March 22, 2018

The Case For Cautious Optimism

Watching Case Keenum play has been like a breath of fresh air for frustrated Texans fans. Through his first three games, Keenum has been everything that longtime starter Matt Schaub had not been. On plays that would have ended with Schaub in the fetal position, Keenum has shown the ability to keep the play alive with his legs. Deep pass attempts from Schaub were often under thrown and forced the targeted receiver to slow down to a complete stop, but Keenum has hit receivers in stride. Andre Johnson had zero touchdowns in six games with Schaub under center this season; Johnson has five touchdowns in three games with Keenum.

Though watching Keenum play has felt like stepping into the warm sunshine after living in a cave for years, we shouldn’t be thinking about retiring his jersey number just yet. Keenum has played well, but not perfect. He’s had some issues with not getting his feet set on pass attempts, causing him to be inaccurate. He’s also fallen in love a little too much with the deep ball, at times passing up wide open receivers underneath or running lanes for easy first downs.  Down by three in the fourth quarter to Arizona, Keenum had a huge running lane and two blockers ahead of him (Tate and Jones) on a 2nd and 3 to go play from their own 42 yard line, but instead of taking off and picking up the easy first down, Keenum threw deep in the direction of Andre Johnson and three Arizona defenders. The pass sailed over the head of all four players and was incomplete. On the very next play, Keenum was sacked for a loss of 23 yards, forcing the Texans to punt the ball back to Arizona.


A month ago, I believed the Texans should definitely take a quarterback in the first round. I no longer believe that it has to be in the first round, but I’d still like to see them select a quarterback to compete with Keenum in either the 2nd or 3rd round.

Competition is never a bad thing to have. Competition pushes each competitor to reach a higher performance level to stay on top. Having two capable players at quarterback is also never a bad thing. Even if you’re convinced that Keenum is the Texans long term answer at quarterback, chances are he’ll get hurt at some point during his career considering his size and tendency to scramble. The 2014 NFL draft is said by experts to be deep at the quarterback position and I’d like to see the Texans grab one early.

There’s been a lot to love about Keenum’s performance thus far, but he wouldn’t be the first quarterback to fail after getting off to a hot start in his career. You see this all the time in baseball with a young pitcher or hitter. The young player will dominate for half a season or so, but once the scouting report gets out on him and opponents figure out his weakness, they start to struggle. The great players are the ones who continuously adjust to stay ahead of their competition. Will Keenum make the adjustments; only time will tell.

Check out these examples from the NFL:

Matt Flynn (first two career starts)

2010 vs. Patriots: 64%, 251 yards, 3 TD/1 INT, 100.2 QB rating
2011 vs. Lions: 70%, 480 yards, 6 TD/1 INT, 136.4 QB rating

After the Seahawks gave him a huge contract to be their quarterback based off of two career starts, Flynn lost his job in training camp to rookie third round pick Russell Wilson. Since leaving Seattle, Flynn has started just one game over two seasons with the Raiders and Bills.

Rob Johnson

Johnson had been in the league for a couple of seasons at this point but hadn’t played much. He was given a chance to fill in for the normal starter, Doug Flutie, in the Bills’ last game of the regular season.

1999 vs. Colts (last game of season): 75%, 287 yards, 2 TD/0 INT, 122.8 QB rating

Off that performance, the Bills gave Johnson the start in their first round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans the following week.

1999 playoff game: 45%, 131 yards, 0 TD/0 INT, 64.8 QB rating (Bills lost 22-16)

Johnson started 21 games over the next three seasons, compiling a 7-14 record. During those 21 games, Johnson averaged 158 passing yards per game with a total of 18 TD/16 INT.

Matt Schaub

In desperate need for a quarterback at the end of the David Carr era, the Texans traded multiple 2nd round picks to Atlanta for their backup quarterback Matt Schaub. At the time, Schaub had started just two games over three NFL seasons.

