Until Jared Goff is ready, the Los Angeles Rams are stuck with Case Keenum as their starting quarterback.
Keenum is playing on Starting Job Death Row.
With the selection of Goff in April, it was clear from then on that Keenum was not going to the guy for too long in Los Angeles. Keenum is the buffer between the Rams of old and the newly reborn Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams' 3-1 record is good for Keenum, but the impressive win-loss record is more in spite of Keenum rather than because of him. Keenum’s absence of blatant mistakes and/or overt idiocy has protected his public image, but he is not a starting quarterback in this league. He plays an overly conservative, low wave style of football. He’s not going to attack tight windows. For the most part, he is not going to make plays with his legs. The defense knows as well as he does which reads he is going to make. Above all else, Keenum is not ever going to be the reason for a win.
Before considering the eye test, it’s worth looking at some of Keenum’s numbers through four games this season. Among all quarterbacks with at least 75 pass attempts (30 QBs qualified):
- Keenum ranks dead last in completion percentage with a 55.37% of completion.
- Keenum is 26th out of 30 in yards per game.
- Passer rating is not kind to him either, placing him 25th out of 30.
- Keenum has 46 passing snaps on third down. He was sacked five times and completed 22 of his 41 passing attempts. Through 46 total third down plays that Keenum accounted for, the Rams offense only converted 14 times, roughly 30% of the time.
To his credit, Keenum has protected the ball better than many other quarterbacks have this season. He has three interceptions on the season, a far more palatable figure than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ten interceptions. But even then, a fair amount of Keenum’s ball security is by design of an offense that generates a lot of short passing. Outside of not committing too many heinous turnover crimes, Keenum has little value.
At the core, a quarterback’s job is to get the ball from point A (his hand) to point B (the receiver’s hands). There are a myriad of other factors that go into the process, but the final product is the throw itself. Keenum, frankly, is not accurate. He makes just enough easy, scheduled throws to avoid total disaster, but he leaves an alarming amount of yards on the field every time he steps onto it.
Tavon Austin gets the inside release and generates enough separation for this to be a routine pitch-and-catch situation. Without being disrupted by the defensive line, Keenum sails the throw and misses out on an easy chunk of yardage. This is only one of Keenum’s countless misfires that have no rhyme or reason to them. Keenum was not disrupted, nobody tipped the ball and the receiver was not heavily covered. Keenum missed, plain and simple.
This is far too common in an offense that has not asked Keenum to throw aggressively. While Keenum is also a roller coaster of ball placement beyond twelve or so yards (generally the cut off for "intermediate" routes), he has been erratic in the short area. The Rams offense, due to the confines of Keenum, consists largely of short half-field reads, one-man curl routes and quick outs from tight ends. They do not require much thought, they just require a somewhat accurate throw.
Too often, Keenum fails to meet that lowly expectation.
The Constructs of the Offense and Keenum’s Tendencies
No matter the route combo, Keenum has two desired routes that he will look to immediately ever time: the ten yard curl and the quick out by a tight end. Without fail, he looks to those two routes any time that he can get them.
The Rams run a lot of short area two-man routes like this. They are (or should be) easy reads for Keenum and allow him to get the ball off without having to process too many moving parts. Here, Keenum trots back, waits for Kenny Britt to make his break on a ten yard curl route and fires without hesitation. Keenum seldom displays confidence, but he’ll throw this route with all the confidence in the world.
This play pairs two simple two-man concepts together. To the left, Keenum has a slant-flat combination; to his right, Keenum reads a double quick out combination. Seeing as tight end Lance Kendricks has the inside leverage on Kevin Minter (#51) out of default because of his alignment, it made sense for Keenum to target Kendricks on the quick out, as he always does.
There is room for these sorts of plays in every offense. Unless you are Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, a passing attack can not survive by predominantly attacking down the field. There has to be some sort of establishment underneath, both to set the defense up for deeper shots and to gain small, safe chunks of yardage. An offense can not sustain success by only throwing those short routes, though.
Keenum has uncorked a few of times for big plays, namely the two deep touchdowns to Brian Quick, but those plays are too few and far between. By and large, Keenum has kept his passing to the safer range of the field. Of course, the offense does not call for as many deep routes as others may, but that is to protect Keenum because he is not capable of running a more aggressive offense. The reliance on the short game has caught up to Keenum.
Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander wasn’t having it. Keenum loves to throw short routes and throw to non-moving targets. Alexander, assuming he’d done his fair share of work in the film room, knew Keenum’s tendency to throw those types of routes without post-snap thought. As soon as Alexander saw Austin break off his route short and saw Keenum turn his way, Alexander knew where the ball was going. The linebacker jumped the route, picked off the pass without any contention and housed it for a Bucs score.
