At the end of his drop, Case Keenum bounced in the pocket, his eyes downfield, looking, looking, looking… and looking and looking and looking.
By the time the football left his hand on that play on Tuesday morning, lanes were clogged, windows were shut and open receivers all of a sudden weren’t.
It’s become a regular scene at Houston Texans training camp: the second-year backup quarterback taking too long to make decisions, oftentimes curating the field instead of briefly surveying it.
Keenum even acknowledged his weakness after Tuesday’s practice.
“It’s all I can ask for, is to get better the next day,” he said. “Go in and watch the film, try to correct my mistakes. Then stuff that I did well, maybe do it faster, operate quickly, more quickly.”
This is nothing new for Keenum. Last season, he averaged 3.06 seconds from snap to throw, according to advanced stats site Pro Football Focus, the sixth longest time in the NFL. And he took 2.5 seconds or longer on 62.4 percent of his pass attempts in 2013, the fourth-highest percentage in football.
It gets more complicated than that. On throws when Keenum did release within 2.5 seconds or less, he completed only 58.8 percent of them, for the third-worst completion rate on such throws. His quarterback rating on those passes, 85.8, ranked 16th lowest. So it’s not just about eliminating the times that he holds onto the ball too long — nor is it only a matter of making decisions faster. Keenum needs to make good decisions while also working quickly.
It makes you wonder: what else could Keenum’s struggles to work and think fast explain? Take, for instance, the drop in Keenum’s play between the first and second halves of games last season. When he had a full week to chew on a game plan, Keenum was at his strongest, completing 56.5 percent of his passes (more than 5 percentage points higher) with a 84.5 quarterback rating (just under 14 points higher) — far better than when had to make adjustments on the fly.
The same could be said for his dip in performance as each half wore on, when quarterbacks need to quickly diagnose what opposing defenses are doing and figure out how to beat it without the benefit of being able to talk it over for 20 minutes with his coaches in the locker room. Keenum’s best two quarters, in terms of completion percentage and quarterback rating, were his first (58.8 percent, 99.2) and third (58.3 percent, 80.1) quarters — when he had that luxury — compared to his second (55.2 percent, 75.8) and fourth (46.3 percent, 63.8) quarters — when he didn’t.
Of course, in a season where Keenum completed only 54.2 percent of his passes for 6.96 yards per pass with 9 touchdowns to 6 interceptions overall, it was rough altogether, regardless of how long he waited to throw. His 78.2 quarterback rating on all passes last season ranked 27th of 37 qualifying passers.
(In case you’re wondering, starter Ryan Fitzpatrick was just about average in the get-rid-of-the-ball-fast department last season for the Tennessee Titans.)
In a broader comment about Keenum’s professionalism and dedication to his craft, first-year head coach Bill O’Brien on Tuesday said something that might indicate Keenum’s underlying problem: perfectionism.
“What I’ve seen from case so far is a guy that studies hard, takes it very seriously, a really, really good guy, good teammate, a student of game,” O’Brien said. “When he makes a mistake, it really weighs on him, and he’s a guy that he wants to be perfect every time he’s out there.”
The line between careful consideration and paralysis by analysis is a fine one, and may be what’s holding Keenum back as he tries to ensure his spot on the 53-man roster here in training camp.
Though as O’Brien said on Tuesday, what matters most is what happens when the lights come on — as they will for the Texans in Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
“At the end of the day, with all the quarterbacks, it’s how they do on game day,” he said. “They’re judged by how they perform and help the team and wins and losses and things like that.
“But as far as on a day to day basis, Case is really working to get better every single day.”
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