TEDDY OR CASE: Who should start?
It’s the hottest debate surrounding the Vikings right now.
The points are clear on both sides of aisle.
One side argues, “Keenum is just as good as Teddy ever was,” “He’s basically 5-2 and has won four games in a row,” “Case gets the job done so roll with him,” and “the Vikings have chemistry so don’t mess with it.”
The other side argues, “Teddy has a higher ceiling and can win us a Super Bowl,” “Bridgewater was an average starter in 2015 but has better pieces around him now,” and “You need to make a decision on him for next year, so start him now and see what you have.”
It’s a very interesting debate. Both sides make valid points. Plus, it seems like everyone has an opinion.
Whatever your opinion may be, Keenum and Bridgewater are similar quarterbacks. They both make smart decisions, take care of the ball, extend plays with their feet, and make plays through the air. Even their Pro Football Focus grades are similar.
So, what really sets them apart?
Setting the Stage
In 2015, Teddy Bridgewater’s only full year as a starter, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator was Norv Turner. The Vikings’ scheme, as well as its personnel, were built around the run game, specifically running back Adrian Peterson. All of that changed after Turner’s midseason resignation and the departure of Peterson last offseason.
Pat Shurmur replaced Turner as offensive coordinator and implemented a version of the West Coast offense. In Shurmur’s scheme, like any West Coast offense, more of an emphasis is placed on passing than rushing. The purpose of the scheme is to spread out the defense and take advantage of the open field, or lanes, created by separating the defenders. The philosophy makes the defense play “honest” and keeps them guessing when it comes to play calling.
The offensive philosophies are very different. The change in schemes make direct stat comparison impossible. But, many quarterback responsibilities are the same regardless of scheme. While reviewing game film, these are the areas where I saw the largest gaps between the two players.
1. SHORT-RANGE PASSING ACCURACY
In his two NFL seasons, Bridgewater earned the following passer rating on throws in the 1-10 yard range:
- 2014 – 186 attempts, 67.2% completion rate, 2 TD’s, 4 INT’s = 78.9
- 2015 – 212 attempts, 67.5% completion rate, 6 TD’s, 0 INT’s = 95.3
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
In 2015, on passes behind the line of scrimmage, Bridgewater earned a passer rating of 96.3. He went 82 of 98 (83.7% completion rate) for 537 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Furthermore, Ryan Jenson of Pro Football Focus (PFF) deemed Bridgewater the NFL’s most accurate passer in 2015. His accuracy percentage of 79.3 was higher than that of Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford (then with the Eagles), and Tom Brady, who rounded out the top five.
“What the traditional stats don’t show… is just how accurate Bridgewater is.” Jenson said. He continued:
“You have to wonder if Bridgewater’s modest touchdown and yardage totals are more a product of the Vikings’ offensive style, rather than an indictment of the QB’s abilities.”
Now in his 5th NFL season, Keenum’s career passer rating on throws in the 1-10 yard range:
- 2013 – 133 attempts, 54.1% completion rate, 0 TD’s, 3 INT’s = 59.5
- 2014 – 23 attempts, 69.6% completion rate, 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s = 85.1
- 2015 – 49 attempts, 57.1% completion rate, 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s = 70.1
- 2016 – 167 attempts, 63.5% completion rate, 2 TD’s, 6 INT’s = 64.5
- 2017 – 95 attempts, 67.4% completion rate, 1 TD, 1 INT = 78.6
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
Through eight games in 2017, on passes behind the line of scrimmage, Keenum has earned a passer rating of 93.6. He’s gone 46 of 59 (78% completion rate) for 301 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Keenum may be college football’s all-time leading passer, but he has clearly struggled with short-range passes throughout his NFL career. That trend is no different this year. Looking at the following PFF chart, as it shows that Keenum has struggled noticeably on short passes.
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Minnesota) November 1, 2017
Multiple times this season, Keenum has missed open receivers in the flats. In an offense that relies on completing those passes, it’s concerning. If Keenum continues to struggle hitting receivers on short-range passes, it’s going to result in difficult third-down situations and three-and-out drives for the offense.
