Poets on Sports

Case Keenum is an NFL Starter, but is he a System QB?

By: Justin Carter

On Thursday, Gary Kubiak officially named Case Keenum as the starting quarterback for the Texans. It was a move that seemed, at once, inevitable & impossible. With Matt Schaub injured & struggling, Kubiak had to name either Keenum or TJ Yates as the starter.

In 2011, Yates took over for an injured Schaub, won three games for the Texans in the regular season, & helped Houston beat the Bengals for their first playoff win. If not for THIS miscue from Jacoby Jones, Houston could have been playing the Patriots for a chance to play in the Superbowl.

In 2011, Yates regular season stats looked like this: 3 TD, 3 INT, 3 Fumbles Lost. In 2012, he attempted ten passes, completing four of them & adding an interception on top.

Last week, Schaub went down & Yates stepped into the game, quickly throwing a pick-six, then following that up with a second interception. Kubiak decided he’d seen enough of Yates to know that Keenum would give Houston the best chance of upsetting the Chiefs.


Though I went to the University of Houston for four years, a combination of working on weekends & commuting to school from an hour away kept me from attending Cougars games, the only exception being a 2009 game against Texas Tech. It was Houston’s first game as a ranked team in years. It was the first sellout at Robertson Stadium.

Down late, Keenum rushed for the game winning touchdown.

Two seasons later, Case Keenum led an undefeated Cougars team to the Conference USA title game, where a team that was distracted after discovering that Kevin Sumlin was leaving lost to a tough Southern Mississippi team. I remember sitting in my childhood bedroom, watching the game, a BCS spot on the line, & I remember being devastated when we lost, though until the fourth quarter ended I never gave up hope that Keenum would lead a comeback.

The Texans got down big & early against the 49ers & the Rams. With Schaub at quarterback, everyone knew the games were over. Against San Francisco, Schaub’s first pass went for a ‘9ers touchdown &, less than a minute into the game, the Texans had already lost.

I don’t want to wish injury on Matt Schaub. I know a lot of Texans fans cheered last week when he left the game. I didn’t want Matt to lose his job with an injury. I wanted him to stay in that game & for the offense to keep being inept, for Schaub to keep failing at the one job the quarterback can’t fail at: scoring points.

Keenum is often labeled as a system quarterback, in the same way that many players at the top of the NCAA record books are labeled system quarterbacks. We see Timmy Chang’s NFL stats & we don’t think wow, someone should give Timmy Chang a chance.

I want to talk about system quarterbacks. In my view, Keenum can be classified as belonging to two different “systems.”

The first is the air raid/spread system, popularized by Mike Leach. Texas Tech quarterbacks (see Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell, B.J. Symons) have notoriously failed in the NFL. Check their career stats:

Kingsbury- 1 completion, 17 yards.

Symons- No NFL stats.

Harrell- 2 completions, 20 yards.

The system the Red Raiders have ran hasn’t produced notable NFL quarterbacks, but I want to posit that Kevin Sumlin’s system has functioned much differently.

Sumlin was the offensive coordinator for the Sooners when Sam Bradford was there. He’s currently got Johnny Manziel on track to be a first round pick in the upcoming draft. Tony Levine, running the same system after Sumlin left Houston, has yet to produce a notable college quarterback, with David Piland & Crawford Jones both struggling this year. If John O’Korn puts up Keenum-like stats over his career? Maybe I’ll concede that the it’s the system, more than the player, causing their success. But with Keenum & Bradford starting in the NFL, & Johnny Manziel already clutching a Heisman, I lean more toward Sumlin’s system producing GOOD quarterbacks, not just GOOD statistics.

The other system is the UH system. Historically, the Cougars have produced so-so NFL prospects at quarterback, though I believe this has changed since Art Briles became head coach.

Andre Ware won a Heisman in 1987, was the #7 pick by the Lions, & ended up throwing five TDs & eight INTs in his career. David Klinger won the Sammy Baugh, then put up a sterling 16-22 ratio in his NFL career. Throughout the 90s & early 2000s, Houston QBs put up good numbers & then went nowhere.

In 2003, Art Briles took over & Kevin Kolb became the Houston QB. Running the same type of spread that Sumlin later found success with, Kolb put up solid stats on a sometimes good/sometimes mediocre team, which led to him being drafted by the Eagles. Kolb struggled with injury, & his NFL career looks done, but when healthy he showed enough promise to get the Eagles starting job & lead the Cardinals to a surprising 4-0 start to the 2012 season. Briles left Houston to coach Baylor, taking one of his UH recruits, Robert Griffin III, with him. Though Griffin was never a Houston quarterback, I mention him here because, playing in the same system as Kolb, Griffin excelled & ended up an NFL starter, leading a surprising Washington squad to the playoffs.

All of this is a long way of saying this: Keenum should have a chance to prove that he’s more than a system QB, that Sumlin prepared him well for an NFL career. With Schaub sidelined, Keenum gives Houston the best chance to win this week.

About juscart

Justin Carter is the co-editor of Banango Street & an MFA candidate in Poetry @ Bowling Green State University. He enjoys the Rockets & Texans. He sometimes enjoys the Astros. His poems appear in Hobart, Red Lightbulbs, & Revolution House.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 18, 2013 by and tagged , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: