Mike Zimmer says what he likes about Minnesota Vikings QB Case Keenum

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 23, 2017 at 2:14 AM
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Zimmer did more than confirm the obvious by saying Case Keenum will continue on as starting quarterback as the Minnesota Vikings take an 8-2 record and a six-game win streak to Detroit for a key NFC North showdown on Thanksgiving.

The crusty head coach also didn't soften his language for the cameras when expressing what it is he likes about Keenum's style of play.

"The thing I like the most about Case is he's got big balls," Zimmer said Tuesday when asked about his quarterback's sometimes risky play. "He's not afraid. He's going to pull the trigger and he is going to play like that. That's a good thing."

Hey, it's working. Keenum, a career backup, has played all but six quarters of a season that's seen the Vikings stretch their lead in the NFC North to two games over the Lions and three over the Packers.

In 300 pass attempts, he has been sacked only five times and thrown just five interceptions. He has been sacked only once in the six games since the Vikings lost to the Lions 14-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 1.

But, yes, there are times when Keenum takes risks and somehow gets away with it. Or, as Zimmer put it, "He's playing with a horseshoe" right now.

"First of all, you want to take care of the football," Keenum said. "That's the hopes and dreams of your team when you have the football in your hands. That's why every decision I make is important.

"But with that being said, you want to be able to give your guys a chance (to make a play). Some chances are better than others. Some risks are better than others. There's a lot of give and take and ways you can look at it. But just trying to keep doing what I'm doing."

The importance of Thursday's game can't be understated. Win, and the Vikings have a three-game lead in the division with five to play. Lose, and the lead is one game with the Lions owning the first tiebreaker, head-to-head.

The Vikings have lost three straight to the Lions and are 2-5 against them with Zimmer as head coach. But only once in those five losses did the Lions score more than 16 points. And that was 22 points with a touchdown in overtime.

Now, the offensive line has gone from the biggest weakness a year ago to the top strength this year. The running game is rolling. Adam Thielen is one of the best receivers in the league. And whatever Keenum does always seems to turn out right.

"I've always believed I could play at a high level," Keenum said. "I've always had confidence in myself."

SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 71-39-2. Vikings are 32-23-1 at Detroit, but lost 16-13 at Ford Field on Thanksgiving last season. The Vikings are 2-5 against the Lions during the Mike Zimmer era. They have lost three straight, including a 14-7 setback at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 1.

--A day after the 2015 season ended, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer fired offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.

When asked why he did so, Zimmer growled, "Because I wanted to."

He wasn't happy about the shoddy offensive line play during an 11-5, division-winning season.

Injuries derailed any chance of new line coach Tony Sparano turning the tide in 2016. Decimated by midseason, the line was the team's No. 1 weakness in a season-ending 3-8 slide.

This year, with four new starters, Zimmer is much happier with the guys up front.

"The offensive line," he said, "is the strength of the team."

The Vikings signed both starting tackles -- Riley Reiff on the left and Mike Remmers on the right -- in free agency. Their starting center -- Pat Elflein -- came via the third round of the draft.

"A lot of it is about mentality," Zimmer said of the turnaround. "We brought in a couple guys with the mentality that we're looking for. Smart guys, tough guys."

--At 39, cornerback Terence Newman no longer starts. He now shares the nickel-back job with Mackensie Alexander. And he's still solid when he's on the field, as evidenced by his two tackles for loss in last week's win.

But Newman's contribution goes beyond the field. He's almost like a father figure to some of the players.

After the Vikings improved to 8-2, it was Newman who tapped the brakes on the runaway assumptions that some reporters were casting out to the players in the locker room after the game.

"I've been around this game too long," Newman said. "I've seen things change quickly. You judge the season at the end of the season."

Head coach Mike Zimmer has coached Newman at Dallas, Cincinnati and Minnesota. He considers the 15-year veteran's voice to be vital.

"That's part of who Terence is," Zimmer said. "He's always been great in the locker room, good mentor to these young guys. He's seen a lot of different things throughout his career and plus he's not afraid to voice his opinion."

NOTES: QB Case Keenum has gone a franchise-record 102 pass attempts without a sack. The previous record was 98 by Fran Tarkenton in 1972. ... WR Adam Thielen has 311 yards after the catch and 605 yards at the catch. He and Antonio Brown are the only two players to rank in the top 10 in both categories. ... RB Latavius Murray has 16 touchdowns since the start of the 2015 season. Only Ezekiel Elliott (22), LeGarrette Blount (22) and LeSean McCoy (17) have more during that time. ... DE Brian Robison was limited in Tuesday's practice because of a lower back injury that sidelined him on Sunday. If he can't play, the Vikings will continue to give extra reps to Stephen Weatherly. ... RT Mike Remmers was limited in Tuesday's practice because of a concussion that kept him out of the past two games. If he can't play, Rashod Hill will get his third straight start. Hill has played well in Remmers' place. ... SS Andrew Sendejo was limited in Tuesday's practice because of a groin and hamstring injury that sidelined him last week. If he can't play, Anthony Harris will start for the fourth time this season. He had a team-high seven tackles including a forced fumble that he recovered inside the Vikings' 1-yard line last week.

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