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Culture / Sporting Life

Case Keenum is a Better Quarterback Than Brock Osweiler

The $72 Million Truth Hurts, But Lamar Miller Can Save the Day

BY // 10.18.16

Sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes Brock Osweiler stumbles into a win, pushed by Lamar Miller’s talent and will, Whitney Mercilus’ ferocity and Bill O’Brien’s still somehow underrated coaching acumen. The $72 Million Quarterback makes two good throws on Sunday Night Football — and he’s somehow being cast as a clutch leader by fawning, lazy (and to be fair, desperately-deadline-narrative-seeking) sports columnists.

Perception often trumps reality — and performance — in the NFL. Case Keenum plays brilliantly, gets put into an impossible situation by a Rams defense that’s supposed to be rock of Los Angeles’ professional football rebirth — and throws a pick trying to save the day once again.

Still, there is no doubt. Case Keenum, Houston Texans’ reject, is a better quarterback than Brock Osweiler, Houston’s fought-over free-agent prize. The excitement of a real miracle 26-23 comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts (with the Colts up 23-9 with less than six minutes remaining, the Texans had a one percent chance of winning according to the win probability percentages loved by statheads) should not obscure these truths.

Houston still has a frightening quarterback problem. The Rams suddenly have a quarterback solution — and his name’s not Jared Goff. The Texans are 4-2 and seemingly in charge of the NFL’s worst division because Lamar Miller willed himself into the end zone on a third-and-seven play. Miller made seven of the 11 Colts defenders on the field miss on the cut-back, reverse field dash, pulling the Texans within seven points. This is the play that first breathed life into O’Brien’s team — without it, the Texans never grab their one percent chance.

Lamar Miller made seven different Colts on a game-changing play.
Lamar Miller made seven different Colts on a game-changing play.

Miller rescued Osweiler from another questionable check-down decision (the Colts should have stopped Miller — oh seven times!) and showed off the kind of improvisation that hasn’t been seen from a Texan since Arian Foster’s prime. The good news for Texans fans is the O’Brien seems determined to feed Miller the ball at the same rate he got Foster touches in his last productive season. Under the Sunday Night lights, it’s 27 touches for 178 total yards and two touchdowns. This is one free agent signing that’s clearly working out.

“I think he’s one of the best backs in the league,” O’Brien says. “I think if you asked around the league, every coach would tell you the same thing.”

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Case Keenum receives no such universal love. But there is no denying what the former University of Houston record breaker did in Detroit. Keenum’s stat line — 27 of 32 for 321 yards and three touchdowns and another touchdown running — speaks for itself. With 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter, he had more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (two).

Keenum kept firing passes down the field, piling up completions (19 straight at one point, erasing cult L.A. Rams quarterback legend Jim Everett from the record book). Only elite quarterbacks are supposed to be able to play like this. But there Keenum is on the sixth NFL Sunday of the season, defying the doubters once again.

There are characters in HBO’s Westwood with less hidden swagger than this.

Make no mistake, Case Keenum always knew. He never doubted he could put up big numbers in the NFL. Through all the mocking — much of it orchestrated by broadcasters and writers based in the city where he first made his name — the UH icon kept coming. He simply would not be denied the chance to show what he could do on football’s biggest stage.

By refusing to give up when so many tried to dismiss him — including O’Brien and the Texans — Keenum gave himself a chance.

Brock and Bust

In contrast, Brock Osweiler has had everything handed to him. Osweiler is the NFL’s version of a trust fund kid, with much given and little earned. The $72 million free agent contract — coming in an offseason rush after only seven starts — made him a “star” before he’d proved anything. As an undrafted free agent, Keenum scraped and clawed to even get the NFL-paltry $3.6 million salary he has this season.

Which brings us to Sunday. Keenum couldn’t miss Sunday afternoon. Osweiler couldn’t hit a target 10 feet in front of his face with a sawed-off shotgun for most of Sunday night. Give Osweiler a Star Wars script and he’d somehow find a way to not turn it into a hit.

Even Osweiler’s best two throws of the night hinged more on this receivers making excellent plays than the passes themselves. Emerging tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz faked the defensive back almost out of his cleats on that 26-yard, game-tying touchdown. And second-year receiver Jaelen Strong made a difficult over the shoulder catch with Colts cornerback Rashaan Melvin reaching in for the ball for the overtime changer.

The Texans survived this game because O’Brien’s built them into a team that never gives up on a season no matter how many times they’re blown out. It’s safe to say that 2-14 complete meltdown 2013 never happens if O’Brien’s the Texans coach rather than Gary Kubiak. Which is why the recent criticisms of O’Brien’s coaching seem rather absurd. He’s a big part of the reason these flawed Texans seem to be in playoff contention year after year.

O’Brien Guys keep fighting no matter what’s going on around them.

“Looking up at the stands, everybody was leaving,” emerging gameplan disrupter Jadeveon Clowney says. “I was like, ‘Don’t quit.’ ”

These Texans don’t — and that’s an O’Brien trait. “A lot of fans missed a terrific performance in the third, fourth quarter by a team,” Osweiler says.

Actually, the Texans didn’t start playing well until late in the fourth quarter. And let’s be real for a second. It’s not like people were walking out on LeBron James, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh in the closing minutes of Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Osweiler may want to start playing better before delivering any lectures.

Keenum’s home city team would be much better off if it had just kept him and given him a real chance to develop as their starter. For all the good O’Brien’s done as a head coach, this personnel blunder may hold the franchise back. Just think about the additional difference maker (or difference makers) the Texans could have added for that $72 million if their starting quarterback was a reasonably priced Case Keenum.

Brock Osweiler is chronically inaccurate — and that’s a hard thing to coach out of a quarterback. You usually have it or you don’t. Keenum is completing 62.5 percent of his passes this season after completing 69.4 percent of his passes at UH. Osweiler is completing 59 percent of his passes this season after completing 60 percent of his passes at Arizona State. Osweiler has thrown eight interceptions in six games. Keenum has thrown six in six games and has two games without an interception (Osweiler has thrown at least one in every game).

Keenum simply just gets the ball to his receivers more accurately more often. That’s quarterbacking. Sometimes the dollar signs lie. Sports regrets have a way of haunting, even in the wake of the most impossible comebacks.

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