Case Keenum and Beating Pocket Pressure

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Minnesota Vikings, led by surprise free agent acquisition Case Keenum, look like one of a handful of teams that can compete for the Super Bowl. On Thanksgiving, Case Keenum put on a show for a national audience, and while the Vikings still looked like they’re eventually going to hand the reigns to Teddy Bridgewater, Keenum has been incredibly efficient for the Vikings.  

One thing Keenum has done well, and it was noticeable during Thanksgiving especially, is avoid sacks in the pocket. A tweet from PFF’s Ryan Smith made me want to turn back and watch the film from the Vikings games, and see just how well Keenum has made plays under pressure while the starter for the Vikings.

Keenum has avoided sacks better than many NFL quarterbacks during this incredible stretch, and it’s not all scrambling out of the pocket. Keenum has been able to gain yards on the ground, but has also been able to move within the pocket to avoid pressure and stand through contact as he’s throwing for big plays down the field.

Everyone probably saw this first play, whether between courses on Thanksgiving or on Twitter.

Keenum (#7) and the Vikings are facing a 3rd and 6 at their own 24 yard line early in the game against the Detroit Lions. Minnesota has 11 personnel on the field, with a slot formation to the left, a tight inverted slot formation to the right, and Keenum in the shotgun with running back Jerick McKinnon (#21). The Lions are showing blitz up the middle, and one deep safety, signalling possible man coverage.

At the snap, all the receivers will release vertically as Detroit bails on their blitz look and drops into Cover 3. The receivers at the bottom of the screen will run a bit of a switch concept, with tight end Kyle Rudolph (#82) running an out route from the inside of the formation and Adam Thielen (#19) running a dig route from the outside of the formation. At the top of the screen, Laquon Treadwell (#11) will run a deep curl route on the outside and Stefon Diggs (#14) will run a dig route from the slot.

The impressive thing on this play though, is Keenum’s poise. When he hits the top of his drop, the switch concept at the bottom of the screen does not yet look promising. Plus, there’s already pressure mounting, specifically Ezekiel Ansah (#94) winning with an inside counter move against the left tackle and Kasim Edebali (#96) winning with a speed rush against the right tackle.

Keenum though, bails to his left before stepping up in the pocket, all with his eyes downfield. He finds Thielen coming open on the dig route for a gain of 14 and a first down.

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Fox had a great camera angle on the broadcast, showing what happened in the pocket from right above the QB. You can see Keenum masterfully manipulate the pocket, find space for a throw and deliver a strike downfield.

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Now, one more play from the Detroit game where Keenum avoids pressure in the pocket.

Here, Minnesota is faced with a 3rd and 4 from their own 27 yard line while leading by 4 points. They have an empty formation, with trips to the left and an inverted slot formation to the right. Detroit is showing Cover 6 in the backfield, and look poised to rush 4 without a blitz.

Detroit will indeed bring 4 pass rushers on this play, but will run a zone blitz with Cover 2 in the backfield to do it, with slot corner Teez Tabor (#30) blitzing from overtop of Adam Thielen in the slot.

Minnesota is unable to pick the blitz up, and Tabor runs totally free at Keenum and should have an easy sack.

But Keenum beautifully avoids the sack, stepping forward just as Tabor flies by him. He resets his feet as he starts his throwing motion, knowing he has Thielen open on a hook route. In one fluid motion he dumps it off to his receiver for a first down and a gain of 10 yards.

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Again, the replay again shows just how nice a play this was from Keenum.

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One more thing that impressed me about Keenum’s tape? His ability to hang in against pressure and take a hit as he throws.

This play from the Vikings’ Week 8 game against the Cleveland Browns is a great example of it. They have 22 personnel on the field, with two tight ends on the right, two backs in an i-formation and Thielen split to the left.

The Vikings will run play action, and Thielen (#19) will run a corner route from the left, and TE Kyle Rudolph (#82) will run a deep dig. After faking a run, RB Latavius Murray (#25) will release to the left flat. Cleveland will run Cover 1 man coverage in the backfield.

Keenum will drop back and immediately look to Thielen on the corner route, but feels pressure from defensive tackle T.Y. McGill (#97) at the top of his drop. The QB buys himself just enough time with a small, subtle move at the top of his drop, sliding to his right for a little bit more room.

Keenum then throws a looping pass off his back foot to Thielen, and drops it over the top of cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun (#20) for a gain of 33 yards.

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So that’s 3 plays that show off just how well Keenum is winning from the pocket, and his ability to extend plays even without, well… elite athleticism.

The Vikings are rolling right now, and Keenum is a big reason why.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work here, including his look at Oregon’s curl-post passing concept, the Utah Utes’ use of the go/flat concept, and his study of what effect making a pre-draft visit has on being drafted.

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