When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract in 2018, they believed they were landing a quarterback that put them on top and could help them win a first Super Bowl title.
What they actually gained, however, was perhaps the league’s ultimate quarterback conundrum.
No one could look at Cousins’ raw numbers and think of him as a bad quarterback. Yet throughout his career with both the Vikings and previously at Washington, he is a player who has continued to confuse, particularly with an apparent inability to deliver in “clutch” situations with the game at stake. .
Cousins’ time as a pro was arguably summed up by his performance in Week 12. In the most important game of a season in which he has the best touchdown / interception ratio in the NFL, Cousins arrived woefully small, with a string of bad throws and a turnout dooming the Vikings to defeat to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Vikings are not without problems in other areas. However, with the guns around Cousins, this is a seemingly ripe infrastructure for the quarterback’s success.
In terms of stats, Cousins has largely succeeded in 2021. Yet disconcerting performances like the one that brought the Vikings down to 5-6 last week only spark debate around Cousins and whether he holds back. his team.
The Cousins Collapse in San Francisco
Already more than 3,000 passing yards with six games to play, with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions at a career low, the 2021 campaign ranks among Cousins’ best seasons.
Delivering a precise, well-thrown ball on 80.8% of his passing attempts, above the league average of 78.4, and throwing a selectable pass on 10 of his 385 attempts, Stats Perform’s advanced metrics Cousins also reflect well.
But it’s this apparent consistency throughout the season that makes postings like his performance against San Francisco all the more confusing.
Cousins has done a great job taking care of the football this season, but his third interception of the year came in the third quarter against the Niners as he failed to spot linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair. obstructing his throwing lane during a pass attempt for Adam Thielen. As for the failures to read the field correctly, it was as bad as it gets.
The interception gave the Niners a 28-14 lead, a gap the Vikings couldn’t close in large part because of Cousins’ inaccurate throws.
He led the Vikings on a touchdown in the next series only to miss a wide-open Justin Jefferson on a two-point conversion try with a low throw.
Jefferson was the target of a fourth shot from the ground in the fourth quarter that went way over his head, this play coming after Minnesota burned a time out due to Cousins lining up behind the right guard in the place of the center.
Cousins isn’t the first quarterback to accidentally line up in the wrong spot in the heat of the moment, but such a blunder makes it seem like a signalman ill-equipped to deliver when the pressure is on his. maximum.
And, given the performance of the surrounding weapons, it’s no wonder Jefferson found himself throwing his arms around in disbelief at some of Cousins’ duds.
Stacked Support Cast
Any idea of Jefferson stepping back after a historic 2020 season that saw him break the rookie record for receiving yards has been put to bed.
Jefferson is on the verge of exceeding his 1,400-yard tally from last year and, among wide receivers with at least 25 targets, he ranks seventh in burn percentage, which measures how quickly a wide receiver wins. his clash with a defender on a game where he is targeted, while he is 11th with a significant play rate of 39 percent.
Thielen, who hit a pair of touchdowns against San Francisco, also excelled at creating big plays, making it on 34.6% of his targets.
With KJ Osborn emerging as a legitimate third receiving option and Tyler Conklin enjoying a tight career year, Cousins has one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and is backed by a running game that has produces 37 carries of 10 yards or more, the 12th tallest in the league.
Dalvin Cook’s potential absence with a shoulder injury may reduce the assistance Cousins gets from the ground attack, but he’s certainly not in a position to complain about a stacked supporting cast , although he may be frustrated at the lack of help from other areas.
The fatal flaw of the Vikings
Cousins’ bag count has improved significantly this season. After taking 39 sacks last year, he has suffered just 15 in 11 games in 2021, which suggests an improvement in the offensive line.
Still, a closer assessment of the O-Line’s performance suggests that there may be a hint of fortune in the Vikings’ success in preventing sacks.
Indeed, Cousins attempted 136 passes under pressure, just behind Matt Ryan (145), while the Vikings are ranked 28th in pass protection win rate.
More often than not, the Vikings lose the battle in the trenches, and so does the defensive side of the ball.
Continually intimidated by the 49ers’ superb rushing offense, the Vikings allowed 208 rushing yards at an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.
While the San Francisco running game has dominated several teams this season, the Vikings’ inability to stop them was in keeping with their season’s theme.
They rank 26th for opposing yards per play allowed at 5.87 and allow 4.83 yards per carry, the most in the NFL. In under-expectation Stats Perform’s rush yards, the Vikings are also 26th.
Minnesota’s severe underperformance in mastering opposing racing games has a two-pronged effect. This contributed to a defensive effort that saw the Vikings give up 25.1 points per game – with just eight teams conceding more – and put opponents in control of the time as the 49ers did last Sunday.
The cousins’ inability to make key throws and that dismal interception no doubt played a critical role in Minnesota failing in Week 12, but the massive possession time disadvantage that resulted from dominance of the running game from San Francisco, as well as a fumble from Cook as he suffered his injury, limited opportunities for the passing game to turn things around.
For a quarterback of Cousins’ unmistakable experience and talent to continue throwing in those sporadic scratching head projections is a legitimate issue for the Vikings. However, they are too rare for it to be considered a drag in Minnesota.
The reality is that, between the number of points they are giving up and Minnesota’s ineffectiveness against the run, the Vikings – with all their might on offense – are unable to survive the Cousins’ days off.