The narrative that Kirk Cousins is not a very good quarterback is one that needs to stop. After last season’s somewhat disappointing campaign for the Minnesota Vikings, which saw Cousins throw for 4298 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, the ‘talking-heads’ and media personalities sentenced Cousins to a career of mediocrity and ‘choking’.
While it is true that Cousins did struggle in Minnesota last season and the first four games of this season, Cousins’ recent play for the Vikings, which has led the team to a 7-1 record in the last eight weeks, has proven that Kirk Cousins is a top 10 quarterback in this league.
In that impressive eight week span, Cousins has thrown for a combined 2020 yards, 18 touchdowns and only 1 interception with an average yards per attempt of 8.18 and a completion percentage of 64.6%. From weeks five-to-eight against the Giants, Eagles, Lions and Redskins, Cousins average completion percentage was 78.45% (with a high of 88.46% against the Redskins) with an average Y/A number of 10.87.
Leading up to Week Five against the New York Giants, the pressure was mounting on Cousins, both his top two wide receivers, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had publically ‘called out’ their quarterback. After a 6-16 loss to the Chicago Bears, Thielen told reporters after the game:
“At some point, you’re not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards… and that’s when you have to be able to throw the ball, you have to be able to make plays, you have to be able to hit the deep ball.”
To make matters worse, Stefon Diggs had seemingly requested a trade from the Vikings around this time.
Amidst all this pressure, and his team seemingly quitting on him only four weeks into the season, the ‘re-Cousinsaissance’ began in Week Five against the New York Giants.
We meet Cousins and the Vikings in the RedZone, early in the first quarter, scored tied 0-0. The Giants are playing cover 1 robber, this type of defence is a hybrid between man-to-man coverage and zone. The single high safety will play deep rover and the MLB will watch for any slants or crossing routes across the middle of the field.
Cousins recognises the Giants’ man-to-man coverage and instantly I.D.’s Thielen’s corner route that will beat man coverage. The slot receiver runs out to the flat occupying the outside defender, leaving the one-on-one matchup outside. Cousins delivers a good ball right into Thielen’s breadbasket for the touchdown.
The reason I have chosen this clip is to demonstrate Cousins’ ability to play out of the gun as a more conventional QB, as many have discredited Cousins resurgence by labelling him a play-action merchant. This is just not the case. Cousins has always had the tools needed to succeed as a starter, play-action has only shown Cousins true qualities as it gives him time, something Cousins did not have last season.
Flash forward to perhaps Cousins’ best performance of the season. Week Six at home against the Philadelphia Eagles, it was time for Cousins to finally quieten the noise.
Here we see the Vikings facing a 3rd and long, play-action won’t be an option for Cousins here. The Eagles defence plays a lot of cover 4, similar to a cover 2, there are now four defensive backs playing deep rather than just two so now the field is split in quarters, each DB is responsible for 1/4 of the field. This is an effective coverage to play on third and long.
The route run by Thielen here is almost as good as the eye of the needle throw by Cousins. With Eagles FS Rodney McLeod crashing down, Thielen runs a corner-post double move on both the safety and the corner. Thielen’s break inside gets him behind McLeod but only ever so slightly. Cousins still has a lot of work to do with the throw and succeeds, delivering a strike to Thielen for 20 yards. Cousins let the ball go before Thielen even comes out of his break. That is next-level anticipation combined with extreme trust and belief in your receiver.
The main point of this article is not that Cousins does not need play-action to be successful and that if you completely removed it from the Vikings playbook that Cousins would not miss a beat. Play-action and Cousins are a match made in heaven simply because it gives the veteran quarterback more than two nanoseconds to throw the ball.
Here we see the Vikings early in the second quarter with a 1st and 10. The Vikings may just be the most dangerous 1st and 10 team in the NFL thanks to the duos of Dalvin Cook–C.J. Ham and Stefon Diggs-Adam Thielen. The Eagles are once again in cover 4, except this time, Cousins has more of a field to work with and the Eagles are forced to play further down to the line of scrimmage on 1st down compared to 3rd and long.
Cousins gives a quick play fake out of 21 per. which just freezes the Eagles secondary by a second. With no. 32’s eyes in the backfield, Diggs burns right past him and behind McLeod who is too busy focusing on what is in front of him. There is no hesitation from Cousins as he splits the sky with a perfectly weighted ball right into Diggs’ hands for the TD.
When Cousins just lets the ball go and doesn’t overthink things, he’s one of the best in the NFL.
Cousins’ third touchdown of the day against the Eagles is an example of a play that is almost impossible to stop. The Vikings ran the ball for 104 yards this game and with C.J. Ham, Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, Minnesota boasts one of the most complete backfields in the NFL.
The play-action fake in the RedZone forces the linebackers to bite down as Thielen crosses the field, dragging the safety out of the middle of the field for Diggs to run a post into. Cousins reads it well and put the ball only where Diggs can get it.
Sticking with a similar situation in Week Seven against the Detroit Lions, Cousins rolls out to his weaker left side as Adam Thielen runs a deep crosser back across the field.
The Lions do a pretty good job of playing man coverage, but rolling to his left Cousins does his best Aaron Rodgers impression and throws a perfect ball and Thielen makes a perfect catch for the touchdown.
A large contributing factor to the ‘re-Cousinsaincce’ is the hiring of Gary Kubiak as an ‘offensive advisor’ in the offseason. Kubiak coached under Mike Shanahan in Denver between 1995-2005 and has a coaching tree that consists of Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur. Kubiak is pretty much one of the founding fathers of the west coast offence and his fingerprints are seen all over Kirk Cousins’ improved play this season.
This play against Dallas is more so to highlight the system Cousins is thriving in.
It’s 1st down and 10 so offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski’s playbook is wide open. The Dallas Cowboys front seven is one of the best and aggressive in football. Here, Stefanski knows the Cowboys are expecting play-action and counters with a back door screen to Dalvin Cook.
The secondary plays way off expecting the deep ball to Diggs and so does Jaylon Smith and the nickel cornerback, both defenders’ eyes are focused entirely on Cousins and not on the dynamic playmaker coming out of the backfield. It’s only Leighton Vander-Esche who recognises the screen coming, which is a testament to his abilities, but by then it’s too late. Cook is out with blockers downfield and it takes a last-ditch tackle from Demarcus Lawrence to prevent a touchdown.
While Kirk Cousins can have his struggles at times, this guy is one of the premier passers in the NFL and any talk of Cousins being a ‘choker’, ‘not-clutch’ or the new personification of the Dalton-line needs to stop. The Minnesota Vikings have a real chance of winning the NFC North and challenging for the Lombardi in February and that’s going to be in large part because of Kirk Cousins, not despite him.