How Pat Shurmur helped bring the best out of Case Keenum, Nick Foles

PHILADELPHIA -- Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is reportedly headed to New York at the end of the Vikings' season to become the Giants' next head coach. One of the more pressing situations awaiting him in New York would be coming up with a plan for the team’s quarterbacks in 2018.

Will Shurmur be on the same page as Giants owner John Mara and general manager Dave Gettleman in regard to moving forward with Eli Manning? What happens if the Giants take Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen with the No. 2 pick? And don’t forget, the Giants' third-round pick last year, Davis Webb, is still part of this equation.

Whatever direction they choose, if they hire Shurmur, the Giants should have all the confidence in the world that they have the right person to tackle this task. If there’s one thing above all the accomplishments he’s had as an offensive coordinator, Shurmur has proved he can handle just about any quarterback situation and make his personnel thrive.

When the NFC Championship Game kicks off Sunday night, the byproduct of Shurmur's work will be on display as the Vikings' Case Keenum and the Eagles' Nick Foles each look to lead his team to the Super Bowl.

The ties between Keenum and Foles were made long before this season, during their time together with the Los Angeles Rams in 2015, but there’s a common denominator for how this matchup came together -- for how these two journeyman QBs achieved success in the NFL.

Shurmur was Foles' offensive coordinator during Foles' first stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, as the team began to transition into the post-Michael Vick era. Under Shurmur’s direction, Foles had the best season of his career in 2013, throwing 27 touchdowns and two interceptions and posting a passer rating of 119.2, the third highest in NFL history. Foles rode his success that season all the way to the Pro Bowl. When Foles’ production slipped in 2014 -- his adjusted yards per attempt shrunk from 10.5 to 6.5 and he turned the ball over 13 times in 29 quarters -- Shurmur defended his quarterback.

“Pat, he’s a tremendous coach,” Foles said. “I really enjoyed playing for him. I’m excited, he’s obviously had a lot of success since. I haven’t seen him since I was here last, I believe, so it’ll be good to see him and compete against him.”

The numbers back up the notion that both Keenum and Foles performed their best in Shurmur’s system. The two quarterbacks have a combined 26-8 record as starters under Shurmur compared to a collective 18-28 mark under all other offensive coordinators. According to ESPN Stats & Information, both quarterbacks' completion percentage, touchdown-interception ratio, passing yards per game, yards per attempt and Total QBR are all higher with Shurmur as their offensive coordinator.

For Keenum, this season was all about being in the right situation and the right system at the right time.

After taking over for Sam Bradford, who suffered a knee injury in Week 1, Keenum posted the best season of his five-year NFL career, completing 67.6 percent of his passes (No. 2 among all QBs) for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the regular season. In his West Coast system, Shurmur has capitalized on Keenum’s mobility, a heavy dose of play-action and using play designs that best suit the strengths of his QB, which are different from the other quarterbacks Minnesota has on its roster.

“He’s done an incredible job of getting me on the same page,” Keenum said. “I think it’s just communication, it’s both you guys getting on the same page. It’s me as a player to play as I’m coached. I try to fit his [system] as much as I possibly can.”

In terms of playcalling, Shurmur has moved Keenum outside the pocket and utilized more play-action in 2017 than in any other season of the quarterback’s career. As a starter this season, 29 percent of Keenum’s pass attempts have come via play-action, compared to 22 percent from 2013 to '16. Benefiting from his innate ability to sense pressure, 15 percent of Keenum's pass attempts were made from outside the pocket in 2017, up 4 percent from his first four seasons in the league.

“I never get a play call that comes in where I’m like, ‘Golly, I don’t like this play,’” Keenum said. “Every play that comes in I like, I like the play. He does a great job of protecting the quarterback, keeping us in good situations and giving us a chance to be successful.”

The notion that Shurmur molds his system to his personnel and not the other way around is echoed throughout the Vikings' locker room. Building upon the strengths of the players he has at his disposal, particularly his quarterbacks, is how the offensive coordinator has been able to adapt to changes along the way and not miss a beat.

“No matter how many layers you have coaching the quarterback, you have to stay on the same page so the quarterback is hearing the same message,” Shurmur said. “They’ve done the things we’ve asked them to do, they’ve made plays, they’ve created, they get us in and out of runs, from run to pass and pass to run. They’ve functioned well, and it’s really helped us win games.”