ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Case Keenum has never been one to get too comfortable. He's played on four NFL teams while calling five different cities home as a pro. He's been promoted and demoted, cut and signed.
So with his Broncos on a four-game losing streak, he knows there's a sense that the ship needs to be righted immediately, and that starts Thursday night in Arizona against a struggling Cardinals team.
"For me, there's always a sense of urgency," Keenum said Tuesday. "It doesn't matter what's happened in the past, it doesn't matter what's going to happen ahead of time. For me, I'm going to give it everything I've got, every week. That's what you're going to see from me no matter what. Obviously, there's a bad taste and a bad feeling when you lose one game, let alone four. But I'm not dwelling in on it, that's the past. There's nothing I can do about it. … I'm going to move forward because we can do something about this Thursday and the Arizona Cardinals."
From a statistical standpoint, Keenum has actually played his two best games of the season over the past couple of weeks. He's thrown for 699 yards — second-most in the NFL — four touchdowns and two interceptions. That's not necessarily a good sign, though, because the Broncos have thrown the fourth-most passes in the NFL over that stretch due to early deficits. The run game, meanwhile, has withered away due to the slow starts. So rather than focusing on big numbers this week, Keenum is focusing on fast starts that put his offense in a position to succeed for the entire contest.
"When you're playing behind, you try to stick to your game plan and keep running the ball here and there, but especially with the later it gets, you need to make explosive plays," Keenum said. "That gives the defense, especially the defensive line, a chance to tee off and try to come sack the quarterback. It makes it tough on our offensive line because they're sitting back there, defensive line has their ears pinned back, trying to rush. It's tough, but we put ourselves in that position early and we've got to make sure we don't do it again this week."
Keenum certainly believes that consistency can be attained, but it's something that takes time. It's been less than a year since he arrived in Denver, whereas most of the top passers have been in their team's system for years. While a 2-4 record certainly isn't what Keenum wanted, he feels that he's continuing to get more comfortable in the system.
"You look at guys that have been in offenses for two, three, four, 10 years…" Keenum said. "You start to know [the offense] like the back of your hand. You just have seen so many different plays and so many defenses, you know what tends to get open. … These are definitely not excuses. I'm not sitting here making excuses, but I think we're getting better, and that's the goal. It just takes time."
One prime example of Keenum seeing improvement came late against the Rams on Sunday. Trailing by 10 points, the Broncos mounted a quick nine-play 77-yard scoring drive, ending in a perfect pass from Keenum to Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, it was too little, too late. The drive came just minutes after the Broncos had failed to convert in the red zone earlier were forced to kick a field goal. The Broncos are 12th in the NFL in yards but 26th in points.
"That's where I need to do better," Keenum said.
Another positive sign for the Broncos' air attack was the deep passing game. Keenum connected with three separate receivers — Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton — on passes of 40-plus yards.
"That was the plan to push the ball down the field, especially with 14 [Sutton] in the high red zone," Head Coach Vance Joseph said on Sunday. "That was the plan, push the ball downfield at least five or six times."
The three passes of 40-plus years doubled Keenum's season total coming into the contest.
"I think all three of those were those guys making plays," Keenum said Tuesday. "I thought those are the three guys that are explosive like that and can make those plays. They did a great job down the field, catching the ball — first getting open, but catching the ball. I just try to give those guys a chance. They did a great job."
If Keenum can dial up the deep ball with success once again versus the Cardinals, it could force defenders to back away from the line of scrimmage and open up the running and short passing game.
Thursday night's challenge won't be an easy one. The Cardinals have allowed just six passing touchdowns — tied for second-fewest in the league — and the Broncos have abbreviated preparation time. But Keenum has found success going against Arizona, posting 467 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two career games against the Cardinals.
Whatever his final stat line shows Thursday night, though, it won't be complete without a win. The past two weeks show as much.
"A short week is a short week," Keenum said. "That's the nature of the game and that's just how it goes. But this is great opportunity to play on Thursday night, national television game, against a great opponent."