It may have been a decision founded by the process of elimination rather than reasoned judgement, but the Houston Texans may just have found a new direction in first-season quarterback Case Keenum.
With his head on the block, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak went out on a limb by naming third-choice quarterback as his starter for the Week 7 road game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It can be assumed that if T.J Yates had not floundered so spectacularly when filling in for the injure Matt Schaub last week, we would not be discussing the inexperienced first-year pro right now.
Having lost four consecutive games, the Texans needed a radical change. Keenum, whose only previous NFL experience came with the Texans practice squad in 2012, was given a baptism of fire in his debut, facing the league’s fifth-ranked defense on the road in what is now officially the loudest stadium in the league.
Given the task in hand, Keenum was seemingly being offered up for sacrifice against an unbeaten Chiefs team; yet by all accounts, the kid coped admirably under the radar of Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and the rest of this revered Chiefs defensive front seven.
The Texans rightly played to Keenum’s strengths throughout the game on offense. Placing emphasis on their offensive line which stood up admirably throughout most of the game, Keenum operated largely out of the gun, giving him time to survey the landscape and pick his trademark downfield passes.
This strategy became even more imperative after Keenum lost the security blanket that is Arian Foster to a hamstring injury early on, something that essentially swayed the result of the game. The Texans were missing the key cog in their sixth-ranked rush offense, and had the young quarterback had Foster available to compliment his efficient aerial prowess, we may not be talking about a still undefeated Chiefs team.
The Texans’ offensive line had allowed a fourth-highest 44 QB hits coming into the game, though they remained strong throughout the first half. This allowed Keenum to showcase his talents first by finding DeVier Posey for a confidence-boosting 42-yard completion before completing the drive with the first touchdown pass of his NFL career to fellow youngster DeAndre Hopkins.
After the horror show that has been Schaub in 2013, Keenum helped alleviate some of the scrutiny being placed on Kubiak. His confidence in his own ability there for all to see; Keenum consistently looked for a big passing play in first-down situations and though it did not always materialize, his ambition was very refreshing for a Texans team that has gone stale since Week 3.
At one point, Keenum had completed 4-of-5 attempts on third-down, though this figure diminished during a second half that was dominated by defense. Considering that he came in against a defense that led the NFL in sacks (30.0) and forced the second-highest number of turnovers (18) , Keenum stuck to his ideologies and remained fearless throughout. A 35-yard completion from the one-yard line after dropping back into his own end zone under pressure was testament to this.
The Texans’ offensive line held up admirably for the most part; though with the Chiefs’ defense finding their rhythm in the second half, it was their mistake that ultimately killed the game. A Hali sack and Derrick Johnson fumble recovery on the final drive of the game was the only turnover for the Chiefs; although costly, it was the only blemish on an otherwise polished debut for Keenum.
In a results business, the buck ultimately stops with the ‘L’. The Texans’ losing-streak is extended to five games and the injuries do not bode well moving forwards. However, the positives were apparent: before this game, the Texans had thrown a pick-six on five consecutive outings — not tonight.
They were -12 on the turnover differential, and were plus-one tonight. The Chiefs averaged an NFL best 10.8 PPG against and just 190.3 passing YPG — Keenum and his Texans trumped both in Week 7.
Keenum finished with figures of 271 passing yards and a touchdown, completing 15-of-25 pass attempts. Most importantly, he did not throw an interception … against a defense that thrives on turnovers. Before his injury, Schaub had thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes this season, and that’s the way his career with the Texans just might finish.