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Minnesota Vikings Are Super Bowl Contenders Even with Legit QB Controversy

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystNovember 12, 2017

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) warms up as teammate Teddy Bridgewater, right, looks on before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

Teddy Bridgewater's return to the Minnesota Vikings' active roster is one of Sunday's best stories. However, Case Keenum is the team's starting quarterback and should remain so, especially after his four-touchdown effort against the Washington Redskins

"I've got a plan," head coach Mike Zimmer said after the team's 38-30 victory, per Viking Update's Tim Yotter. "Sometimes plans change."

Players deserve to be rewarded for outstanding play, and the Vikings aren't in a position to make a change after Keenum's standout performance. 

The sixth-year veteran had opportunities to start at previous stops, but he never presented the long-term potential franchises prefer from the position. He still doesn't. Yet he's the best fit for what the Vikings do now—which is enough to keep Minnesota in the Super Bowl conversation. 

Quarterback is the focus of every organization, and the lack of a quality signal-caller often dooms most teams before they even step onto the field. 

The Vikings are flipping the script by relying on their run game and defense. The margin for error decreases with this approach, but other franchises such as the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have been successful in recent years and even championship-caliber by taking this exact approach.   

Granted, Keenum isn't Russell Wilson or even an aging Peyton Manning, but he's the perfect distributor in Pat Shurmur's offense at this point in time. 

His best can be exceptional even for a former undrafted free agent now with his third organization. The NCAA's all-time leading passer was deemed too small with not enough arm talent, yet he's found ways to make plays every time he's been allotted an opportunity. 

Keenum torched Washington's defense with 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. It's the second time this season since taking over for the injured Sam Bradford that Keenum surpassed the 300-yard plateau. 

In his seven starts, the Vikings are 5-2 overall—including a four-game winning streak—and Keenum owns a 63.5 completion percentage with 1,774 passing yards and a two-to-one (10-to-five overall) touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Of course, Zimmer has to reconsider his previous plans. Keenum forced him to do so, and the coach should be ecstatic a change isn't needed. 

A year ago, the offense fell apart around Bradford. The offensive line developed into a full-blown disaster. Adrian Peterson only played three games. And the skill positions lacked options. 

Bradford set an NFL record with a 71.4 completion percentage last season, and it didn't matter. Minnesota finished 8-8 overall and missed the postseason. 

However, the success he experienced translated to this year's team. 

Shurmur's offense is rooted in West Coast passing principles he once learned as an assistant under Andy Reid. The quarterback serves as point guard quickly getting the ball out of his hand and allowing the team's playmakers to create after the catch.  

Keenum doesn't need a cannon attached to his right shoulder. He can threaten defenses vertically after establishing a rhythm passing game, as seen in the following 49-yard completion to Adam Thielen, courtesy of NFL.com: 

NFL @NFL

.@casekeenum goes DEEP... Hello, @athielen19. Got 'em for 49. #Skol https://t.co/hQ1bogvMj5

The 29-year-old quarterback isn't without his faults. Keenum threw a pair of second-half interceptions that allowed Washington to remain within striking distance. 

"Me, myself, put us in a tough spot," he admitted, per Yotter

Keenum does have a little gunslinger in his makeup, even if he's not going to make anyone forget about Brett Favre. He's willing to force some throws into tight windows, yet he's at his best just serving as a precision passer making quick decisions and allowing the surrounding cast to accentuate his style of play.  

Bridgewater spent the early portions of his career before his knee injury taking the same approach. Peterson served as the team's focal point. Despite being a first-round pick, Bridgewater wasn't asked to carry the offense most of the time. In fact, Keenum already has as many 300-yard games in seven starts this year as Bridgewater did during the entire 2015 campaign. 

Peterson is no longer in the backfield, and the Vikings had to overcome Dalvin Cook's season-ending ACL injury, too. 

The group continues to grid out yards behind a much improved offensive line. Four new starters are now featured. Free-agent additions Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers are settled at offensive tackle. This year's third-round pick, Pat Elflein, has started all nine games. Nick Eastman also took over at left guard for Alex Boone, who was released prior to the regular season. 

Despite Cook's loss, the offensive line leads the way for the league's ninth-ranked rushing offense at 120 yards per game (although the group managed only 102 rushing yards Sunday). 

The passing game serves as an extension of the ground attack—which is perfectly suited for the Vikings' top two targets. Stefon Diggs is exceptional after the catch and leads the team at 16.1 yards per reception.

Meanwhile, Thielen has developed into something much more than a security blanket out of the slot. He entered this weekend's play with the league's seventh-most receiving yards (627). He added 166 more yards against Washington. 

A ball-control offenseboth in the run and pass games—forms a symbiotic relationship with a good defense. 

Last season, the Vikings finished third overall in total defense. They're better this season and give up 20.3 fewer yards and almost 0.9 points fewer per contest. Overall, the group entered Sunday's game with the fourth-ranked defense, third-best run performance and seventh against the pass. 

This isn't sexy football. 

Not every team can have a high-flying offense led by Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Instead, other approaches must be explored. 

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Zimmer is a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach. It comes as no surprise his team reflects his personality. What he has to avoid is creating a divide within the organization. 

"We'll see how it goes and we'll sit down this week and we'll visit about it and go from there," Zimmer said, per ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin

Bridgewater hasn't played a meaningful down since Jan. 3, 2016. Eventually, he'll get a chance to take over the offense and a team that is rightfully his, and everyone in and around the league will celebrate. 

There's no reason to rush this decision when the current starting quarterback is more than capable of fulfilling expectations. A strong ground game, a stifling defense and a game manager who does a little more when called upon can lead the Vikings to the promised land. 

This may not be the ideal approach, but it's perfect for Minnesota in 2017. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski

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