Case Keenum and the Los Angeles Rams Apathy Towards The Quarterback Position
We’ve come to the point where we just accept the Los Angeles Rams for who they are. The Rams haven’t gone .500 since 2006. Jeff Fisher has been in charge for the past four seasons and has won seven games on three occasions.
Fisher’s decidedly mediocre results would be more encouraging if the Rams appeared to have a plan. When they executed the Robert Griffin III trade, they acquired a huge amount of draft capital that allowed them to create an extremely talented roster. However, injuries to Sam Bradford and a misguided trade to Nick Foles have curtailed their available talent at the quarterback position.
Despite trading for Foles and drafting Sean Mannion last offseason, Fisher named Case Keenum as his starting quarterback entering the offseason. Naming a starting quarterback for the offseason is a peculiar move on its own, but it’s even more bizarre when that quarterback is Keenum.
Rams General Manager Les Snead took Fisher’s statement one step further this week. Snead said that Keenum would be the starter in Week 1.
This changes the outlook substantially. Keenum replaced Foles last year to start five games. He finished the season as the starter so it was easy to explain away Fisher’s first comment. The fact that Fisher said Keenum would “come back as the starter” and talked about adding competition also meant that the commitment to him had limited value moving forward.
Snead has changed that by projecting where Keenum is expected to be moving forward. Now it’s time to consider Keenum as a legitimate option for the Rams in 2016. Comments during the offseason should always be taken with a grain of salt, the Rams themselves committed to Sam Bradford as their starter early on during last year’s offseason. However, at this point with free agency dwindling away, the words carry more meaning because the options are disappearing.
When Fisher made those comments initially, he elaborated on his reasoning:
“I have confidence in Case,” Fisher said. “Case is an incomplete pass and a field goal away from potentially being 5-0 as a starter. He’s managing things well. He worked really well with (offensive coordinator) Rob [Boras] and (quarterbacks coach Chris) Weinke over the last few weeks and I feel good about his development. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good quarterback.”
Fisher has a track record of pointing to a quarterback’s win-loss record when discussing the quarterback position. If you’ve followed this website at all, you’ll likely know that’s not the way we do things here.
The above chart tracks every throw that Case Keenum threw in 2015. He had 125 official attempts last year, but not all qualified for inclusion on the chart. Intentional throwaways, passes tipped at the line of scrimmage and throws where he was hit during his release weren’t included. That is because this chart doesn’t track completions and incompletions.
It tracks Keenum’s accuracy. Every green tick is an accurate throw and every red cross is an inaccurate throw. Keenum had an Accuracy Percentage of 76.8 percent, accurately throwing 86 of 112 passes.
His 76.8 percent accuracy rating would rank 20th out of the 36 quarterbacks who have undergone this analysis for the 2015 season. He would have been one spot behind Joe Flacco and one spot above Kirk Cousins. He was significantly closer to the worst(71.9 percent) of the 36 quarterbacks than the best(83.5 percent).
In the above chart, you will notice that the first section is labelled “Simple YAC.” This section includes any throw where the ball didn’t travel further than two yards past the line of scrimmage. It’s this section that bloats Keenum’s Accuracy Percentage.
Keenum had 26 throws qualify for Simple YAC in 2015.
That means 23.2 percent of his throws qualified, only 13 other quarterbacks finished the season with at least 23.0 percent of their throws qualifying as Simple YAC. Keenum is an aggressive quarterback, he’s a gunslinger really, but the Rams offense featured a large number of screens and simple throws. Teammate Nick Foles finished the year with 25.5 percent of his throws qualifying for Simple YAC.
Despite playing in an offense that was designed to keep give him easier reads, note the limited number of intermediate throws in the pass chart above, Keenum still had ball security issues.
Traditional stats suggest that he took care of the ball. Keenum threw one interception all season. When you look past the official stats and consider passes that could or should have been intercepted, Keenum comes out looking much worse.
Keenum had five passes last year that were deemed as Interceptable. He threw an Interceptable pass once every 25 attempts. 22 quarterbacks had a better Interceptable Pass Rate than him last season and many of those who did played in a much more tasking scheme.
Most of those quarterbacks offered more to their offenses in terms of overall effectiveness also.
What makes Keenum’s Interceptable Pass Rate worse than it appears on the onset is the offense he played in but also the types of throws he made. He failed both because of poor decisions and bad accuracy, it wasn’t simply that he had one recurring error that needs to can be corrected.
His worst throw of the season can be seen in the above gif.
