From inferior to elite: How Jared Goff and Case Keenum got here

Young: This is when we find out if Rams are for real (0:43)

Steve Young says if the Rams can dominate Minnesota's defense he will be a true believer. (0:43)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The 2016 season ended and Case Keenum sat down with Les Snead, the Los Angeles Rams' general manager. It was your typical exit interview, the kind one would imagine after a woefully disappointing 4-12 season. By the end of it, Keenum felt it was "going to be in everybody's best interest to move on."

Keenum didn't know what was next, but really, neither did the Rams. They had Jared Goff, the young quarterback they took with the No. 1 overall pick in the most recent draft. But they didn't know what they had in him. Goff started for the last seven weeks and finished with an 18.3 Total QBR, which ranked last among those with at least five starts at quarterback. Keenum finished with a 37.5 Total QBR, last among quarterbacks with enough reps to qualify.

A year later, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Keenum and Goff represent the NFL's two biggest Total QBR improvements. They're leading two 7-2 teams, playing at their best heading into Sunday's highly anticipated matchup between the Rams and the Minnesota Vikings from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

"I'm pumped for him," Keenum said about Goff to L.A.-based reporters on a recent conference call.

"I couldn't be happier for the guy," Goff said of Keenum. "He deserves it all."

Goff has completed 39 of 59 passes for 666 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past two games. He leads the NFL with 8.5 yards per attempt and ranks seventh with a 101.5 passer rating for a Rams team that is averaging a league-best 32.9 points per game. Keenum, still holding off Teddy Bridgewater for the Vikings' starting job, is coming off a four-touchdown performance and ranks third in the NFL with a 72.5 Total QBR for an offense that ranks seventh in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA).

Keenum was asked whether he could have ever predicted this, he and Goff playing so well for offenses that are running so efficiently.

"I think you predicted that, right?" Keenum said, drawing a laugh. "It's a funny game and it's a crazy business, but that's what makes this so cool."

The success of Goff and Keenum seems, ostensibly, like an indictment on Jeff Fisher, the former Rams coach who oversaw ineffective, antiquated offenses for half a decade.

But there's more to it than that.

A new Goff

For Goff, Fisher's absence is only half of one answer.

First-year Rams head coach Sean McVay, who at 31 is already one of the game's sharpest offensive minds, has put a staff and a scheme around Goff that has set him up for success. But the Rams also have better players around him. Goff is taking snaps behind a significantly improved offensive line, thanks to the additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan. And he's throwing to a far more talented collection of receivers, a group that includes a trio of newcomers in Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.

Goff himself has improved, too.

He went to work at the very beginning of the offseason, immersing himself in film at the Rams' facility by early January. He studied McVay's Washington Redskins offenses as soon as the Rams hired him later that month, then worked at the acclaimed 3DQB program in California when NFL rules kept him from being around the team. When new receivers joined, he scheduled workouts to throw with them immediately.

Some of that work ethic came from watching Keenum.

"He wasn't super highly touted coming out of college, and he made his career by working hard," Goff said. "That hard work is something I tried to grasp as much as I could."

The criticism toward Goff was intense and pointed after a rookie season in which he completed 54.6 percent of his passes, averaged 5.3 yards per attempt, threw five touchdowns to seven interceptions and lost all seven of his starts. But teammates quickly saw someone taking more command of this offense, of his career, heading into 2017. Woods, who came over as a free agent, saw a natural thrower.

"It started in the summer," Woods said. "He has a pretty ball. It's just shorts and a T-shirt, but I've seen him click in the season and in training camp. He's been in control and been dominant pretty much since I got here."

Goff heads into Sunday as the first quarterback in franchise history with back-to-back performances of 300-plus passing yards, three-plus touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has taken only 13 sacks, half the number he absorbed in two fewer games last season. Thanks to McVay's scheme, which marries the run and the pass in innovative ways, he has thrown 12 more touchdowns than interceptions and is on pace for 4,240 yards.

Goff's mental toughness draws constant praise -- Keenum volunteered that himself, while talking about how Goff handled a trying 2016 season -- but McVay also sees evolution in Goff's decision-making.

Todd Gurley, the NFC's leader in yards from scrimmage, isn't surprised by Goff's emergence in his second season.

"The guy went No. 1," Gurley said. "Dude don't go No. 1 for no reason."

Making his Case

Those were the circumstances under which Keenum entered the 2016 season. He was the incumbent starter, a man who performed well for a lifeless Rams offense in the final four games of 2015. But the Rams moved up 14 spots to take Goff the following April, and the focus never shifted away from him.

Keenum started the first nine games of the 2016 season, all of them amid incessant speculation about when Goff would take his turn. By Week 9, a home crowd was chanting "We want Goff!" whenever Keenum's passes fell incomplete. The following week, after a 9-6 road victory over the New York Jets, Goff was named the starter. Fisher made up his mind before that game even began.

"I wasn't happy," Keenum said then. "I want to play."

But Keenum remained a captain and vowed to keep his focus on the team, even with free agency months away. He promised to be there for Goff, which is why so many in the Rams' locker room are now happy to see Keenum succeed on his own.

"Everybody here has an abundant amount of respect for him," Rams left guard Rodger Saffold said.

"I think Case is a heck of a football player," defensive tackle Aaron Donald added. "Things happen how they happen, and they happen for the best, I guess, because he's playing good football."

Keenum, like Goff, is largely a product of better surroundings. He throws to arguably the NFL's best receiver duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and he also has a reliable tight end in Kyle Rudolph. He's supported by a running game that, with Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, remains strong in the wake of Dalvin Cook's season-ending injury. The offensive line, meanwhile, has improved significantly with the offseason additions of tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.

But it starts with Pat Shurmur, the Vikings' offensive coordinator who has in some ways catered his offense to Keenum, a more mobile quarterback than Game 1 starter Sam Bradford, who now sits on injured reserve.

"I love the scheme," Keenum said.

But Bridgewater is healthy now, nearly 15 months after suffering a devastating knee injury during practice. Keenum's days as the Vikings' starter seem numbered. This is his cross to bear. Keenum went undrafted in 2012, and ever since then his leash as a starting quarterback has been short, his margin for error perpetually small.

In the meantime, though, Keenum -- and Goff, for that matter -- is proof that good quarterbacks can thrive in the right environments.

“That’s an outsider’s perspective; it’s not for me to say," Keenum said, deflecting the logic. "What I try to do is try to be the best quarterback that I can be and put my team in the best chance possible to win football games -- no matter what team I’m on, no matter what offense I’m in, no matter what play is called."

ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin contributed to this report.