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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How does Case Keenum compare to Kirk Cousins?

By Matthew Coller

Even when Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings were rolling along on an eight-game win streak, there was always concern that he would fall back to earth in the playoffs.

Outside of a miracle throw to Stefon Diggs to beat the New Orleans Saints, that’s exactly what happened. The Vikings’ offensive line suffered a key injury and struggled to slow down the Saints and Philadelphia Eagles’ pass rush and the result was Keenum finishing the postseason with a 73.5 quarterback rating, the second lowest of any QB who played in the playoffs this year.

Prior to signing with the Vikings, Keenum was 9-15 as a starter with a 78.5 rating, 24 touchdowns, 20 interceptions in his career. With help from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Diggs and Thielen, Keenum broke through in 2017 for a strong year, throwing for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 98.3 rating secured the journeyman just inside the top 10 in rating.

A deeper look at Keenum’s numbers revealed that he was the beneficiary of his playmakers. He ranked 32nd in the NFL in average depth of throw and 36 quarterbacks saw their receivers drop a higher number of passes.

When it came to making tough throws in situations like third-and-long, Keenum struggled at times. Pro Football Focus ranked him 19th in their “big-time throw” metric and graded him 17th on third down.

The Vikings’ 2017 starter relied on success in the play-action passing game, posting a 111.8 rating on play-action throws and 92.8 on throws without play-action. In terms of yards per attempt, his number dropped from a tremendous 8.6 yards per throw on play-action, to sub-par 6.9 YPA on non-play-action throws. The takeaway is that Shurmur’s scheme was opening up receivers, but in situations where the Vikings couldn’t use play-action, Keenum had more difficulty.

Many of these things could be said about Kirk Cousins.

  • In his first nine starts, Cousins went 2-7 with 18 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and a 77.5 rating.
  • In his best two years as a full-time starter, a terrific supporting cast stacked with a top LT Trent Williams, excellent receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and an all-world tight end Jordan Reed. When Cousins’ supporting cast was weakened by injuries or exits in free agency, his numbers dropped.
  • Cousins relied on play-action throws. With play-action, his rating was 118.7 last year, without it was 87.4.
  • In two of Cousins’ three seasons, his average depth of throw was 8.2 (2015) and 8.3 (2017). Keenum’s was 8.0 in 2017.
  • Both are known as extremely hard working and professional.
  • Coincidentally, Pro Football Focus rated Keenum ninth overall last year. In Cousins’ best year (2016), he rated ninth.

There are some differences in their game. Cousins has a stronger arm and better numbers throwing downfield. Keenum has more running ability and creativity outside the pocket. But the 2017 version of Keenum profiles similarly to what Cousins has been for three years.

The biggest question is whether Keenum could carry over his 2017 performance or whether he would regress. And whether he’s good enough to get the Vikings over the hump and into the Super Bowl. Both of those questions have been asked about Cousins.

Where the Vikings will have a tough decision is the price tag for each. While Cousins’ potential next contract could make him the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, Keenum’s postseason struggles may have pushed his likely price into a rare area: The middle.

Most quarterbacks are either making huge money on long-term deals or backup-caliber cash. But NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero mentioned in a report on Tuesday the idea of Keenum pulling in around half of what Cousins could ask.

There’s mutual interest between the #Vikings and Kirk Cousins, but financials will be big. No offers, no decisions yet. From @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/xundp0lyQD

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 6, 2018

If the Vikings spent only around $15 million on the cap to bring back Keenum, that would open up the door to big spending this offseason on a strong crop of free agents. Players like guards Josh Sitton, Justin Pugh and Andrew Norwell could all offer an upgrade on the offensive line, while Sheldon Richardson is a top three-technique free agent and tight end Trey Burton is likely to give someone a deep-threat tight end.

Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars were the No. 1 spender in free agency. They shot from a bottom feeder to the AFC Championship despite quarterback Blake Bortles’ inconsistent play. The Eagles also spent big over two years, adding a left guard, right guard, nickel corner, defensive end and two proven receivers on the free agent market.

While the Vikings are the best of the best with the salary cap, a mega deal for a quarterback would limit some of their spending.

The problem, however, is that the nightmare scenario is much more probable with Keenum than Cousins. Washington’s free agent QB has a history of mid-pack QB play. Even at his worst, he’s good enough to guide a strong team into the playoffs. If Keenum regresses to the quarterback he was in Los Angeles – even if that’s not likely with a better supporting cast – then the Vikings are going to miss an opportunity to win with a stacked roster because of poor QB play.

And there are red flags. Career highs against the blitz and under pressure, dropped interceptions and only one fumble. Those things will be tough to repeat. That may explain the Vikings’ decision not to franchise tag Keenum.

Mike Zimmer noted as much at the NFL Combine, saying if the team makes the wrong decision at QB, he’s going to get fired. Some thought he was kidding. He wasn’t kidding. Poor quarterback play is hard to overcome in a division that has Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford and with a schedule that includes the Patriots and Eagles.

So picking Keenum on a reasonable deal brings along a good deal of risk. Though there is the added benefit that signing Keenum would still leave the door open to the Vikings drafting a quarterback in this year’s draft, which features five QBs who could go in the first round. They could repeat what the Kansas City Chiefs did last season by trading up to pick Patrick Mahomes.

The only risk with Cousins is locking into a quarterback for huge dollars who might not be enough to get farther than the Vikings did last year.

Why everyone was wrong about Case Keenum

The post How does Case Keenum compare to Kirk Cousins? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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