Case Keenum's Surprising Performance Deserves Encore Performance for Texans

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Case Keenum's Surprising Performance Deserves Encore Performance for Texans
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The biggest surprise from the Kansas City Chiefs' 17-16 victory over the Houston Texans last Sunday wasn't that the Chiefs remained undefeated. It was that a quarterback that hadn't yet thrown a regular season pass in his career stepped up and played well against the NFL's top scoring defense.

Texans quarterback Case Keenum turned a lot of heads on Sunday. 

Keenum, the undrafted second-year player out of the University of Houston, handled the noisy Arrowhead atmosphere and attacking Chiefs defense better than anyone could have anticipated. 

Texans coach Gary Kubiak knew what he was looking for from Keenum when he was named the starter over injured veteran Matt Schaub, via Doug Farrar of SI.com

“I didn’t hesitate, because I felt we needed a spark,” Kubiak said.

Keenum beat out T.J. Yates, who did start and win a playoff game for the Texans back in 2011, for the starting position as Schaub was ruled out of the game with an ankle injury.

Even with running back Arian Foster going down with a hamstring injury on the Texans first offensive drive, Keenum provided the spark that Kubiak was looking for and was able to move the ball on the stingy Chiefs defense. 

Keenum joins good company in recent young quarterbacks that have begun their careers on the road. 

Keenum vs other notable young QB's in first career start
Player COM ATT PER YDS TDS INTS
Case Keenum - 2013 15 25 60% 271 1 0
Andrew Luck - 2012 23 45 51% 309 1 3
Ryan Tannehill - 2012 20 36 56% 219 0 3
Robert Griffin III - 2012 19 26 73% 320 2 0
Russell Wilson - 2012 18 34 53% 153 1 1

NFL.com

The best numbers in this bunch come from Robert Griffin III, who had the luxury of playing the New Orleans Saints and their No. 31 ranked scoring defense in his first NFL start a year ago. 

Not to take anything away from Griffin's amazing rookie season, but looking at these numbers, it's fair to say that Keenum's right there with them after his first NFL start. 

Sure, it's a small sample size and we're only looking at basic statistics, but let's add some context to the situation. Coming into this game against the Chiefs, the Texans had lost four consecutive games by a combined 80 points, including the last two by more than 25 points each. 

So, when they headed to Kansas City to take on the NFL's top-rated defense without their starting quarterback, it's fair to say most people weren't Texans or Keenum believers right off the bat.

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But these people were proven wrong. 

Keenum showed poise in the pocket and used his above-average athletic ability to extend plays and find open receivers down the field. Keenum had several plays where he avoided the pass rush and bought time in the backfield and then was able to make a big play down the field.

Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison spoke before the game and knew Keenum's athletic ability would serve him well, via Doug Farrar of SI.com

"He’s one of those guys that scrambles and does a lot of great things without the ball, with the ball," Dennison said. "He understands the game and works very, very hard at it. He’s got a good arm and is very athletic."

While the Chiefs finished the game with five sacks, four of those didn't come until the fourth quarter. Early in this game, Keenum did well to avoid the pressure and was able to make big plays like the one you'll see below. 

It's 1st-and-10 early in the second half and the Texans are driving into Chiefs territory.

Keenum is lined up in the pistol formation just as he was most of the day and takes a deep drop on the play-action pass. Left tackle Duane Brown forces Hali up the field and keeps him from getting the edge. Keenum does the right thing and slides up into the pocket. 

Keenum still doesn't find anyone open down the field after sliding up in the pocket, and by that time, Hali has come all the way around to get a clean shot on him, but Keenum shows some nimble feet and avoids the pressure. 

You can see the tight end on the right side defended by outside linebacker Justin Houston about to break open, and Keenum sees that too. 

Once Keenum gets outside, he doesn't have time to set his feet with Chiefs defensive lineman Tyson Jackson bearing down on him. He flips the ball out to tight end Garrett Graham on the 27-yard completion. 

This was a perfectly thrown football on the run from Keenum after avoiding pressure. This set up a 1st-and-goal for the Texans. 

While a lot of the big plays that Keenum made were outside the pocket on broken-down plays, just like the one above, there weren't many designed plays to get him outside of the pocket. Maybe this was something the Chiefs learned and took advantage of as they went into the fourth quarter.

Here's a passing chart from Keenum versus the Chiefs that shows where he released each of his passes on the day. The red circles were completed passes, and the black circles were incomplete. 

Of the five passes thrown outside of the right guard, the only one that was incomplete was on the Texans first offensive drive and was nearly a wide-open touchdown for Graham. It was a play-action boot to the right that Keenum threw deep back to the left and just missed Graham for a huge gain. 

One of the two 42-yard passes that Keenum completed on the day went to receiver Andre Johnson on a busted play where Keenum rolled out to the right. 

That's where a lot of the Texans big plays came from, Keenum using his athleticism to extend the play. Even if they weren't designed boots or rollouts, he showed a great ability to throw on the run from multiple body angles and positions. The Texans should use that moving forward if he remains the starter. 

And Keenum played well enough to earn another shot to start after the Texans bye week, when they take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football. 

Texans owner Bob McNair was impressed with the young signal caller after the game, via UltimateTexans.com.

“I thought he did a hell of a job,” McNair said. “He was outstanding. If we’d have given him better protection at the end, I think he’d have gotten us down the field again."

Any time the owner speaks that highly of a player, you'd think that'd be a good sign for him moving forward. That would also make this a good sign for the Texans. 

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