Clutch City Talk: Case Keenum’s Ceiling
We are two games into the Case Keenum era of Texans football, and it seems the entire city of Houston has jumped on his bandwagon. But the question remains: how high is Case Keenum’s ceiling? Is he a franchise quarterback, or is he simply a stopgap until we can find the next guy?
[Warning: this is a long one. If you're a reader of the tl;dr variety, here's the CliffsNotes.
Jonathan Mok believes in Case Keenum. Albert Nguyen thinks he's the second coming of Tony Romo. David Chou thinks sticking with Case will set the franchise back a decade. Zaneta Loh loves Keenum but is waiting for him to show the world that he can win games in the NFL.]
Like I’ve said before, Case Keenum has been thrown into the perfect situation. He’s started two straight games that the team was “supposed to lose” anyway, and we found a way to lose both. His stats have been spectacular thus far, and since he’s essentially a rookie, nobody is throwing the blame his way for either of the losses. It took me three plays into his second game to know that this kid is the real deal, though. He isn’t the fast enough to join a track meet, but his mobility and poise in and out of the traditional pocket allow him to extend plays that for most other quarterbacks (ahem, Matt Schaub) would have ended with a harmless throw out of bounds. Of course he has a lot to learn, especially with reading blitzes, but I see his ceiling as an above average quarterback in the league who can make every throw and be productive even when plays break down. I know it’s taboo for me to say it, especially as a Houstonian, but the kid reminds me a lot of Tony Romo. (Sorry, for all those calling him “Drew Brees lite,” I just don’t see the comparisons other than his height.) His narrative is nearly identical to the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback’s, but since I know Albert will be touching on that below, I’ll step aside and let him do his thing. Bottom line? I’m a believer in Case Keenum and wouldn’t use a high draft pick in 2014 on a QB.
Admittedly, I follow the Houston Texans from afar, so I can only speak from my point of view. They are not the team I root for (how bout them Cowboys!), but I do wish them a little bit of success for the sake of my friends and family in H-Town because it’s still Texas. With all that being said, it still doesn’t feel to me that the Case Keenum era is 100% here just yet. It’s obviously a lot tougher to defend Schaub nowadays, however I wholeheartedly believe that if the Texans were in contention, he would still be the starting quarterback. But this piece isn’t about Matt Schaub.
Being a Cowboys fan, I’ve gone through all the ups and downs you can imagine during Tony Romo’s tenure under center. He’s brought us back from multiple touchdown deficits in the fourth quarter, he’s thrown interceptions at the absolute most inopportune times, he’s led us to a playoff victory, and he’s been on the short end of countless December disappointments.
Ultimately, he is still considered by many to be a top-flight quarterback in the NFL, and he’s going to end up making 9 figures for his career. With all of his accomplishments and feats, he has undeniably paved the way for none other than Case Keenum. Just check out these eerily similar parallels between the two:
Didn’t play at a big-time college football school and went undrafted before getting picked up as a free agent — check.
Tony Romo: Eastern Illinois University
Case Keenum: University of Houston
Replaced an ex-Pro Bowl QB in middle of the season due to ineffectiveness and injuries — check.
Tony Romo: Drew Bledsoe
Case Keenum: Matt Schaub
Has a Hall-of-Fame wide receiver who is starting to lose some ability, but has enough left in the tank to show doubters that he is still in the upper echelon at his position — check.
Tony Romo: Terrell Owens
Case Keenum: Andre Johnson
Has a running back tandem that defenses fear, but never seems to be completely healthy — check.
Tony Romo: Julius Jones / Marion Barber III
Case Keenum: Arian Foster / Ben Tate
Has a truly dynamic, game-changing player on defense that is not getting enough help — check.
Tony Romo: DeMarcus Ware
Case Keenum: J.J. Watt
Has a coaching staff that has lost some of its players — check. (Wade Phillips has been a part of both organizations!)
Tony Romo: Bill Parcells
Case Keenum: Gary Kubiak
Has a front office that is simply too loyal to a fault — check.
