With the revelation today that the Houston Texans have chosen Case Keenum as their Week 7 starter, the Kansas City Chiefs get only two days of preparation for a quarterback who has yet to start an NFL game. Keenum, a second-year undrafted quarterback out of the University of Houston, resembles Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub in many ways.
Both are middling-armed quarterbacks, known for their cerebral approach to the game. Keenum comes from a pass-happy spread offense in college, though, and is learning to operate within the confines of the Texans' zone rushing attack.
The Texans' Revised Game Plan with Keenum
Putting the ball in Keenum's hands likely means a bit of a revised game plan for the Texans. They may take a vertical shot early, to try to keep the Chiefs defense from pinning their ears back, but look for Houston to play mostly conservative early.
The Texans are a heavy zone-run team, so look for large doses of Arian Foster and Ben Tate early in the game. This will help get Keenum acclimated to the atmosphere of a big-time NFL game, and if effective, it will help Houston set up one of its favorite plays, the play-action bootleg.
As you can see from the diagram, the Texans like to set up in a traditional run formation, in this case the "I" formation. They then execute what looks like an outside zone run to the strong side of the play. However, in this instance, instead of handing the ball off, the quarterback doubles back across the formation with the ball. He then has his choice of three routes to throw to, or to tuck the ball and run with it.
Keenum does have a bit of mobility to his game. While he'll never be mistaken for Michael Vick or Russell Wilson, he is able to pick up short yardage with his legs. This highlight video of Keenum's preseason work, courtesy of HoustonTexans.com, helps illustrate that.
How the Kansas City Defense Can Shut Down Case Keenum
Shutting down one of the Texans' favorite plays will require two things the Chiefs have: the ability to pressure up front and speed from the linebackers and secondary. In the diagram below, I've outlined a potential solution for Kansas City.
Allow the defensive line and outside linebackers to progress with the natural flow of the play. Have the strong safety and inside linebackers read the tight end, instead of the ball-carrier on the play. If the tight end commits to block, the linebackers and safety bite down on the runner, as would be called for on a run.
If they read the tight end jumping into a route, the strong safety and right inside linebacker head for the weak-side flat. The linebacker sets up a shallow zone that he will sink into, to deny the pass to the tight end. The strong safety pursues the quarterback, while the free safety sets up in a deep zone. The corners play both wide receivers in man coverage.
There is inherent danger in this defensive call, as it leaves the backside vulnerable to a halfback of fullback wheel route, but given the quarterback's back would be to it, it is an acceptable risk if the pressure can get there.
Keenum also doesn't have the strongest of arms, so the idea that he's going to throw back across his body, vertically down the field, shouldn't be something that should scare the Chiefs.