Sometimes a player just needs a big day to get things going, and that is just why the schedule makers put the Detroit Lions on your docket. Dave Archibald details the excellent day Rams quarterback Case Keenum had against the Detroit Lions and wonders what it will lead to for the former backup signal caller.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum wasn’t exactly lighting things up heading into his team’s Week 6 tilt at the Detroit Lions, completing less than 58% of his passes through five games with four touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 75.4. It looked like only a matter of time before the team handed the starting job to top overall pick Jared Goff, but Keenum had other ideas, shredding an injury-depleted Lions defense for 27 completions on 32 attempts (84.4% completion), 321 yards, and three touchdowns. The bulk of Keenum’s production came during an impressive stretch spanning from early in the second quarter until midway through the fourth when he completed 19 consecutive passes.
Tale of the Tape
Keenum’s 19-pass streak broke down as follows:
Many of the passes were short, with Keenum attacking the flats with his running backs and tight end Lance Kendricks. He also hit on a couple deep passes to Kenny Britt. The streak spanned five drives, three ending in touchdowns (one a run by Keenum), one a three-and-out, and one that ended with a Lions goal-line stand on the 1-yard line.
Few streaks lack blemishes entirely, and Keenum’s was no exception. The 28-year-old threw three incompletions that were called back because of penalty, including one on the Rams. He also fell victim to a strip-sack and scrambled three times, though he did score a touchdown and pick up another first down running.
Eight of Keenum’s 19 completions targeted the flat, which Detroit largely left open in its zone concepts. Most of these plays were checkdowns, but some were designs to get Keenum easy throws to his backs:
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The play immediately preceding this was a jet sweep to speedy receiver Tavon Austin that picked up 8 yards. That sets up Austin (#11), initially lined up on the inside slot, to motion left-to-right across the formation as if to take another jet sweep. Instead, Keenum (#17) pulls the ball back and tosses to running back Todd Gurley (#30) in the left flat. The fake draws middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (#59) to the right side for a moment, and Gurley gets blocks from receivers on the left side. He rumbles down to the 1-yard line before Whitehead can force him out, setting up a touchdown on the next play.
Keenum didn’t attempt a deep pass until his 15th throw of the day, his sixth attempt in the completion streak, but he made it count:
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On 2nd-and-13, Keenum sees a matchup he likes, with Britt (#18) matched up on Detroit cornerback Darius Slay (#23). The Lions show two deep safeties but roll to Cover 1, with safety Rafael Bush (#31) the deep man. Britt angles his route toward the middle of the field, where Slay has safety help, but then bends his route to the outside on the corner route. His cut puts distance between him and Slay, and Keenum drops a perfect throw in the bucket for a 43-yard gain.
Keenum hit Britt later in the game for 47 yards on an identical route, this time working against Johnson Bademosi. Britt somehow hauled in the well-placed pass with one hand to defeat Bademosi’s tight coverage. Keenum connected with Kendricks on a 15-yard touchdown on another corner route. These three plays accounted for nearly half the yardage in the 19-completion streak.
Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras and Keenum deserve a lot of credit for their success, but the Lions defense helped them with blown coverages:
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The Rams run a bootleg off play action, and Keenum spots Brian Quick (#83) wide open on an over route. Linebacker Thurston Armbrister (#50), Whitehead, and Kyle Van Noy (#53) get sucked up by the play action, leaving a massive hole behind them. There also appears to be a miscommunication on the back end, as Slay points to free safety Glover Quin (#27) to pick up Quick, but Quin helps on the tight end’s vertical route on the right side instead. Keenum’s ball placement is behind Quick, but the receiver is so wide open that he has plenty of space to adjust. To make matters worse, Armbrister whiffs on his tackle attempt, allowing Quick to pick up additional yardage.
Unfortunately for Lions fans, Detroit wasn’t done with its poor tackling. Later in the drive, three defenders whiffed on Britt on a quick slant near the goal line, resulting in a touchdown. Earlier in the game, Whitehead and Tavon Wilson appeared to cover the same underneath zone on one play, leaving Bradley Marquez wide open on a 13-yard hitch. The Lions have holes on defense, in part because of injury, and they cannot afford to make these kind of mistakes.
Detroit had the last laugh, however. With 6:02 left in the fourth quarter, defensive end Devin Taylor got his hands up and swatted down a Keenum pass at the line of scrimmage, ending the quarterback’s completion streak. Two plays later, Slay broke up a pass intended for Britt, and Los Angeles punted for only the second time in the game. The Lions marched down the field for a go-ahead field goal, leaving 1:33 and no timeouts for Keenum to attempt some late-game magic. The clock struck midnight for the undrafted signal-caller on the second play of the drive:
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Keenum sets up in the shotgun, with two wideouts to his left and Quick right, along with Kendricks in tight. Quick and Kendricks both run vertical routes. The Lions show a one high safety look, with Quin deep and shaded slightly to the two wideout side. Keenum appears to read the coverage as Cover 3, as Wilson and Whitehead drop into underneath zones and Bush appears to spot drop as well. He throws to Kendricks, who targets the seam between Bush and Wilson. Bush is playing off man, however, rather than zone, and the Lions are playing Cover 1 rather than Cover 3. Bush breaks on Keenum’s throw and undercuts Kendricks’ route for the game-sealing interception.
The Lions defense made Keenum look like a Pro Bowler for much of Sunday’s game, and the team needed Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense to pile up points just to keep pace with the Rams. Detroit couldn’t win without a few plays from its defense, however, and got just enough, with a goal-line stand, a three-and-out on the penultimate Rams drive, and the final interception. It was not an encouraging display overall for the Lions, but perhaps it is something to build on.
Keenum’s performance might be something for the Rams to build on as well. Detroit has a poor defense, true, but the two throws to Britt took tremendous touch and Keenum was accurate all day. Los Angeles has employed a conservative, largely run-first offense this season, but Boras might be able to expand the playbook a bit more in light of Sunday’s display. At the very least, Keenum might quiet the calls for Goff and buy the Cal product more time to develop behind the scenes. While the Rams dropped to 3-3 this season, Keenum and the offense showed signs they can help keep the team in contention in their first year back in Los Angeles.
Follow @davearchie on Twitter. Check out his other work here, like his look at the QB class of 2014, his analysis of value plays at left tackle and the hidden game of Super Bowl 50.
All video courtesy of NFL Game Day.