Breaking Down Case Keenum’s Debut Performance

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]One of the most surprising and controversial free agent signings in March happened when John Elway and the Denver Broncos signed the first quarterback of the offseason.

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two year, $36 million deal and were hoping to regain stability and leadership at the most important position on the field.

Keenum has been known as a gunslinger dating back to college where he was setting all-time NCAA passing records for the Houston Cougars.

Keenum’s 22 to 7 touchdown to interception ratio last year as quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings wouldn’t suggest Keenum to be a risky quarterback.

Viking fans would tell you that’s a different story.

Bronco fans got their first look at Keenum against the Seattle Seahawks.

A lot has been made of the Seahawks defense this offseason with the holdout of Earl Thomas, the departures of Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett, and the retirement of Kam Chancellor.

The best years of the vaunted Seattle defense and Legion of Boom are behind us.

Nevertheless, the Seahawks defense is still that scrappy athletic force featuring their famous Cover 3 scheme that has been taken and copied by multiple teams throughout the league.

A great test for a new quarterback.

Keenum’s stat line paints a perfect picture of what to expect as the Broncos quarterback.

Some good play, some bad play but overall a level of consistency that has the potential to get better with time and reps.

While he may not be Peyton Manning, he’s also not Brock Osweiler or Trevor Siemian.

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At first glance, this looks like a terrible decision and throw by Keenum.It appears as if Keenum threw it right to Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (#27) on this play, but let’s break it down and try to piece together the decision.

Denver comes out in a 12 personnel set, motioning tight end Jeff Heuerman (#82) across to the right side, balancing out the formation. Seattle comes out in their base Cover 3 defense. Demaryius Thomas (#88) is the targeted receiver on the play and runs a go route. Keenum begins his five step drop and scans the field left to right before he unloads a pass in Thomas’ direction. Thomas never looks for the ball and Earl Thomas has one of the easiest interceptions of his career. The quarterback and wide receiver were out of sync. Keenum reads the Cover 3 defense and expects Demaryius Thomas to cut underneath the safety so that Keenum can fit a throw between the Seahawks zone. Thomas doesn’t respond to the coverage and runs straight down field into double coverage, resulting in an easy pick for Earl Thomas.

Even if Demaryius Thomas is on the same page as Keenum, it’s still a ball forced into coverage. Keenum misses a safer throw underneath to an uncovered running back in the flat.

Keenum and offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, came into this game with a great game plan to beat Seattle’s Cover 3. The Broncos used many short underneath concepts to take advantage of matchups allowing them to dink and dunk their way to points.

Denver’s first touchdown of the game came from a simple flat curl concept involving running back Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield.

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Denver comes out in 11 personnel with Jeff Heuerman (#82) split out wide and DaeSean Hamilton (#17) in the slot to the boundary. Running back Phillip Lindsay (#30) is lined up to Keenum’s left. Musgrave dials up a flat curl combination with Lindsay and Heuerman and a corner route over the top from Hamilton. Seattle linebacker Shaquem Griffin (#49), a rookie starting his first NFL game, is confused by the motion from Emmanuel Sanders (#10) across the formation and by all the movement from his teammates.

Griffin ends up missing his assignment and Keenum capitalizes by hitting a wide open Lindsay in the flat.

Lindsay picks up a great block from Hamilton and blazes a trail into the end zone for Keenum and Lindsay’s first touchdown as members of the Broncos.

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One of Keenum’s better plays of the day also resulted in six for Denver.

Denver is in 11 personnel with the two receivers to the field side in Emmanuel Sanders (#10) and Courtland Sutton (#14). The two wideouts run a double dig concept to perfection. The play starts with the play action fake by Keenum. He’s able to suck the linebackers in towards the line of scrimmage, opening a huge hole in the middle of the field. The Seahawks are running a 4 deep coverage. Earl Thomas is playing the field side safety opposite the two receivers and is responsible for any routes from those receivers that cross the field. He quickly recognizes Sutton is going to be crossing over the middle of the field and crashes down to try and cover the route. Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman (#28) is playing outside leverage of Sanders and is left out to dry when Sanders cuts across the middle of the field.

Keenum does a great job shifting both safeties with his eyes and patiently setting up a throw to Sanders.

Sanders does the rest on a sweet run after the catch, breaking a tackle, getting a nice block from a receiver, and scoring his first touchdown of 2018.

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Keenum would throw his second pick later in the quarter.

The Broncos had gone 41 yards in two plays as they tried to get another score before the end of the half. The snap is taken with 1:14 left on the clock and Denver is already in Brandon McManus’ field goal range.

Denver is in 11 personnel and are trying to attack the middle of the field with crossing routes from Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jake Butt (#80). Sanders is running a drag from the left slot and Butt is running a dig route 10 yards down the field. The thought is to get Seattle’s defenders bunched up in the middle of the field with one receiver breaking free across the field. Seattle is in single-high man coverage with five defensive backs on the field. Linebacker Bobby Wagner (#54) does a great job disrupting Sanders’ route and safety Bradley McDougald (#30) has the speed advantage as he’s trailing Butt in man coverage. Keenum does not see anyone open as he drops back. He even looks for his check down, Devontae Booker (#23), in the flat before he’s pressured. Due to the pressure he forces a throw across his body.

Keenum has no business making this throw, especially given the situation.

Keenum would throw one more pick due to another risky decision and bad throw. Despite his mistake, Keenum would eventually lead the late game-winning touchdown drive by threading the needle on a throw to Demaryius Thomas in the end zone.

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One of Keenum’s strengths as a quarterback is his ability to stay calm and maneuver the pocket.

The Broncos face a third and five and once again are in 11 personnel, this time with a close slot bunch with Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Tim Patrick (#81) to the field side. Denver runs a mesh concept underneath a downfield dagger concept, giving Keenum plenty of options to convert a first down. The Seahawks are in a Cover 3 zone defense. The dagger concept is a Cover 3 killer and you can see why in the clip above.

Bradley McDougald slides towards the line of scrimmage to get on top of Demaryius Thomas’ route. Earl Thomas is forced to take Emmanuel Sanders up field on the go route leaving the middle of the field wide open. Patrick easily separates from cornerback Shaquill Griffin (#26) on his dig route.

Keenum recognizes this while the Seahawks’ pressure on the edges is closing on him. Calmly and confidently, Keenum slides up in the pocket waiting for Patrick to break open.

He then uncorks a 20 yard ball that is thrown slightly above but ultimately and inexcusably dropped by Patrick. Keenum’s poise and pocket presence is a sight for Broncos fan’s sore eyes.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Conclusion

Case Keenum was himself in his first game as the Denver Broncos signal caller. He made the right reads, found open receivers and delivered catchable balls for receivers for touchdowns.

He also forced balls and was not on the same page with his receivers at all times.

But what Keenum showed in his poise and confidence has this Denver Broncos team feeling different than the other teams we have seen post-Peyton.

When previous quarterbacks would turn the ball over, it was a feeling of hopelessness and déjà vu. Keenum’s resolve and leadership gave the Broncos and their fans a sense of hope they’ve been longing for from a quarterback.

A shaky first week of action for the new field general but a lot to be hopeful and excited about on the gridiron in the Mile High city.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeSchwanitz. Check out the rest of his work here, including his look at Oklahoma State running back Justice HillMiami (OH) wide receiver James Gardner and Colorado safety Evan Worthington.

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