2004 vs. Saints: 41%, 188 yards, 0 TD/2 INT
2005 vs. Patriots: 52%, 298 yards, 3 TD/0 INT

One bad start, one good start, and the Texans deemed that worthy of two second round picks. You can argue that the trade worked out with Schaub making two Pro-Bowl teams and far surpassing the level of play of the quarterback he replaced, but he never led his team beyond expectations. Ultimately, Schaub ended up a high end game manager who had to have a perfect situation around him to win. Not exactly what teams look for in their franchise quarterback. Making the situation that much more frustrating, despite never being a great fit for the Texans offensive scheme (no threat on the bootleg roll out), the Texans re-signed Schaub to a large extension before the 2012 season.

Josh Freeman

The 17th overall pick of the 2009 draft played well during his first full year as the Buccaneers starting quarterback (2010), giving most fans the impression that they had their guy for the next 5-10 years.

2010 season: 61%, 3,451 yards, 25 TD/6 INT, 95.9 QB rating

However, Freeman followed that season up with a 16 TD/22 INT year in 2011. Freeman is now a member of the Minnesota Vikings and turned in one of the worst quarterbacking performances in recent history (20/53, 190 yards, 0 TD/1 INT) against the Giants on Monday Night Football earlier this season.

Matt Cassel

Matt Cassel, a player that didn’t even start in college, stepped into the spotlight after he was forced into action when Tom Brady went down with an ACL injury in week one of the 2008 season. Surprisingly, Cassel played very well and led the Patriots to ten wins as their starter.

2008 Season: 63%, 3,693 yards, 21 TD/11 INT, 89.4 QB rating

His performance over 15 games was enough for the Kansas City Chiefs to trade their second round pick for Cassel and make him their starting quarterback. Cassel played well at times, but didn’t live up to the expectations of a franchise quarterback. Over four seasons in Kansas City, Cassel completed just 57% of his passes while averaging 198 passing yards per game. The Chiefs had a 19-28 record in 47 games with Cassel as their starter. Since then, Cassel was replaced in Kansas City by Alex Smith and currently sits behind Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder in Minnesota; not exactly like Steve Young sitting behind Joe Montana.

Derek Anderson

The unheralded sixth round pick became the Browns starter in his second season and played above expectations.

2007 Season: 56%, 3,787 yards, 29 TD/19 INT, 82.5 QB rating (top ten in yards and touchdowns)

Since the 2007 season, Anderson has averaged 152 passing yards with 19 TD/28 INT, and a 60.6 QB rating. In his 25 starts with the Browns and Cardinals since the 2007 season, Anderson has an 8-17 record. Anderson hasn’t started since the 2010 season.

Tommy Maddox

After being out of the NFL completely for five years, Maddox returned to the league with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maddox got a chance to start when he replaced Kordell Stewart early in the season.

First six starts in 2002: 63%, 259 yards per game, 14 TD/7 INT, 97.4 QB Rating
Final five starts in 2002: 59%, 232 yards per game, 5 TD/8 INT, 69.8 QB Rating

Maddox started all 16 games for the Steelers during the 2003 season, throwing for 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He was out of the league by the 2006 season.

All of these quarterbacks showed flashes of great play. All of these quarterbacks also proved why you can’t take a small sample size and make assumptions over how things will work out over a longer period of time. I’m not saying that any of the above listed quarterbacks are better than Keenum or that he isn’t capable of maintaining a high performance level and becoming the Texans franchise quarterback. Just keep in mind, a great three game stretch isn’t a guarantee of future success. Enjoy the ride right now, it may not last long, or even past this season.

2 Responses to “The Case For Cautious Optimism”
  1. cartooner says:

    No matter how well Keenum plays the remainder of this year, I would still grab a first round QB in hopes that we’ll never pick this high again unless we trade up.

  2. 1irishdell says:

    He has played 3 whole games. That’s it. 3. So, we are supposed to rake him over the coals because he has had zero professional experience prior? Of course he can make the adjustments, with proper coaching. Find a fantastic QB coach that can make him the elite NFL QB that he can be, not already is.

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