Lesson of the Week: Vikings Proving It’s Not Always About the Bigger Picture
We all love to look at every decision football teams make with a big-picture focus, and that especially goes for those involving quarterbacks. And so it’s been easy, as the Vikings’ quarterback situation has been dissected, to wonder where it’s going post-2017, with the contracts of all three guys on the roster up after this year and two of them carrying first-round investments made by the team.
The one guy the Vikings bought low on, Case Keenum, is the starter and it is a reminder that the teams don’t always think big picture all the time. No, teams are normally way more worried about what’s right in front of them, and that hit me again when I talked to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur about the decision to stick with Keenum over the now-healthy Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday.
“At this point, Case is our quarterback moving forward, and we’re going,” Shurmur said, in a matter-of-fact way. “I’m not trying to break any news here. We’re just trying to go out and fight and win a game. I certainly understand everybody’s interest in the situation. We don’t overthink it.”
The Vikings sure didn’t. They’re 7-2. They have a defense stocked with in-their-prime studs. Bridgewater dressed Sunday for the first time since shredding his knee in August 2016. Sam Bradford went on injured reserve. Keenum threw for 302 yards and four touchdown passes against the Redskins on Sunday.
So that part is simple. Keenum starts.
Shurmur maintained that, for him, the rest isn’t complicated, but for the franchise it will be. The Vikings will likely have to pick between Bradford and Bridgewater after the season, and if they were to walk away from both (unlikely), that would leave them back in the quarterbacking wilderness. The prospect of that kind of decision, for any team, is daunting.
But that’s for later. For now, Shurmur’s job is to manage the situation as it is, and Keenum has proven to be plenty good enough. His 92.7 passer rating is higher than Bridgewater’s were in 2014 or ’15, and not far off from what Bradford posted last fall. Just as important, the three guys—they all want to play (obviously, Bradford can’t now)—aren’t making the potential for week-to-week awkwardness an issue.
“It’s what I’m used to from the quarterback room,” Shurmur said. “Typically you have two, three, four guys in there that are courageous, tough guys that have been starters most of their life. They’re put in a room where they’re fighting like heck to be the starter. But when it’s deemed that they’re not, then they’re doing everything they can to help the starter. And I think we’ve got a room full of great guys.”
That doesn’t mean Shurmur hasn’t changed some things. Keenum didn’t get many reps with the starters in the spring and summer, and he’d never played for Shurmur before signing with Minnesota in March. That meant, too, that Shurmur had to come to a comfort level with who Keenum was, so he could adjust the way he calls a game to what the fifth-year pro does best.
Shurmur explains that he’s taken off-the-rack plays, as well as what the Vikings run specifically against certain opponents, and plucked what works best for Keenum, the same way he would for Bradford or Bridgewater. That Keenum got his shot as an injury replacement, and may not be the long-term answer, is irrelevant as Shurmur sees it.
“Quite frankly, we may go out and win a game or lose a game, but we don’t blink when it comes to whoever’s in there,” Shurmur says. “We expect them to play well. That’s why we don’t focus on it. I think it’s a little bit degrading to the players that go in if you say, OK, now we have injuries so we’re not going to be as good. So we keep that out of our daily conversation. We just go out and play.
“And we as coaches try to give them the best stuff to work with.”
Shurmur kept emphasizing the underlying point during our talk, and that was that Keenum wouldn’t be in there, or even on the team, if the Vikings didn’t fully trust him to handle what’s on his plate today. And as for tomorrow, that can wait.
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