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Would the Real Kirk Cousins Please Stand Up

Being a Vikings fan is an interesting ride it would seem. I can’t help but think on a weekly basis that they are sat at home thinking who is the real Kirk Cousins? With a wife who is a Vikings fan I get a front row seat to this regularly, the ups and downs that he provides on a regular basis make for some interesting atmospheres at times.

The more I watch Kirk Cousins the more I’m drawn towards the fact there may not be a more ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ type of player at the position in the league.

Year in and year out Cousins will end the season at or about 4,000+ yards and quite often approaching 30-35 passing touchdowns. These figures on their own would paint the picture of an above average quarterback who, with a good team around him, should be a regular in the post-season.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass in the first quarter during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/David Berding)

That he is not is a reflection on both him and the teams he has been placed on. Take this season for example, he threw for 4,265 yards and 35 touchdowns. These figures place him at 8th and 6th in the league respectively. Unfortunately for him, he was on a team where a bomb may as well have gone off in the Defence’s dressing room.

Defensive Woes

Gone were the players, Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks aside, who had made up the structure of one of the leagues better Defences over the last 5 years. This was a problem purely of the Vikings own making as they committed to a large amount of big contracts at the same time. Not many teams can pay two number one receivers, a stud running back and a franchise Quarterback and expect to maintain a strong balance across the rest of the team.

The Defence was in fact described by Mike Zimmer as the worst he has ever had. The problem is that it is made up of rookie and second year players with the two aforementioned older heads. Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler may well develop into good corners but for much of the season they looked lost. Their play picked up towards the end of the season as you would expect, promising signs for next year and beyond for sure. We also cannot hold too much against rookies this year. The lack of a pre-season negatively affected rookie play across the league without a doubt.

Oct 18, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Ito Smith (25) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) in action during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of the entire Edge rush also did not help. Losing Hunter to IR, Ngakoue to the Ravens and Griffen to FA was going to be hard to overcome. Again those who replaced them flashed promise but that wasn’t going to help our hero this year.

Without a Defence who could stay on the field and pressure opposing Quarterbacks the opposition started at an advantage.

Playing Catch-Up

The lack of any semblance of a competent Defence plagued the Vikings in the early part of the season. Kirk Cousins was often left having to play catch-up and this, in part, explains his stats. The holes they found themselves in were not always on the Defence however. The game against the Falcons produced one of the most embarrassing halves of football this year. 3 interceptions in the first half, one with the first pass of the game, left the Vikings very quickly in a 20-0 deficit. That the Vikings won the rest of the game 20-23 meant nothing, too little too late helps nobody.

Cousins did have some very good games this year. Wins against the Lions, Texans, and the season statement game against the Packers were all evidence of his undoubted skill. All 3 produced passer ratings over 125. The fact he has these games in him make the bad games even more frustrating.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throws a pass over Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) during the first half of an NFL football game. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

What is clear is that Cousins plays better in games where he is not asked to do all the work himself. In the three game mentioned above Cousins was not asked to throw more than 22 times. The games he goes to pieces in appear to be those where he has to put the team on his back. It is these games which produce forced throws and poor decisions.

Cousins was drafted 3 rounds after Robert Griffen III, by the same team. Whilst we cannot know the reason he was drafted apparently to be a backup we can assume that there were question marks over his ability to be a starting Quarterback in the NFL.

Mentality

To quote my wife, Kirk Cousins has games where he can be a “Flappy C**t”. Whilst the language may not be to everyones taste the feeling behind it is familiar to all. The Falcons game this year is a stark example of what happens when he gets in his own head and forces his game.

The game this year against the Seahawks shows both sides of his game perfectly. For a total of 58 minutes in that game he was in command and the Vikings were easily on top against their NFC rival. The 2 minutes that his head went however cost them the win. It was 13-0 at half time and the Vikings had the ball after the Seahawks punted coming out of the half.

Cousins went 3 plays for 1 yard and the ball was quickly back with Seattle. They scored on the ensuing drive and then the worst of Cousins truly arrived. The next drive ended as he fumbled into his own 20 and the Seahawks scored again. The next drive was a one pass wonder as he was intercepted on his first attempt. The Seahawks scored again, from 13-0 to 13-21 in the blink of an eye.

A one point loss was hard to take for the Vikings

The Vikings lost by a point and the game was gone in a 2 minute period of play which lay at the feet (and arm) of Kirk Cousins. It is this kind of a game which stops Cousins being considered in the top tier of Quarterbacks. This is despite him having the stats that would, on paper, place him there.

Extension This Past Off-Season

Despite the fans who feel that Kirk Cousins is not the answer the front office apparently disagree. He received a 2 year, $66m extension and is now tied to the Vikings through the 2023 season. The good news for the Cousins haters out there is that his no-trade clause was removed as part of the new contract.

What fans need to ask however is who out there, in either free agency or via trade, better than Cousins. Considerations have to be cost and future draft capital. Obviously Deshaun Watson would be an upgrade however what it would cost to get him would hamstring this team for years to come.

There are rumours surrounding Garoppolo coming to Minnesota, plus picks, with Cousins going the other way. Personally I think this would be a poor deal for the Vikings. If they are to move on from Kirk Cousins it should be for one of two things. Either

a) a bonafide upgrade, not someone at the same (perceived) level, or

b) a high draft pick who is cheaper and can be built around.

We have touched on option A above and the issues mortgaging the future for the now could bring. This year’s Draft has multiple young Quarterbacks who could possibly slot in and make the job his own. This year however I do not see this happening. Nobody wants to be paying a back-up north of $30m which is what would be happening should the Vikings draft a new starter.

Next year a trade would become a more appealing option to the Vikings if they wished. Cousins has £41m in dead money if traded this year, this drops to $10m next year. Therefore I think we can take option B off the table for this year at least.

The Answer

This seems pretty clear to me. Get him a Defence who can keep the Offence off the field. We have seen above that Kirk Cousins plays best when the team around him performs as well. Justin Jefferson has been a revelation and Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook are A-grade weapons who can score almost at will at times it seems. They make Cousins look better and vice-versa.

The Vikings need to go hard and heavy on Defence this Draft. They need to dig as much as they can to unearth the next stars of a much vaulted Defence. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah would be a perfect start and they need to hit on later picks as well.

Taking the pressure of Cousins will bring more of those great performances. The ones where the Vikings look like they could beat anybody. Moving on from Kirk Cousins is not the answer at this time at all. They need to double down and build him a team who can support him in the way he tries to support them.

Spencer Rattler is eligible for the 2022 Draft. (Image Credit: Joshua R. Gateley)

If this year doesn’t show the improvement across the team that the front office wants then they will want change. Whether this is at Quarterback remains to be seen. With players such as Spencer Rattler and Jayden Daniels eligible for the 2022 Draft Kirk Cousins could be moved on.

This doesn’t change what needs to be done this year. Build the Defence and it will be just as good for a new Quarterback as it would be for Cousins.

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Who Challenges the Bucs in the NFC? - Undrafted - The Network 16th February 2021 at 1:20 pm

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