ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos continue to search for balance. They want a quarterback that can take care of the ball and take chances. Spooked by a clumsy start, Case Keenum no longer throws interceptions. He has seven touchdowns and one pick over his last six games. This is who the Broncos thought they were signing at $18 million per season.
So what's the problem?
He keeps ramming his helmet into the glass ceiling. In his first year in Denver, Keenum has shown aversion to risk, leading to ugly stretches. The Broncos entered the fourth quarter against the Chargers with 56 yards passing. Denver had 65 yards of total offense in the first half of last Sunday's loss to San Francisco, a stumble that could ultimately prevent a return to the postseason.
Monday, coach Vance Joseph insisted Keenum needs to let down his hair.
"I thought Case has played his best football the last month. (Sunday), he was a little cautious with the ball. The bottom line: we’ve got three weeks to play, he’s got to make more plays and sometimes taking some chances allows you to make more plays," Joseph said. "There are going to be turnovers, so he can’t worry about that. You can’t play this game perfect, but I want Case to be more aggressive, especially down the seams of those cover-three defenses. That’s where the soft spots are. He’s got to be aggressive down the seams and not worry about making mistakes.”
For Keenum, the trend remains the same. He is ultra conservative early in games, holding onto the ball, looking tentative in the pocket. In first quarters this season, he has completed 57.1 percent of his passes -- his lowest of any stanza -- with two touchdowns and one interception. Compare that to the fourth when he's played his best in a hurry-up attack. He has connected on 67.9 percent with five scores and three picks.
Can that Case be the answer to solving the cold Case?
The reality is the Broncos need more. Keenum has been slightly above average. The Broncos sought a bigger bump. In so many ways, he has mirrored Trevor Siemian's play from 2016. That season, his first as a starter, Siemian delivered 18 touchdowns and 10 picks with an 84.6 quarterback rating. Keenum owns an 84.3 rating this season.
Again, just OK. Shrugged shoulders.
How Keenum finishes could go a long way in defining his future, if not Joseph's. If the Broncos win out, posting a 9-7 record, an argument can made that the needle is tilting upward, that continuity makes sense. Finish anything less than 8-8 -- the team is attempting to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972 -- and the possibility for change increases.
In that scenario, Keenum could still return next season but perhaps as a placeholder for a drafted player, not as cornerstone for the future.
Keenum has delivered as a leader. He has been durable. He demands respect in the locker room for his toughness and work ethic. And yet, he needs more. Can he take chances and take advantage of vulnerable defenses on deeper routes?
Ultimately, that could be the long and short of it when it comes to the evaluation of Keenum's first season.