This is a pass that has to be completed. Notice how Keenum throws off his back foot? He needs to trust that McKinnon will pick up the block and step into the throw.
Bridgewater and Keenum have a nearly identical completion percentage in the 1-10 yard range, but Bridgewater is a much more consistent short-range passer. His completion percentage on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage is considerably better than Keenum’s and he has a much higher passer rating in the 1-10 yard range.
This season, Keenum has had the most success with throws in the 11-20 yard range. He’s completed 32 of 55 passes (58.2%) for 592 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating in that range is 112.1. Those numbers are well above his career averages.
It could be argued that Keenum has better downfield accuracy than Bridgewater. While Keenum has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Bridgewater in the 11-20 yard zone (4:1 vs. 3:4), Bridgewater actually had a better completion percentage (60.5) and averaged more yards per play (11.09 vs. 10.76) in that range. Keep in mind Bridgewater played in a scheme that did not utilize deep throws as often as Shurmur’s offense does.
On throws between 20 and 30 yards, both quarterbacks have passer ratings in the low 50’s.
2. ABILITY TO EXTEND PLAYS
Table courtesy of FoxSports.com
Bridgewater wasn’t a big runner in college, but he was considered a dual-threat quarterback as an NFL draft prospect. Bridgewater had six rushing touchdowns in college and had four in two years as a Viking.
Before his injury, Bridgewater had an amazing ability to extend plays with his feet. His field awareness, ability to escape pressure, and improvisation skills were phenomenal. For an in-depth look at how elusive Teddy was in the pocket, visit Vikings Territory contributor Jordan Reid’s fantastic analysis of Bridgewater, via his Twitter feed.
The above GIF from Arif Hasan’s Zone Coverage article: HASAN: Start Teddy Bridgewater
On this play, Bridgewater recognized the defensive end charging freely at him. He froze the defender with a juke, used his feet to step up in the pocket, took off up the field, and froze a defensive back with another shimmy before getting tackled.
Pre-injury, Teddy was mobile and athletic enough to make defenders miss with regularity. The composure and football instincts he shows on this play cannot be taught.
Matt Coller of 1500ESPN noted that while Bridgewater is not considered a “running” quarterback, he has an ability to create something out of nothing, particularly with his legs.
The above GIF from Matthew Coller’s 1500ESPN article: Ability to improvise is key to Teddy Bridgewater’s return.
Table courtesy of FoxSports.com
Keenum isn’t exactly a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s a pretty good scrambler. As you can see from his rushing numbers, Keenum has averaged 6.4 yards per rush this season. That’s 8th-best mark in the NFL among QBs that have started one game this season.
Keenum is very underrated when it comes to ability to extend plays. He has very good pocket presence and has fluid footwork on designed roll-outs. Because of his above average field awareness and decision-making, he’s able to recognize when it’s time to scramble.
He can create space with his feet and is able to throw very accurately on the run. Keenum excels on play action passes and completes passes at a high rate when he’s outside the pocket, which is crucial in Shurmur’s West Coast scheme.
However, as you’ll see with Keenum, there’s a mix of good, bad, and ugly results when he decides to extend plays.
I could have used his touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, but this was a great play too.
Keenum too often rolls backwards, rather than stepping up into the pocket. That can lead to 10-15 yard losses when he’s sacked.
Get your eyes up Case. Check out Diggs. pic.twitter.com/TZZa9kWm9f
— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) November 1, 2017
This is why Keenum is a career backup. Although everything seemed all and well — he completed the pass and got a few yards with the check-down to David Morgan — he missed a wide open Stefon Diggs for six points.
Both quarterbacks are above average in the pocket presence department, but Bridgewater is simply at another level when it comes to ability to extend plays. He steps up in the pocket more often than Keenum, leading to scrambles up the middle of the field. With an improved offensive line, Bridgewater should have even more time and room to work his magic.
Teddy is 25 years old. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.
Bridgewater, a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2014, hasn’t played in an NFL game since January 2016. His record as a starter with the Vikings is 17-11. In college, he was 27-8 as a starter in Louisville’s pro-style, West Coast offense.