Tony Romo: Jerry Jones
Case Keenum: Bob McNair
Because I’ve personally lived and experienced this EXACT narrative before, I do have one piece of advice to all my Texans fans — enjoy the first couple years while it lasts. Trust me, it was awesome rooting for someone who can actually move around the pocket (the opposite of Bledsoe and Schaub), someone who trusted his receivers and gave them a chance to make plays, and someone that looked like he was having fun doing it. From Jessica Simpson to Carrie Underwood to Candace Crawford, Tony Romo definitely lived it up as the starting quarterback of the Cowboys.
But flash can only carry you so far. Expectations will come. And with expectations, disappointments will follow. Let’s hope Case can make 3 Pro Bowls, hold every franchise passing record, lead his team to the playoffs in 3 of the first 4 years, and have the 5th highest passer rating in NFL history. If he even comes close, I’d consider that a victory.
Case Keenum. Now there’s a name tailor-made for headlines. A Case for Keenum. A Case for… okay maybe it isn’t so easy to come up with those ESPN headlines. I have another one, though. How about, Houston’s Quarterback Headcase.
Starting quarterback in the NFL is a job title held by 32 people in the world. It is the single most important position, arguably, in all of sports. The right quarterback can anchor a franchise and a city for a decade. A “storied franchise” has a primary protagonist, a leading man, a legend…
Case Keenum is not the answer. The scariest thing about Keenum’s “success” is the rapid reaction, bandwagon mentality that embodies society today and Houston in general. That’s not the scariest thing, I lied. This is a franchise that stuck with David Carr for five full seasons and then moved onto Michael Vick’s backup for another six seasons before giving Matt Schaub franchise quarterback money.
Imagine if Keenum actually wins a game. At a minimum, it’ll eat into four of J.J. Watt’s best years. Like the great Andre Johnson, it’ll become a question of what could have been.
Now let’s cut to it:
- Keenum hasn’t done a gosh darn thing. He hasn’t won a game. He “kept it close” with the Chiefs in Arrowhead (a game I watched intently for about 1200 reasons). He blew a 21-point lead at home on Sunday night.
- Keenum did not face a single blitz in the first half or maybe first three quarters of the game against the Chiefs. They straight up did not blitz him. I have no idea why. I maintain that Andy Reid is either i.) on the take or ii.) resting up his weary defense. When they decided to bring the pressure? Keenum became who we thought he was: almost turning the ball over once before turning the ball over. The Kansas City Chiefs were messing with us. Sad, but true.
- I said it over and over again to anyone who would listen. One person pretended to listen, but she didn’t care. The Colts, under Chuck Pagano – a real guru on defense – would mix it up and blitz the crap out of Keenum in the 2nd half.
- Keenum took everyone by surprise, including me. I expected a run-first mentality. I expected big things from Ben Tate. I think so did everyone else. What exactly did Keenum do in the first half? He threw the ball as far as he could and told Andre Johnson to go get it. Sure, it is something Schaub couldn’t do — but make no mistake, this was Andre Johnson torching and out-muscling the Colts secondary. I was scared. I really was, because every time Johnson hauled in one of Keenum’s bombs, I didn’t know if he was going to get up.This is the crux of it all: Dre isn’t going to get up one of these games. I’m not just being a dick here, we’re both picturing the Yates bomb last year. Mistaking Johnson’s display of transcendent talent for Keenum’s is a grave error that will be apparent by the end of the season (Johnson won’t finish the season 100%). Let’s put this into perspective.
- Keenum hit DeVier Posey for 11 yards before going 62 yards, 16 yards, 41 yards, 18 yards, 18 yards again, 30 yards to Johnson. Are you kidding me? A 7-yard pass to Graham was followed by another 5-yard pass to Johnson. In the first half, Keenum threw for 208 yards — 190 to Johnson. This wasn’t great quarterbacking. It would be a huge mistake to see this as an awesome array of quarterbacking know-how. It was a great wide receiver making it happen.
