A year after Rams QB switch, Goff faces Keenum’s Vikings
By Dave Campbell
AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Almost exactly one year ago, the Los Angeles Rams switched quarterbacks by making Case Keenum a backup again and jump-starting Jared Goff’s career.
In the latest example of the NFL’s uncanny randomness, the former teammates Goff and Keenum will be pitted against each other on Sunday in Minnesota.
Oh, and the Rams-Vikings matchup is widely considered the best game in the league this week.
Not only are their teams thriving. So are they.
“Just like everybody predicted: Case Keenum with the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings going up against the 7-2 Rams,” Keenum said with a smile.
The move last season was only a matter of time for the Rams, who went 4-5 with Keenum after drafting Goff out of California with the first overall pick.
At that point, the player picked to be the franchise cornerstone for at least the next decade was not going to get much better on the sideline with the Rams headed for another high draft pick in their rough return to the West Coast.
The Rams lost all seven games that Goff started down the stretch, four of them by 21 points or more. The rookie’s 63.6 passer rating would’ve been last in the league with a qualifying amount of attempts.
Keenum moved on to Minnesota, signing on as the backup to Sam Bradford with Teddy Bridgewater looming in the background after an 8-8 finish by the Vikings.
Since then, the Rams hired a new head coach, Sean McVay, who has done wonders for Goff and the offense. With at least 300 yards and three touchdowns passing without an interception against the Vikings, Goff would join Tom Brady in 2007 as the only players in NFL history to check those boxes in three straight games.
When Bradford’s knee began bothering him after the season opener, Keenum stepped in. He has started five and finished six of the team’s seven victories, keeping the job for at least one more week despite Bridgewater’s presence.
By finishing his fifth game this season without being sacked, Keenum established a team record for a minimum of 20 attempts per game. Bradford (2016), Randall Cunningham (1998), Rich Gannon (1991) and Fran Tarkenton (1972) each had four in a year.
“I couldn’t be happier for the guy,” Goff said, adding: “There’s so many things I learned from him on and off the field.”
Keenum had plenty of praise for Goff as well.
“He’s a smart kid, man,” Keenum said. “He’s a fighter, too, because it wasn’t easy last year.”
Here are some key angles to follow with the game:
WELL WHITWORTH IT
One of the most important enhancements the Rams made for this season was on the offensive line where former Vikings center John Sullivan has stepped in as the steady anchor and 12-year veteran Andrew Whitworth arrived from Cincinnati as the shutdown left tackle.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer overlapped with Whitworth for six seasons with the Bengals, when he was their defensive coordinator.
“He’s huge, number one. He is smart. He’s got good feet. Typically, he likes to set with his hands out. He doesn’t give you his hands a lot. He’s a tough guy,” said Zimmer, who’s counting on star defensive end Everson Griffen returning from a foot injury that kept him out last week.
McVay is a whopping 30 years younger than Zimmer, so there’s some natural reverence in play, but the former Washington offensive coordinator expressed admiration for Zimmer’s place as one of the league’s top defensive masterminds over the years.
“You have such a huge amount of respect and appreciation for the consistency at which he’s produced great defenses year in and year out at a bunch of different stops,” McVay said, adding: “You see alignment, assignment, technique, effort. They don’t give up cheap things. They play hard. They’re fundamentally sound. Every yard that you get is earned.”
Goff’s progress has helped Robert Woods put together a breakout season in his fifth year in the NFL, the Los Angeles native’s first with the Rams after leaving Buffalo as a free agent. Woods leads the team and is 13th in the league with 622 receiving yards. After going scoreless in the first seven games, Woods had two touchdowns in each of the past two games including a 94-yard score that was the franchise’s longest offensive touchdown since 1964.
“He’s been working really hard. I don’t know if he was frustrated, but he was a little kind of maybe confused why he hadn’t scored yet,” Goff said. “He’d gotten the ball probably more than anybody.”
Bridgewater will suit up with the Vikings in a regular- season game at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time, having played in the first exhibition there on Aug. 28, 2016, before dislocating his knee and tearing multiple ligaments in practice two days later.
Though the timing of him retaking the job remains unclear, Bridgewater said this week he’s not worried about getting any starts this season despite an expiring contract that at least mildly complicates his future.
“Whatever the plan is, I’m all for it, whether it’s me getting out there right way … or taking it slow,” Bridgewater said. “The good thing about taking it slow is I get to sharpen my game even more: on the practice field, on the sideline.”