Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Texans matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., at Reliant Stadium
Raiders DE Lamarr Houston vs. Texans QB Case Keenum
Tale of the tape:
Houston (99): 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, fourth season, Texas
Keenum (7): 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, first season, Houston
Texans quarterback Case Keenum set a bunch of NCAA passing records at the University of Houston. He went undrafted the following year because his size and style wasn’t expected to play well in the pros.
“He’s probably not the biggest, strongest, fastest prototypical quarterback you might look at, but he’s effective,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “He was effective in college and he’s been effective in the NFL.”
Just three starts into his young career, Keenum has proven experts wrong. The first-year pro has thrown for 822 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his first three games. That totals a 105.1 rating far better than most pros.
Only problem: he’s 0-3.
That hasn’t impacted how he plays the game. He still attacks with fearless abandon, just as he did at the University of Houston. Keenum likes to push the ball downfield where, surprisingly enough, he’s most dangerous. He’s 21-for-26 with four touchdowns on passes between 10-19 yards. On throws of 20 or more, he’s 7-for-17.
“He knows where guys are, and he’s got confidence in himself to throw the ball up to the play makers,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “For the most part, he’s kept the balls away from the defense, but like any quarterback, we have to find a way to affect him. When you can affect quarterbacks, you’ve got a chance for tips and overthrows, just like their defense does a good job of. We’ve gotten better at tips and overthrows and catching the ball when it’s thrown to us and taking advantage of opportunities.”
Those opportunities are created up front, typically by Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston. Houston has been strong this season, with four sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 25 hurries. Those numbers come from Pro Football Focus, stats that also indicate Houston is in a drought. He has but one hit over the past two weeks, a frustrating period for the Raiders as a whole. He’s dealt with formidable tackles in that time, and Houston left tackle Duane Brown won’t offer respite.
The Raiders hope Houston can win that battle, flush the pocket as he did earlier this season and disrupt a young, confident Texans quarterback.
“For a rookie free agent to get thrown into the fire that we’ve thrown him in, he’s handled himself really well,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “I think he’s handled himself very well. We know he has the ability, but there’s nothing like the experience. I just like the way he handles the group, the way he prepares to play, and former starter Matt [Schaub] has done a great job at helping him too. He’s been very unselfish and helped him out.”