Film study: Schaub or Keenum?

“The Decision” at quarterback will be easy for Kubiak.

The day after his team’s 17-16 loss at Kansas City, Gary Kubiak had this to say about his quarterback situation:

“Obviously, Matt’s our starting quarterback. Case (Keenum) played this week because Matt wasn’t healthy. Case went in and played extremely well. I’m going to sit down, we’re on a bye week, I’m going to evaluate where we’re at as a team and move forward from there.”

The first part of that quote got a lot of attention in the national media. How could Kubiak justify sticking with Matt Schaub after Case Keenum’s performance last Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium? The truth is that Kubiak has little reason to announce any decision this early in the bye week. And out of respect to Schaub, Kubiak will allow him to hit the practice field again before announcing anything. However, the tape doesn’t lie: Keenum should (and most likely will) be the starter against the Indianapolis Colts.

Before we dive into Keenum’s tape, last week I wrote that the Chiefs would be vulnerable to the zone blocking scheme. Unfortunately, the Texans could not capitalize as much as I would have liked thanks in part to injuries to Arian Foster (hamstring) and Ben Tate (ribs) and some poor execution. Oh, and the Chiefs are pretty damned good, too.

I realize how incredibly easy it is for a keyboard warrior like me to second-guess Tate on this play with the benefit of hindsight AND a bird’s-eye view but that’s life in the Digital Age. Above you see the Texans ready to execute their bread-and-butter zone stretch play. Like I noted last week, the Chiefs stack their line towards the strong side, so the Texans run to the weak side.

Tate takes the inside cut despite the fact that Dontari Poe clearly has inside leverage on Chris Myers (55). If he had been a little more patient, he could have busted it outside for a much bigger gain. This is where the Texans really missed Foster, who is known for his uncanny vision. The Texans would run for just 73 yards on 24 carries with two injured running backs and a fullback. Third string running back Cierre Wood was well on his way to Houston by then thanks to the Cigar Gate incident that got him cut from the team.

And now for Keenum!

At the top of the screen you see Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith lined up against Texans rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in tight press coverage. Keenum is flanked to either side by Tate and Garrett Graham who stay in to block, giving him enough time to take a shot down field.

Well before Keenum launches this pass, Hopkins turns his head and forces Smith to look back in anticipation. With some subtle hand fighting, Hopkins speeds up and gains the separation you see above for the touchdown. Trust in his receiver, some nice touch on the throw and just enough arm strength allows Keenum to hit his man in stride for the score.

And if Kubiak (or you) needed anymore convincing to stay the course on the USS Keenum, he need not look any further than this play. Above, the Texans are in 12 personnel with Andre Johnson at the bottom of the screen. The routes run are largely irrelevant, but the play showcases Keenum’s improvisation, vision and ability to throw on the run.

The ball is snapped and Keenum’s first read is Hopkins running a slant, but it’s covered by an underneath linebacker. Perhaps a little paranoid, he scrambles to his right despite there being no real pressure. On first down, he should have stayed in the pocket and hit Andre at the bottom of the screen, but we’ll forgive him of this in his first ever start against a Chiefs team leading the league in sacks.

Normally, this is where plays go to die under the typical Matt Schaub scramble: after reaching the sideline, he would have simply thrown this ball into the third row of seats. Instead, Keenum changes direction and buys himself more time– much to the confusion of the Chiefs defender barrelling down on him. Meanwhile, Andre Johnson breaks from his route and heads up field.

While on the move, Keenum (right) heaves a 40-yard bomb to Johnson (left). Now, one could make an argument that Schaub still has the arm capable of hitting Hopkins on the touchdown we saw earlier, but one would be a filthy liar if one thought that Schaub could make the throw you see above; it’s simply not there for Schaub anymore.

This is not to say that Keenum will be a great (or even good) quarterback in this league– he has his own limitations and has a long way to go– but the fact that he so thoroughly outclasses Schaub in nearly every physical aspect of the quarterback position is reason enough for Kubiak to hand the ball to the hometown hero next Sunday against the Colts.

“We found a little heart beat today,” said Kubiak of his team’s performance against the Chiefs. You did indeed, Gary, and there’s only one thing you can do to keep that heart beat going.

Start Keenum.

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