Throwing Short of the Sticks
The best quarterbacks in the league have "third down ability." This is something that Justis Mosqueda of Bleacher Report has dubbed for quarterbacks who can summon some sort of dynamic ability on third-and-longs, when safe quarterbacking will almost certainly not move the sticks. It doesn’t have to be a stunning trait; simply being aggressive with a decent arm can be enough to have sufficient "third down ability." Keenum does not truly have either of those things.
Keenum’s arm strength is not the worst in the league, but he has a pop gun type of arm. The ball does not come out quickly, it does not slice through the air, and, often times, the ball quickly loses its velocity and noses downward to the ground. Keenum does not have the arm strength to fit many tight windows. That does not mean that Keenum should pass up on every aggressive throw, though. Quarterbacks need to throw beyond the sticks on third down.
Here is a third down play. The first down marker is at the 37-yard line. The Rams are running a two-man route concept to the left. The outside receiver runs a short in-breaking routes, while the slot receiver runs a ten yard out route over the top of the other receiver. The in-breaking routes sucks in safety Kam Chancellor, giving the slot receiver a 1-on-1 situation near the sticks. Instead of realizing the match up and throwing to the first down marker, Keenum dumps off to the closer receiver to him, who was stopped well before crossing the first down marker.
In a first-and-ten situation, this throw would be fine. It was the easier throw and still generated some positive yardage. On third-and-long, Keenum has to attack the first down marker here. There are rare occasions where a receiver short of the sticks has a clear path to a first down, but this was not one of those times. This play would have been less frustrating if Keenum attempted the throw to the sticks and simply missed it- at least he would have been playing aggressive football.
Example numero dos. Keenum gets a receiver in solo coverage on a deep curl route. It’s not an easy throw and it would have required Keenum to stand strong with pressure crashing down on him, but good quarterbacks can make that throw. Keenum gives the throw a quick look, but the defender breaking the pocket forces Keenum to panic and throw the safer route.
Again, this wouldn’t be a bad play on first down. It’s unacceptable on third down, though. Keenum had a receiver against single coverage well beyond the sticks, but opts to throw two yards short of the first down marker in order to get the ball out. Keenum played sacred on this play and it costed the Rams the opportunity to stay on the field.
This cannot keep happening if the Rams want to sustain their run of success.
Lack of Pocket Awareness
Keenum does not control the pocket well. Of course, not every quarterback is going to maneuver the pocket with the grace of Tom Brady or the command of Cam Newton, but there has to be a baseline level of pocket manipulation and Keenum doesn’t have it. He plays with cement feet in the pocket and has issues identifying where pressure is. In many cases, Keenum moves into pressure or stands dormant in the pocket, allowing the pressure to come to him.
Keenum has a poor awareness of his surroundings. This sack can be partly credited to the Bucs playing tight coverage on the play, but Keenum ran into this sack. Stepping up directly into the back of his own blocker was his first mistake. He could have made up for it if he had moved to his right, though. There are acres of open pocket to Keenum’s right, but he fails to recognize it. Keenum then bails to his left, where he has no extra blockers. Without much trouble, Lavonte David races to Keenum and takes him down for a sack.
Keenum is not necessarily supposed to complete a pass on this play. The Bucs were playing good coverage and it’s tough for any quarterback to fit tight throws. Keenum is not supposed to be sacking himself. He could have slid over to his right, bought himself extra time in the pocket and given his receivers an opportunity to break free from their coverage. Keenum instead ended the play by moving to his left. It is the little things like this - like noticing open areas of the pocket - that make Keenum difficult to put up with.
Keenum's Time is Running Out
Whether or not he should be, Case Keenum is the starting quarterback for now. Rookie Jared Goff is either not ready or the coaching staff is choosing to ripen him as much as possible. With Goff still on the bench, the Rams have done their best to win with Keenum and mold the offense in a way that is easy for him. Though, even with as much coddling as has been done for Keenum, he is still barely serviceable. Keenum’s saving grace is that he does not turn the ball over at a dangerous rate.
The Rams offense is severely limited with Keenum at quarterback. There is not room to grow so long as he is the quarterback, but there is certainly a scenario where this offense gets worse when teams begin keying on his tendencies more. Under Keenum, the Rams offense is too stagnant and predictable for the team to sustain success, unless the defense raises the bar even higher for themselves.
The Rams have won with Keenum to this point, but they have done so in spite of Keenum’s shortcomings. It should not be long until the staff has to start considering that it may be time for the No.1 overall pick to get a shot.