Having just received a punt from the Buccaneers late in the second quarter while leading by more than two touchdowns, Keenum’s priority in this situation should be to take care of the ball at all costs. Instead, he throws an awful pick-six to Danny Lansanah who masks his mistake by dropping the ball.
From the quirky but mostly irrelevant department: Keenum’s only actual interception last year wasn’t an Interceptable Pass because Interceptable Passes have to be the quarterback’s fault. Plays where the quarterback is hit as he releases the ball are put into a separate category with other plays where the quarterback wasn’t the sole protagonist for the result of the play.
Keenum is a gunslinger. He wants to unleash the ball downfield every time he drops back in the pocket. The problem is Keenum’s arm can’t carry out the orders his brain offers up. He’s not a structured quarterback, he thinks he’s Brett Favre.
He is happy to hold the ball in and outside of the pocket while showing off the athleticism and elusiveness to create time in space.
In the above play, Keenum’s first option is Todd Gurley in the flat. His throwing lane is disrupted and there is a linebacker waiting for Gurley so he makes a smart decision to pull the ball down. Once he turns infield, he is confronted with a defensive lineman. He has nobody open downfield but doesn’t panic.
Noting the point of the game is important at this point. It’s First-and-10 late in the first quarter with the game tied 0-0. Keenum can scramble at an angle to his right for four or five yards, maybe more if he eludes a defender in space. Instead, he winds up and heaves the ball downfield.
The problem is, Keenum’s downfield throw doesn’t travel downfield as much as it travels up into the sky. His pass is severely underthrown.
Jared Cook would have had a chance to run underneath a long touchdown throw if Keenum had executed this play correctly. Instead he has to recognize the flight of the ball and work back to it to draw the defensive pass interference penalty. Even though this throw worked out well for the offense, it wasn’t a good one from Keenum.
That game against the Baltimore Ravens was Keenum’s first start of the season and he was intent on making the most out of it by being aggressive.
On this play from early in the second quarter, Keenum looks to push the ball down the left sideline. He needs to lead Tavon Austin deep down the sideline to give him any chance at making a play on this ball. His pass floats and arrives too far infield, asking a receiver who can’t win contested catches to pull the ball away from the waiting defensive back.
Austin can’t make an unlikely catch but does enough to prevent the interception.
Keenum threw four touchdowns last season. One came in this game on a designed throwback after play action where his target was left completely alone downfield. He could afford to float that pass because there wasn’t a defender around to disrupt him. The misdirection of the Rams offense could again be seen on this play, but this time Keenum’s arm strength was a problem.
Britt was in behind the defense for a long touchdown on a good throw. A bad throw gave him the chance to work back through the defender for pass interference. Britt did that and the official threw the flag, but Keenum’s pass was so bad it was deemed uncatchable.
It’s not that Keenum is completely incapable of making precise deep throws, it’s just that his arm strength makes him extremely inconsistent.
The first of these two throws is physically more impressive even though it’s a shorter one than the second. What makes the second so notable is the defender he’s throwing at. Keenum’s mindset isn’t to avoid defensive backs such as Richard Sherman. He always believes he can beat them.
For better or worse, that’s who he is.
Keenum isn’t a precision passer. He doesn’t mitigate pressure in the pocket with subtle movement and he stares down his first option too often. He’s not Tyrod Taylor, a starting-caliber quarterback who was forced to wait until later in his career to prove himself.
In 2013, Keenum started eight games for the Houston Texans and played largely how he played for the Rams this past season. He returned to the Texans late on during the 2014 season to start another two games having spent time on the Rams roster during the regular season.
Forgetting about the Rams and their apparent apathy towards their own starting quarterback would be easy, but we shouldn’t do that. The Rams are competent quarterback play away from being a legitimate threat in the NFC. They may have lost pieces but they still possess transcendent talents on both sides of the ball.
During his rookie season, Todd Gurley quickly established himself as one of the best backs in the NFL. He is the type of transcendent talent who makes everyone around him better by just being on the field. Run blocking is easier because of his creativity while throwing the ball downfield should be easier because of how the run game dictates the defense’s personnel/alignment.
Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn are not just two of the best players in the league at their positions, they are two of the 10 best defensive players in the NFL. Not only do they excel as individuals, but paired together they can completely destroy opposing offense’s gameplans, both disrupting the designs of running plays and the pockets of quarterbacks.
The Rams have a lot of moving pieces, especially in their back seven on defense, but the pieces they lost should all be replaceable if they can figure out the quarterback position.
Figuring it out shouldn’t involve Keenum as a starter for any length of time.
The Quarterback Numbers used in this chart can be found in the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue 2016.