As Kirk Cousins set up to face an aggressive Eagles pass rush on Sunday afternoon, there stood a decent chance the quarterback would again have to make a series of big throws with defenders bearing down on him.
Cousins, once again, proved up to the challenge.
The quarterback, who completed 30 of his 37 passes in Sunday’s 23-21 win over the Eagles, was hit 11 times during the game and made a number of his biggest throws — including a 24-yarder to Adam Thielen on the game’s first drive and a 68-yarder to Thielen from the Vikings’ own 5-yard line — with a defender bearing down on him. Cousins was only sacked once on Sunday (on a play where Michael Bennett was flagged for tackling Cousins low as the quarterback tried to get away), but the hits he took again underscored his toughness to his teammates.
“I mean, shoot, you look at one of the first plays of the game, when he’s getting hit and he just throws it out there and lets me go run to it,” Thielen said. “All day, he just continues to sit back there and trusts us to get open. A lot of times, he probably can’t even see us, but he just trusts us to get open as receivers, because that’s our job. He just trusts us to get open and make a play.”
After the game on Sunday, Cousins echoed a theme offensive coordinator John DeFilippo laid out this week, about how the idea of balance on offense shouldn’t take precedence over doing what it takes to win a game. The Vikings managed a serviceable 77 yards on the ground, handing off on 18 of their 60 offensive plays. But given the fact their offensive line had its hands full with the Eagles’ top-rated run defense, the Vikings knew they would have to come into the game looking for big plays against Philadelphia’s secondary.
That, in all likelihood, meant Cousins having to take a few shots as he threw, and the quarterback again stood up to the pressure.
“Coach ‘Flip’ is giving Adam and giving Stef [Stefon Diggs] opportunities to make plays,” Cousins said. “He could call run plays left and right, but those guys aren’t going to touch the ball. The game plan is giving them a chance to get opportunities. I think it goes back to the fact that I’m calling plays and going to the line of scrimmage with the belief they’re going to get the ball.”
Here are some other notes and observations from the Vikings’ 23-21 win over the Eagles:
–The Vikings again spent almost the entire day in sub packages, with linebacker Ben Gedeon — who lines up primarily in the base defense — playing only five snaps after seeing two against the Rams. With Trae Waynes out because of a concussion and Mike Hughes starting at left cornerback, the Vikings used a handful of different players in their secondary, giving Mackensie Alexander 28 snaps while turning to safety Jayron Kearse for 21 and putting George Iloka on the field for seven.
The Vikings often used Terence Newman on first and second down when they were in nickel last season, turning to Alexander in obvious passing situations. They’ve continued some of that approach this year with Kearse — and on Sunday, also Iloka — playing in the slot as part of a three-safety nickel package. Holton Hill also got four snaps on defense.
–While the Vikings posted 375 yards of total offense and didn’t have a three-and-out until the end of the third quarter, their struggles in the red zone made the game closer than it otherwise could have been. They went 1-for-4 in the red zone, scoring their only touchdown on Cousins’ three-yard strike to Thielen in the corner of the end zone. Dan Bailey’s first field goal of the day came from the Eagles’ 10, and his two misses were both on kicks that ended stalled red zone drives. Cousins had a third-down pass to Roc Thomas batted down on the Vikings’ first red zone drive, and saw Jalen Mills break up his third-down throw to Aldrick Robinson on the second trip. His throw to Thielen turned out to be the Vikings’ only offensive touchdown of the day.
–There’s little doubt that the Vikings’ defensive front would be better and deeper if it had Everson Griffen, but with the three-time Pro Bowler’s status still unclear going forward, Stephen Weatherly has made an impressive share of plays in Griffen’s absence. Weatherly had his second career sack and first forced fumble on Sunday, when he knocked the ball out of Carson Wentz’s hand to set up Linval Joseph’s 64-yard touchdown return. So far this season, Weatherly has four quarterback hits. He played 54 of the Vikings’ 59 snaps on Sunday, as the Vikings tried to make do with two healthy defensive ends.
Rookie Jalyn Holmes got on the field for seven snaps in his first NFL action, while the Vikings reduced Joseph’s workload by giving more time to Tom Johnson (22 snaps) and Jaleel Johnson (17). Joseph got a break after the touchdown, sitting on the sideline following his touchdown, with sunglasses and an oxygen mask that immediately birthed a Twitter meme. On the final plays of the third quarter, the Vikings lined up with a defensive front of Weatherly, Tom Johnson, Jaleel Johnson and Holmes.
–The Vikings, who had allowed 17 plays of 20 yards or more this season before Sunday, gave up six passes of 20-plus yards to the Eagles, though all but one of those was in the second half as Philadelphia tried to rally from a 20-3 deficit. On the Eagles’ first big play — a 48-yard completion to Shelton Gibson — Wentz underthrew a pass that Gibson was able to haul in after working back in front of Hughes for the ball. His 33-yarder to Alshon Jeffery came when Alexander appeared to carry Xavier Rhodes’ man downfield with Rhodes, leaving Jeffery open in the middle of the field.