In his only full season as a starter, Bridgewater went 292 of 447 (65.3% completion rate) for 3,231 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 192 yards with three touchdowns. Bridgewater led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and an NFC North division crown. Remember, that was under Turner’s offensive scheme.
Under Shurmur, not only is the offense more capable, the scheme fits Bridgewater’s strengths. The quick passes and timing routes will keep fewer defenders in the box and also make it difficult for the opposing pass rushers to get to the quarterback.
Much of Bridgewater’s future depends on the health of his knee, which head coach Mike Zimmer has 100% confidence in.
Those who doubt Bridgewater cite his low touchdown rate. Well, according to Steven Ruiz of USA Today, no quarterback who started all 16 games in 2015 attempted fewer red zone passes. Teddy attempted only 42 passes within the opponent’s 20-yard-line. By comparison, Aaron Rodgers threw 33 red zone touchdowns in 2016.
ESPN’s Courtney Cronin wrote in a recent article, “Bridgewater’s career left off with a Pro Bowl season in 2015. He threw for more yards in his first two years than any Vikings quarterback over that same time frame and holds the highest completion percentage (64.9) of any quarterback in his first two seasons in NFL history.”
Keenum is 29 years-old and turns 30 on February 17th. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.
Keenum went undrafted in the 2012 draft out of Houston. He spent his rookie season on the Texans’ practice squad. He spent two years in Houston before spending two years with the Rams.
He was 9-15 in 24 NFL starts before signing with Minnesota. He is now 13-17 as a starter.
Signed by the Vikings to a 1-year, $2 million deal last offseason, Keenum was brought in to be Sam Bradford’s backup.
Keenum is now 4-2 as the Vikings starter this season and should be credited for the Vikings win at Chicago. He is 149 of 233 (63.9% completion rate) for 1,610 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating is 88.8 and his PFF grade is currently 77.6 (Bridgewater’s PFF grade in 2015 was 76.8).
The Vikings rank 11th in the NFL in total offense through eight games. The team should know they have a solid quarterback in Keenum. But, there’s one major factor working against him: Bridgewater is considered by many as the quarterback of the future.
Clearly, there’s no measuring stick for potential. However, there’s something special about Bridgewater that sticks out when watching game film. He just wins. The winning track record that has followed Bridgewater throughout his football career speaks volumes.
Bridgewater is not an elite NFL quarterback. Nobody even knows if he’ll be the same player as he was pre-injury. He’s a work in progress. There are areas of his game that need improvement, but there’s plenty of time for him to develop.
Keenum was 31-11 in college, but he hasn’t experienced the same success in the NFL. The career year Keenum is having has been a pleasant surprise for the Vikings. However, Josh Duncan of Daily Norseman took a deep dive into Keenum’s play this season. Duncan concluded that Keenum is a master of mediocrity. He’s putting up solid numbers, but the stat line doesn’t tell the full story. Like he did on the missed opportunity to Diggs (shown above), he leaves points on the field.
Keenum has short-term potential, and has found a great fit within this Vikings offense. He’s finding ways to win and has not made many mistakes. But, how long will it last? It appears the Vikings are willing to find out.
Long-term, there’s really no question as to who has the brighter outlook.
Originally I thought it was obvious the team should stick with Keenum. Why mess with the team’s chemistry if they’re winning, right? Hell, I even established when to start Teddy. Two straight losses with Keenum under center and you put in Teddy. Boom. Pretty cut and dry.
Much to my pleasure, the majority of my colleagues here at Vikings Territory disagreed. After the discussion, I decided to give it some more thought. Not that they swayed my opinion, but naturally after hearing their arguments, I realized I wasn’t giving the Bridgewater argument a chance.
Maybe I was letting my emotions decide. Or perhaps, like the great Vikings Territory contributor Sam Neumann wisely wrote, maybe I was a little too invested.
But, after I let my emotions subside, I watched game film and wrote this post. Both helped me determine which route the Vikings should take in this situation.
The loyalty should never change 💯.
— Teddy Bridgewater (@teddyb_h2o) November 6, 2017
It’s Teddy time. Right now.