Case Keenum: What he brings to the Browns vs. Broncos as Cleveland’s starting QB

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Now that it’s officially Case Keenum time for the Browns, it’s time to try and remember what Case Keenum is as a quarterback. The new Browns starter, taking over for at least Week 7 for an injured Baker Mayfield, brings another interesting angle to Thursday night’s matchup with the visiting Denver Broncos.

Keenum, now 33, played in Denver as the Broncos starting quarterback for the 2018 season. It did not go well. Keenum threw for 3,890 yards and 18 touchdowns, but also tossed 15 interceptions and ranked 29th in average yards per attempt. Those Broncos finished 6-10 in part because Keenum was not enough of an upgrade over the Trevor Siemian/Brock Osweiler combination from the year before.

Broncos fans don’t remember Keenum fondly. Nor do Washington fans from the following season, where Keenum sputtered to a 1-7 record as a starter despite playing better than he did in Denver. He’s never been able to recapture the magic of his 2017 campaign with Minnesota, where he was brilliant with Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski as his QB coach.

In that year, the hyper-efficient best of Keenum came out. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes, tossing 22 TDs against seven INTs after usurping oft-injured Sam Bradford. The Browns are hoping this version of Keenum resurfaces on Thursday night. And if he does, they have a chance.

Keenum doesn’t have a big arm, nor is he a big guy capable of taking a lot of physical punishment. But he’s very good at taking what the defense gives him and at keeping the trains running on time, in a football context. The accuracy, the decision-making, the ability to create a little when the protection breaks down, these are qualities Keenum displays well at his best.

There is no question he knows Stefanski’s offense, and he’s been in Cleveland long enough to have some chemistry with the receiving corps. As long as the Browns don’t ask him to play “hero ball” and try to win games by making difficult throws into tight coverage, Keenum can be fine. He’s generally regarded as one of the NFL’s top backup quarterbacks for good reason.

Where fans will notice the biggest dropoff from Mayfield to Keenum is in the deep passing game. Keenum just doesn’t have the downfield velocity or accuracy when he has to uncork the deeper throws. Based on his history, Keenum isn’t as apt to look for those downfield shots, either. That constricts an offense that will already be without top RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and perhaps without both starting tackles once again.

One of the reasons Mayfield works in Stefanski’s offense is his aggressiveness on deeper options and willingness to let it fly if a play goes off-script. Keenum can’t do that. As long as he’s not completely rusted over from inactivity, Keenum will do well enough operating the base offense. Hopefully that will be enough against a banged-up Broncos defense to squeak out a victory for the injury-ravaged Browns.

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