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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Falcons’ pass rush will test Case Keenum’s pocket presence

By Matthew Coller

Case Keenum’s performance against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving may have been his best of the year when you consider that he was routinely under duress.

According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum was pressured on 51.4 percent of his dropbacks (18 of 35), but completed 7-of-13 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.

Keenum is gaining a reputation as having a strong pocket presence. He’s only been sacked seven times this season and has made a number of plays after dodging pressure. But like everything else with the former Texan and Ram, it’s fair to wonder if it will last considering he was one of the NFL’s lowest rated passers under pressure last season.

Atlanta’s defense is among the best in the NFL against the pass in large part because of their pass rush. The Falcons are allowing 6.4 yards per attempt, which ranks only behind Jacksonville and Philadelphia, and have sacked opposing quarterbacks 30 times (ninth in the NFL).

Under head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons have attempted to replicate the defense that Quinn had while he was defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. His Cover-3 scheme requires a rangy linebacker (which they have in Deion Jones), a shutdown corner (Desmond Trufant) and a safety that can play up in the box and still drop back in coverage (Keanu Neal).

But the zone coverages wouldn’t work well without hurrying the quarterback along – something the Falcons have done well this season with their rotating mix of pass rushers. Four different defensive linemen have at least four sacks and Adrian Clayborn has eight (albeit six came against the Dallas Cowboys). Vic Beasley has four following a 15.5-sack campaign in 2016, and rookie Tak McKinley has had a solid start to his career with four sacks.

The Falcons rush from out wide, forcing quarterbacks to step up into the pocket. However, the addition of Dontari Poe and development of Grady Jarrett has made stepping up a pretty difficult task as they routinely push the pocket back.

Below is an example of how Atlanta’s pass rush can disrupt even a quarterback with good pocket presence. The two edge rushers both push the tackles back and Poe drives the guard right into Russell Wilson. Because he’s force to escape to the outside, Wilson is unable to find his tight end coming open underneath. Jarrett shows you his ridiculous quicks for a big man by running right along with the speedy quarterback.

Another impact of Atlanta’s personnel under Quinn is that opposing teams have difficulty creating big plays from short passes and screens. The zone combined with outstanding team speed makes it challenging to find space after a catch. For example, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey caught five passes against the Falcons, but gained just 28 total yards. The Cowboys threw in Rod Smith’s direction six times and he gained 15 yards.

That’s one area where the Vikings have thrived. Two of the Vikings’ biggest plays against the Lions came on throws that barely crossed the line of scrimmage. One was a 37-yard reception by running back Jerick McKinnon, the other a quick hitch to Stefon Diggs for 31 yards. Of Keenum’s 282 yards against the Lions, 140 were in yards after catch. On the season receiver Adam Thielen is 10th and McKinnon ranks 13th in the NFL in overall yards after catch and nearly half of tight end Kyle Rudolph’s yards have come after the catch (175 of 429).

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has done an exceptional job this season of creating deception through play-action. The Vikings are tied for third in the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6) on play-action throws. They also use play-action on 25% of passes, the second most in the NFL. The question is whether Keenum will have time to turn his back to the pass rush or if Atlanta’s speedy linebackers and DBs will recover quickly from the moment of hesitation caused by a fake handoff.

The Vikings’ running game and defense have been huge contributors to their passing success by forcing opponents to fear McKinnon and Latavius Murray and by mostly allowing Keenum to play in situations where they are either close or ahead. He has only thrown 29 passes this season when down by more than one score.

The run game and defense will have to play a big role again because the Vikings certainly don’t want him to have to test Keenum’s pocket presence in a comeback situation.

The post Falcons’ pass rush will test Case Keenum’s pocket presence appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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