Case Keenum is the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL.
He’s also the 10th-most pressured, according to Pro Football Focus.
Keenum is playing some of his best football right now because he’s largely comfortable in a scheme tailored to some of his strengths, including his ability to run. Moving pockets, rollouts and improvising have been staples with a Keenum-led offense, which hit full steam before two bad decisions led to two interceptions on Sunday in Washington. Overall, Keenum’s strong day featured a career-high four touchdown passes and a season-low two hits against the blitz-happy Redskins. For the fifth time in seven games, he was not sacked.
Quite the Houdini act the Vikings have going on at quarterback.
“We’ve done a nice job protection-wise,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Jerick [McKinnon] had a couple of nice blocks in there. Latavius [Murray] did as well and we’re changing up protections and I think that has helped Case quite a bit, as far as if we end up seeing some blitzes and being able to change protections to different things. I think that’s helped quite a bit.”
The quarterback’s freedom at the line of scrimmage has often been a reason cited for the offense’s improvement, pass protection included. After some initial speed bumps, the communication has been impressive between Keenum and a line centered by rookie Pat Elflein.
Let’s take a look at how the Vikings and Keenum have made him a Teflon quarterback, which was again a key to his success during Sunday’s Vikings win in Washington. We’ll give Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout and Director of Scouting Development at The Scouting Academy, an off week. You should still follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Hatman.
The supporting cast had a stellar day in Washington. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan were singled out by Zimmer in his postgame comments. The opening 51-yard deep strike to Stefon Diggs was a prime example. Washington blitzes and gets the matchups, but loses them. Rudolph’s assignment below is not easy. He’s singled outside against edge rusher Preston Smith, second on Washington with 4.5 sacks, who rushes off the right side. The line shifts, Morgan holds up against the blitzing Will Compton and Diggs beats Josh Norman downfield for the big gain.
Keeping a quarterback clean (0 sacks) for four full games, like the Vikings have Keenum, takes a village.
Play designs like Diggs’ 3-yard touchdown take some pressure off the offensive line. The Vikings bet on Keenum’s mobility with a moving pocket, made successful by Diggs’ ability to suddenly flash open after creating space on the defensive back. As our Ben Goessling noted in today’s paper, the Vikings scored all five touchdowns with different personnel groups. Here they go ’11’ personnel, or one running back and one tight end (three receivers), and spread things out inside the Washington 5-yard line.
Keenum’s agility, combined with a play call to take advantage of it, produces.
A left tackle you can leave alone and essentially forget about is a rare sight in this NFL full of freaky pass rushers. Credit Riley Reiff for the revival he’s enjoyed in Minnesota after the Lions kicked him to right tackle and then to the curb. Reiff had some shaky snaps on Sunday as protections seemed to help the other side of the line, where Rashod Hill started for Mike Remmers. One example was receiver Adam Thielen’s 38-yard grab. Keenum is affected by the pressure from Washington’s top rusher, Ryan Kerrigan, but Reiff is able to carry him outside just enough.
Reiff is one of the only left tackles to have not allowed a sack this season, according to PFF.
Keenum’s improvising can be a double-edged sword. For instance, one of the two hits he took Sunday should be considered his fault for backpedaling, which got him in trouble earlier this season in Pittsburgh. But in Washington, Keenum created and scored while on the run. Keenum’s 7-yard touchdown throw to Thielen came after Kerrigan got the edge on Hill at right tackle, so the quarterback sprinted underneath and fired a bullet pass to Thielen. Right guard Joe Berger also gets a solid shot on defensive tackle Chris Baker, causing a pileup.
When Keenum climbs the pocket, he’s capable of making plays like this. He’s also been impressive throwing on the run.
Extra points: We’re going to add onto this post, because we can!
Setting a trap. You had to like what you saw Sunday around 1:30 p.m. The Vikings scored the fourth of five red-zone touchdowns (entered Week 10 just 19th in red-zone efficiency) off a smart play by the coaching staff. Teams need to be mindful of tendencies and the Vikings set a trap for Washington, perhaps by way of some extra time during the bye week. Morgan’s 1-yard touchdown catch was a tweaked version of McKinnon’s 1-yard touchdown run in their last game against the Browns.
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) November 13, 2017
Unbalanced fronts helped the Vikings run game churn out more than 100 yards without a link in injured right tackle Mike Remmers. Hill fared well in replacement Sunday, in part because of a game plan that allowed him to work in tighter spaces and some double teams when he was on the frontside of plays. At least on five snaps, Reiff moved to the right side for runs that way. They netted 30 yards for the Vikings, or a 6-yard average above the 3.7-yard average for the game.
Below is the formation for McKinnon’s 10-yard run off the right edge to the Washington 5-yard line, which eventually set up Stefon Diggs’ touchdown catch. Morgan replaces Reiff at left tackle. Nick Easton pulls around the four linemen to his right and leads behind fullback C.J. Ham. Easton, returning from a three-game absence, made his presence known.