered the season before. Keenum was just supposed to to be an experienced backup, the guy who had flopped when given the chance with the Rams, but yet still good enough to learn a playbook and who was already to play when needed.

But this year, when he was needed, Keenum showed all his doubters what those of us who watched him at UH knew. He was indeed a NFL quarterback. He completed 325 of 481 passes, threw for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions. He even rushed for a touchdown.

Bill O’Brien, the coach of the Texans, dumped Keenum so that he could keep Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. Both of those guys once backed up Tom Brady, and Mallett, in particular, looked like a NFL quarterback while Keenum is on the smallish-side. This was after O’Brien kept Keenum on the bench so that Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett could play. So one watches Keenum play this year and wonders just why it is that a coach supposedly known as a quarterback developer didn’t want to develop Keenum?

Then again, Bill O’Brien spent all of workouts and camp and the preseason games convinced that Tom Savage was better than Deshaun Watson. And seeing as how O’Brien’s idea of getting creative on offense was running an injured J.J. Watt out of the wildcat in a playoff game, it seems obvious that the best thing that ever happened to Keenum was getting him out of Houston and away from the guru who season after season has struggled to put together a barely functional offense.

My step-father’s family is from Minnesota, and they’re big Vikings fans. As Vikings fans, they’re used to bad things happening to the team in the playoffs. Bad things like getting blown out in the Super Bowl. Or Gary Anderson missing a field goal for the first time in two seasons, setting up an Atlanta Falcons comeback in the 1998 NFC title game, or Blair Walsh missing a chip shot in the playoffs against the Seahawks.

But Houstonians saw the city cast aside its horrible playoff luck this season when the Astros won the World Series. So maybe Case Keenum will take some of that Houston magic with him and lead the Vikings to the promised land. And if that happens, Houstonians should probably ask about what could have happened here if the Texans would have had a competent coaching staff and a competent offensive plan in place for Case Keenum.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal