The Gut Check No.283 - The Gut Check's Film Room

Now Showing: A Double Feature of Jarrett Boykin and Case Keenum. Plus, a Joique Bell Short.

Get your popcorn ready. This week we're visiting the Gut Check's Film Room. A converted garage with dim lighting and a water heater in the corner, there's enough seating as long as you mind "The Usher's" rules:

  1. The left side of the couch is his. 
  2. If you're eating meat, poultry, cheese, chocolate, or dairy, he expects a tribute.
  3. No sudden movements or you get the claws.
  4. The Usher has has zero tolerance for cellphone use during the show. 

Simple enough. This week's attractions include Cian Fahey getting beat to the punch, Fantasy Horoscope, and screenings of three players - two who few really know anything about.  

Tweet Exchange of the Week

Cian Fahey @Cianaf: Harry Kewell, Jack Wilshere and Darren McFadden walk into a bar. Who gets injured first?

Josh Norris @JoshNorris: Danny Amendola

So sad, but so true. 

Movie Short: JoiQue Bell As "Boundaryman"  (Rated NC-16 "Nice Catch For 16")

If I wanted, I could produce Joique Bell serials and they might be the most popular feature of the Gut Check's Film Room. NFL.com's Gregg "Don't Call Me Sage" Rosenthal brought us Bell tackling two Chicago Bears defenders on an interception return in Week 4. This week, we're screening Bell teaching the Lions and Bengals receiving corps on how to make a sideline grab. 

Bell begins as the slot receiver in a 2x1 receiver, 11 perosnnel shotgun set. Cincinnati has one safety high and Bell begins the play working to the flat.  

Stafford looks to the middle and then the right, feels pressure, and opts to break the pocket. Bell knows he's breaking open and adjusts his route up the sideline. 

Bell settles between two defenders at the sideline and turns to face Stafford. The Lions quarterback delivers the ball on the move and the pass is high and outside - a placement where only Bell has a chance at the ball. 

What I love about this play is how Bell extends his arms. He's attacking the ball with his arms extended forward. This is important because he's pinned to the sideline. If he waits for the ball to arrive over his head and extends his arms over his helmet, it's more likely that he'll lack the balance to keep his feet in bounds. With Bell, extending his arms forward, he has a much better chance to control the position of his feet and the rest of his body. This is strong technique for a running back. In fact, Reggie Bush could learn a thing or two here. 

Once Bell makes the initial grab, he turns his body to secure the football, dragging his feet along the sideline. If you look at Bell's foot position in the previous photo, he's on his toes before the ball arrives. I like that he's not leaving his feet in addition to extending his arms forward. Both of these plays provide Bell maximum control at the boundary. Cris Carter would be proud. 

Bell may not be earning RB1 opportunities like he was in September, but this year's pickings at running back are slim enough that you could do a lot worse with the Lions' back as your flex-play leagues where you can start three runners. The fact that the Lions are finding ways to get Bell and Bush on the field at the same time while continuing to give Bell carries should tell you they value his all-around skills. As I told you, don't be surprised if Bell headlines another Gut Check's Film Room later this season. 

Feature No.1:Jarrett Boykin  Goes To Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood (Rated X . . . Or Y - depends on the play)

With Greg Jennings gone, James Jones banged up, and Randall Cobb hurt for the long haul, Boykin has earned a shot with the starting rotation. A former target of Marcus Vick and Tyrod Taylor at Virginia Tech, Boykin is a rangy receiver with build-up speed, and strength has a runner. His 103-yard, 8-catch, 1-touchdown effort against the Browns wasn't a good day for fantasy owners, but just how good was it? Can he sustain this level of production for the rest of the year? 

A little background about Boykin's time at Virginia Tech is a good starting point to learn about his development in Green Bay. The Hokies used Boykin as a deep threat along the perimeter and he was good and winning the ball one-on-one when he got behind his coverage. However, his bread-and-butter targets came on passing plays that were essentially long hand offs: swing screens, smoke screens, and quick throw-outs. 

Virginia Tech is known for its special teams and Boykin came to Green Bay as a physical player willing to block for teammates with solid hands, good ball-carrying skills and athleticism, but limited experience running the complete route tree. The Packers' use of Boykin indicates that the third-year pro has made some strides, but he's still closer to what we saw during his college career than a fully developed NFL receiver.

Boykin had 12 targets in this contest and 7 of those passes were quick throws: 3 quick passes at the line of scrimmage, 2 shallow crosses, a slant, and a short hook route. Based on what I saw, his route running is still too basic to count on him as more than a third option in the Green Bay passing game once James Jones returns. Opposing defenses will be best-served to play Boykin tight and dare the Packers offense to target him deep in tight, single coverage. 

Boykin's first target is a good indication of where he still needs to improve as a receiver: A back-shoulder fade. 

Boykin begins the route well, driving off the line of scrimmage with his pads over his knees,and forcing the cornerback to turn and run. The outside release also forces the defender to turn away from the quarterback and prevents the corner from seeing when Rodgers will release the football. 

Rodgers is looking to Boykin all the way at this one-on-one opportunity and a nice sign that the quarterback is confident in the young receiver. Rodgers likes to say that he targets the open man regardless of who it is. When he sees the corner's back to the line of scrimmage, Rodgers knows he's throwing the back-shoulder fade. 

Rodgers releases the ball with Boykin only seven yards down field. The Browns' corner still has his back to the sideline, but Boykin is already beginning to tip off the pass. His body position is changing too early in the route.

The back-shoulder fade has to be a quick-breaking play at the last moment because it's a tight-coverage play that leans on the element of surprise. With Boykin turning his shoulders inside at this point of the route, he might as well be screaming to the cornerback, "the ball is coming!" 

To compound matters, Boykin leans inside as he raises his arms to the corner. He's trying to set up his break and use his hands to keep the defender off him rather than keep his pads down field and execute a sudden, last-second turn. Here's a good example of some well-executed back-shoulder plays from the Packers in the past. 

In contrast to these sudden turns, Boykin is tipping off the route and when he extends his arms before his break, he's giving the corner a chance to provide resistance. All of this movement is a sign of a receiver not practiced at the compact, efficient execution that this route requires and he's over- thinking each step. This leads to exaggerated movements - in this case, Boykin's arms. 

Boykin is late to the ball and only gets one hand on the pass. Unfortunately, it's the outside hand which shows exactly how late he is attacking the target. 

The ball flies past Boykin's outside arm as he is too late with his attempt to secure the ball with his inside arm. Boykin has the speed to drive the defender off the line and set up the back-shoulder fade, but he's still raw at breaking back to the ball on this style of route to win the pass against NFL cornerbacks. This is something that should improve over time, but I wouldn't count on Boykin becoming adept at the route this season. 

Boykin also has to get better at reading zone defenses and adjusting his routes. This is a a short cross as the outside twin receiver just inside the two-minute warning. The Browns' defense has one safety high and Boykin should be paying attention to the corner across from him pointing to the slot corner, because he should know that the slot man could be covering him on this cross. 

After the snap, the outside corner drops five yards and drifts towards the slot receiver, while the slot corner turns his back to the inside and funnels the slot receiver up-field. This may be a clear-out for Boykin to cross underneath, but note how Boykin is staring down Aaron Rodgers rather than gauging the depth of the slot corner. 

Boykin never turns his head away from the quarterback and this tips off the route for the slot corner. 

If Boykin disguises his intentions and focuses on getting under the slot corner, Rodgers would have room to deliver the ball. It's clear that the Green Bay quarterback is reading this side of the field, but at this point it's equally clear that Rodgers won't be going to Boykin due to the receiver not adjusting his route to the coverage.

 

This poor route forces Rodgers to turn to the opposite side of the field. Rookie Jonathan Franklin (No.23 in the left flat) beats his man and Rodgers targets the running back in the end zone. However, the Packers have two young receivers committing errors on one play. Franklin has nearly five yards of separation on the defender by the time Rodgers turns and releases the football, but doesn't catch up to the ball.  

At first it appears, Rodgers' quick change of direction and off-balance delivery in tight quarters is to blame, but watch Franklin's position with the ball in the air.

Franklin either loses track of the ball or he thinks he can turn to face the ball rather than run under it.

Franklin's turn to track the ball causes him to lose pace and lose any chance of making the play. 

Boykin's best route of the day is the highlight play that earned the receiver a touchdown late in the game. It's a one-on-one situation and the Browns' defender slips ask Boykin makes his break. 

This slip-up immediately puts Boykin at an advantage to square body downhill, lower the pads, and win the drill with a nice extension across the goal line. 

Based on what I've seen from Boykin, I think opposing defenses will stick a conerback close to the line of scrimmage and force the receiver to get better at timing routes. Most of Boykin's production is going to come in the short zone on quick throws as the primary option or the intermediate zone as the second or third read working open. The Packers receiver demonstrated in this game that he can adjust to high or low throws and he can break a tackle or two.

Boykin will be a solid flex option while James Jones and Jermichael Finley are on the mend. Once he becomes the third or fourth option in this offense, his fantasy potential drops to a low-end flex or desperation bye-week start. He's a better PPR option than big-play factor because his route running isn't good enough to see a lot of looks on back-shoulder plays. Even his second back-shoulder target in this game, which resulted in a defensive pass interference, was executed like the first target I showed here. Don't count on him in the vertical game or as a first-option against zone coverage. This in itself limits Boykin's potential.

Feature No.2:  "Wishful Thinking" Starring Case Keenum

This film is a feel-good comedy with a formulaic plot that ends with a moral victory. However, I'm skeptical of any attempts to turn this story into a franchise of sequels because I have doubts about the star's staying power. Case Keenum had a good performance for a first-time starter against an aggressive Kansas City Chiefs defense. If judging Keenum by expectations we have for most starting NFL quarterbacks, this flick's quality is more like a direct-to-video release with a star who resembles Tony Romo just enough for those desperate enough to make a quick buck. 

If I'm the Texans' future opponents, I'm hoping Houston keeps Matt Schaub on the bench after what I watched from Keenum versus the Chiefs. While Keenum was poised, accurate, and demonstrated some creativity, the conflicts the first-time NFL starter faced during the first three quarters were not realistic plot developments that most quarterbacks would encounter as often. 

Keenum, who starred at the University of Houston, piloted a pass-heavy, Air Raid style of offense where he rarely worked from center. I believe the Texans didn't trust Keenum to drop from center, which forced them to adopt the pistol. In fact, Keenum didn't see his first snap from center until 13:42 left in the game. The rest of the plays were from shotgun or pistol. 

Not that the pistol doesn't work. Look at the success Robert Griffin has with the pistol in Washington. But for a run-heavy team that wanted to continue using its strengths without its quarterback becoming a liability, this offensive change in Houston was born from necessity.

Considering that Keenum was an Air Raid college quarterback in a ground-and-pound pro offense, Kansas City didn't have any worthwhile scouting to prepare for the young passer beyond a college scouting report covering technical and physical skills. The Chief's defensive approach was rooted in common sense: Make Keenum beat them.

This began with forcing Keenum to prove that he had the basic skills and poise to make good reads under pressure. Keenum demonstrated that he has fundamentally good accuracy, placement, and timing. He also showed enough mobility to create when plays break down. However, I saw little in his game that changed my opinion of him since my college report on Keenum as a Houston Cougar.  

Short Area Placement

A staple of the University of Houston offense is delivering the ball with good placement in the short zones of the field. Keenum's strength is throwing to an open spot. Here's a good example on a 3rd-and-10 pass with 10:28 in the first quarter from a 2x1 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun set versus a Kansas City defense with six defenders at the line of scrimmage and three defensive backs in the middle of the field. 

Keenum has to read two sets of players to determine of his outside receiver Andre Johnson will be open on this play. The first is the trio of defenders over right tackle. If Kansas City overloads this side with a blitz of at least two of the three defenders, then the safety at the right hash is likely covering the slot receiver and one of these three players at the line of scrimmage drops to cover the short middle. This will leave Johnson one-on-one with the cornerback on a slant. 

The Chiefs send all three defenders, which leaves the safety at the right hash on the slot man and Johnson on a slant with the corner in the right flat. Keenum does a good job holding the safeties in the middle of the field before turning to his right and delivering the ball to Johnson. 

 However, this play is not as simple as holding the safety and delivering the ball to the single-covered receiver on a slant. The safety is watching the quarterback's eyes from a position where he has the depth to cover the slot but the ability to cut of the pass to Johnson outside. Keenum has to demonstrate at least one of two things: excellent placement and/or great velocity. 

Keenum lacks a gun for an arm, but his fit with the Cougars was good because he could deliver pinpoint throws in the short range of an offense that spread the field. 

The safety at the right hash did a good job of reading Keenum's eyes and begins his break to the ball. It's a race between the defender and Keeum's throw to Andre Johnson. The fact that Johnson is opening his hips at shoulders to the ball provides an indication that the pass will be to his back shoulder.

The ball arrives behind Johnson, giving the receiver a fighting chance to make the catch without the safety's interference. This is quality placement for a young quarterback regardless of the end result of the play. It's also an illustration of how Keenum effectively negotiated a pre-snap/post-snap look and can adjust a throw based on what he's seeing in the moment. A quarterback like Brandon Weeden has often had issues with this skill - especially under pressure. 

Throwing to open space is good, but there is an area of the field where the quarterback has to deliver with pinpoint accuracy in even tighter windows: the red zone. Here's a back shoulder fade that Keenum should completed, but didn't execute with good placement. 

Keenum's placement should have been in an area where Hopkins could turn his back to shield the defender rather than be forced to undercut the cornerback's angle to the ball. 

The result is an easy swipe by the defender to foil the target. These are difficult targets for even experienced NFL passers, but it separates a player like Tony Romo from those eager to crown Keenum in a similar category. This isn't to say Keenum can't improve, but there are enough little things about his game and the factors influencing his performance in this contest that indicate to me he'll need a lot more playing time and an offseason to get there. 

Much Ado About Nothing

Everyone loves a long touchdown pass. While it's important for a quarterback to win against single coverage, this highlight that is likely airing on any television segment on Keenum this week is a good, but not great NFL play. 

Kansas City is displaying the type or arrogance I would expect from a top-tier defense against a first-time NFL starter in an offense that has run the ball for the majority of the first quarter on a 3rd-and-three at the top of the second quarter. The Chiefs have stacked nine players within a five-yard radius of "the box" and only one player is deeper than four yards behind the line of scrimmage. This is a one-deep look with the threat of an all-out blitz and the defense is daring Keenum to win with the deep throw up the rail. 

Keenum begins the play looking deep to Deandre Hopkins on the outside as the Chiefs drop three of those seven defenders into short zone to foil a quick read over the middle. At the same time, Kansas City brings five defenders to the pocket with the hope of forcing Keenum to commit early as test him deep. 

Keenum has a clean pocket because of his quick decision and delivers the ball from the right hash of Chiefs' 37 to the left rail nine yards deep in the end zone. This is a 46-yard throw with good trajectory and enough velocity for Hopkins to run under the ball. 

When Keenum was playing at the collegiate level, 45 yards of air space was the limits of his range as a deep thrower. With enough time to develop better mechanics and acquire more strength in his legs, it's likely the quarterback has extended that range another 5-10 yards in a clean pocket. It's a good throw because of the anticipation. However this is a play any pro prospect should make given the situation. 

Place Keenum under center and ask him to deliver this pass with a five-step drop and play action and it could be more telling an indication of his development - especially on a team that may not want to permanently change its run scheme to the pistol. I'd also like to see him make a throw where he has to drop the ball over a trailing defender and short of a defender over top. There was one play in the fourth quarter of this game where Keenum came close to doing this, but even that completion was not in the typical range of difficulty expected off a quality pro starter. In other words, Keenum did what was expected and I'm not convinced this is worth giving him high marks. 

Beyond the Stats

The touchdown and the play I just mentioned were the only two throws where the ball traveled a distance in the air that would qualify as an intermediate or deep completion. However, the news analysis often includes the point that Keenum completed several pass plays over 25 yards in this game. If Keenum did this by leading receivers through tight spots so they could add yards after the catch in the intermediate range of the field the way we saw from young versions of Marc Bulger in the Rams offense or Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay then I'd be more impressed.

The Chiefs routinely played one safety deep and stacked the line of scrimmage with defenders, prodding Keenum to make the quick decision and not get overwhelmed with pressure. Here's another example of a "big play" on a short pass versus heavy pressure.

This is the type of spread football where Keenum thrived. The Texans used four receivers to the left with three bunched at the line of scrimmage and a single receiver on the right side. Guess who that single guy his? Roddy White? Hakeem Nicks? Calvin Johnson? Andre Johnson? Same difference. 

Easy decision for Keenum: Hit Andre Johnson against a press corner. This is an instant mismatch and there's no help in the middle unless No.54 gives an Academy Award Winning performance and executes the best coverage drop of a linebacker that I've ever seen.

Keenum looks left to hold the coverage in the middle of the field as Johnson manhandles the cornerback at the line of scrimmage. Within the next step, Keenum will be looking right and spotting a wide open Johnson with lots of green grass ahead. 

Simple throw and catch comes next. 

Eight-yard completion, much bigger result in the box score. 

Do you think opposing defenses are going to give this to Keenum every week? I don't. In fact, the Chiefs put the clamps on Keenum during the final two drives of the fourth quarter and it was the difference in the contest. 

4th Quarter Adjustments

Keenum and the Texans played well enough to keep it a tight game and they earned two series in the final five minutes to win it. However, they couldn't pull it out and the Chiefs' defensive adjustments were the critical factor. 

The big difference for the Chiefs is the presence of two safeties split wide enough to prevent any easy slants against the tight cover corners outside. There's also a threat of extra pressure outside and a guessing game for Keenum to decide which linebacker will drop into coverage or blitz. 

Kansas City only brings four to the pocket, but that outside pressure on the left side and LB Derrick Johnson dropping forces a quick decision for a short gain, setting up a similar defensive look but tweaked to deliver pressure from a less expected angle from the left. 

The slot receiver appears open but the alignment of the defense and drops force Keenum to delay with his decision-making. It's clear that there were no simple decisions for Keenum in comparison to the easier slants or go route against one-high safety looks earlier in the game. The fact that Keenum didn't pinpoint the first read as the slot receiver is one problem. Another is that by the time he looks to that man, the safety is close enough to foil a throw. I haven't even mentioned the unblocked edge rusher from Keenum's blind side. 

This is a classic, deer-frozen-in-headlights moment for a young quarterback whom the defense confused with its coverage. Keenum hasn't even begun a release as he watches the slot receiver work past the window of opportunity to deliver a completion. This is the point where the Chiefs can hear that triangle ringing . . . 

It's time to eat. 

After a punt and defensive stop, the Texans get the ball back one last time. However, Keenum is strip-sacked in the Texans final offense series due to a similar level of confusion that forces the quarterback to leave the pocket.

Overall, Keenum's performance wasn't bad. However, most of the situations Keenum faced were vanilla and did not the nuances required to win in the final quarter. If the Texans go with Keenum as its starter, it's more of a statement that they are giving up on Schaub as it's long-term offensive leader. 

Fantasy owners considering Keenum will need to understand that the quarterback passed some basic tests, but what I saw in this game is a player with an average arm at best, who hasn't proven if he can climb the pocket and deliver the ball with velocity in tight coverage in the intermediate range of the field or in short-tight windows. Can he drop the ball between Cover 2 along the sideline? Can he make adjustments before the snap to put his offense in position for successful plays that don't lead to long down-and-distance situations? 

This performance offers a lot of wishful thinking for fantasy owners, but as an old Texan I once knew used to say: "Wish in one hand, @$&! in another." 

The jury is still out on Keenum's promise for greater development. He's a low-end QB2, at best until we see more and I don't believe he has the velocity or tight-window accuracy to consider as a viable long-term project in dynasty leagues. 

Fantasy Horoscope - Week 8: Josh Gordon

From "the monkey could do as good of a job of prognostication file", I bring you Fantasy Horoscope. Each week I'll pick player and have our secret astrologer provide me a horoscope for the player's prospects in this week's game. Take a deep breath or five, light some incense, and listen to Bloom On The Couch with his Rosicrucian Society. 

Last week, the monkey did pretty well - predicting that Jacquizz Rodgers would need to practice his end zone dance (Rodgers had two touchdown receptions). This week, Aries wide receiver Josh Gordon faces Kansas City. Or does he? 

From "the monkey could do as good of a job of prognostication file", I bring you Fantasy Horoscope. Each week I'll pick player and have our secret astrologer provide me a horoscope for the player's prospects in this week's game. Take a deep breath or five, light some incense, and listen to Bloom On The Couch with his Rosicrucian Society. 

Mercury turns retrograde in Scorpio - Blurred Lines

The Browns say they aren't trading you, but you continue to hear the rumors flying around you. Leaving Brandon Weeden for the likes of Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, or Colin Kaepernick is a temptation tough to resist and could elicit a few misplaced desires that interfere with your current situation. Today could be the day where those urges bubble to the surface and you begin addressing these fantasies to others. 

Not a good idea - especially with visions that don't always become reality. The NFL media can attest; they are in a permanent state of fantasy and speculation. That said, your eighth house, which is ruled by Scorpio brings the opportunity for big money over the next four weeks. It's important that you play things right behind the scenes. Call your agent and tell him not to sign any deals before November 10 or else it just might be a contract that hurts more than helps.

If things can be misunderstood this week, they will be. This includes hot routes with new starter Jason Campell against a pressure-happy Chiefs defense. Work extra hours with your new quarterback behind the scenes to make sure those adjustments are on point or else you might be chasing the backside of a defender making his way to your end zone.

Prediction for Gordon: 3 catches, 62 yards, 2 drops, and one messed up target resulting in an interception for a pick-six after a week filled with more trade rumors and the possibility of someone in Cleveland looking awfully stupid.