The big picture is at stake here: Johnson is entering the twilight of his career. I don’t care how deep his voice is, the guy has miles on miles. The Texans paid him. Arian was a complete workhorse, a total animal for the last three years. The Texans paid him. Schaub was Schaub. The Texans paid him. Ed Reed won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and probably wanted to retire. The Texans paid him. The entire offensive line has lost a step each season (actually, one side of the line got lost completely and was replaced). Brian Cushing had the superstar potential to pass-rush or drop back as an ILB — the Texan paid him, and who knows when he’s going to play again.
It is time to hit reset. If the Colts could hit reset on Peyton Manning — Peyton freakin’ Manning — the Texans must be able to hit reset on Gary Kubiak, on Matt Schaub, on Andre Johnson, on Arian Foster, on the O-line, on Brian Cushing (he hasn’t done crap, why am I even including him?). The Texans must be able to hit the power button on Randy Bullock and Case Keenum. At best, Keenum’s ceiling is a less athletic, less mobile Tony Romo. His floor — we’ll see his floor this week against Arizona.
There’s this guy, Aaron Murray, entering the draft. Time to rebuild.
Not that long ago, people would look at me like I was crazy when they saw the Texans jersey I bought had Case Keenum’s name on it (back when you had to customize it because it wasn’t sold in the team shop yet). I was advised against picking up Keenum in fantasy football, and definitely against keeping him on the bench instead of dropping him on the bye week.
But fresh off a 3-touchdown, 350-yard performance from Keenum in the Texans’ 27-24 loss to the Colts on Sunday, suddenly I don’t look so crazy.
More people are becoming convinced that Keenum is a keeper. He’s got the mobility to extend plays, the arm to make big passes and the poise to get the team into a winning position at the end of the game (Theoretically. With the Texans’ kicking personnel, perhaps Houston should have tried the Hail Mary instead of the long field goal). He is featured on NFL.com’s “Beast Plays” and was a trending topic on Twitter in the United States after the game. It seems most people people are pretty impressed with his second showing in the NFL.
Me? I’m actually a little disappointed.
Not because those stats aren’t impressive – they are. I just know he’s capable of even more. If you watched Keenum play in college, those stats are what you’ve come to expect. Picking apart defenses, getting the ball to his receivers downfield, using his feet – that’s all normal. Three touchdowns before halftime? Normal. Making it on third and long? Normal. Not winning? Not that normal, especially not in his last season with the Houston Cougars (13-1, 8-1 Conference USA).
The win is the stat that matters the most, both to the team and to Keenum. And that’s something Houston did not get.
It matters because as happy as the fans are now, it’s also a false sense of happiness. It’s been so many weeks since the Texans have even been competitive that suddenly, “coming close” or “having a chance to win” is acceptable. Before this season started, though, the mantra was “Superbowl or bust.” Eventually, that’s where Texans fans will get back to. When they do, I want Keenum leading the team. In order for that to happen, he needs to get some wins under his belt, especially in last-minute, high-pressure situations.
I know the starting job has only been his for two weeks, but I’m already thinking about Keenum’s long-term future with the Texans: I don’t just want him to finish out this season, I want him around forever.
I want to watch him play for years to come, because there are so many things that make him exciting, thrilling and just plain old fun to watch. The energy. The fearlessness. The ability to scramble. Those baby blue eyes…
So I’m waiting (a little impatiently) for him to show that he can not only compete, but win in this league. He did it with the Cougars and he can do it with the Houston Texans. And maybe even turn my fantasy teams around along the way.
So there you have it. Who do you believe?
Thanks for the input, Albert Nguyen, David Chou, and Zaneta Loh. I hope we can all (David and Zaneta) still be friends.
@StacyChu understatement of the year
@Albert Nguyen @DavidChou Not truth. Case Keenum spent exactly 6 years in college - one as a redshirt freshmen, three full years playing, and then was injured in the third game of his fourth year as a student-athlete. (He didn't even play the full three games, as the first was a blowout and he was injured halfway through the third game). He sat out the rest of that year and was then granted eligibility for a fifth year of playing football by the NCAA for medical hardship.
I'm not math major - in fact, I was basically the opposite as a journalism major and sports editor in college - but by no account is that "like 8 years." Sorry, boys!