The Vikings came into Sunday knowing they would have opportunities for downfield strikes against an Eagles team missing two starting cornerbacks. But for that plan to work, the offensive line would have to provide Kirk Cousins with enough time to work against an aggressive defensive front.
Even though the Vikings played without right guard Josh Kline and lost left tackle Riley Reiff to an ankle injury for parts of the game, they were able to set Cousins up for success in a 38-20 victory.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Cousins had an average of 2.59 seconds to throw Sunday, allowing him to attempt 14 passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. His longest throw of the day, which traveled 60.5 yards in the air before Stefon Diggs caught it for a touchdown, was the longest in the NFL so far through Week 6. And Cousins talked after the game about how the offensive line facilitated the Vikings' big-play attempts.
"They did a great job in pass protection," he said. "We took a few seven-step drops, both in the play action and in the drop-back, and you could feel the front. You could feel them coming. They were. And they did get a sack on us. But we were able to get the ball out and people were open and made great plays. It just kind of came together today."
Cousins was sacked only once and hit four times, while pursuing an approach the Vikings often haven't tried in the passing game this season. It has been rare to see the quarterback take seven-step drops and trust he has time to let downfield plays develop, but the Vikings want to add that element to their offense as defenses key up to stop Dalvin Cook. It's an endeavor that requires the offensive line to buy Cousins time.
"I thought Rashod Hill [who filled in for Reiff] came in and did well, and those guys battled," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Their defensive line is a team that's going to come off the ball and attack you, and like I said during the week, we're going to have to come out and attack them, and I thought we did that well."
The Eagles blitzed Cousins only seven times, according to Pro Football Focus, and got their only sack on a play where Pat Elflein appeared to pass Brandon Graham off as the left guard was looking for additional pass rushers on third down, only to find no one else there to deal with Graham. The Lions haven't been a team that blitzes much this season, either, so Cousins could see them opt to devote more resources to coverage against him next weekend.
In any case, Cousins enjoyed his best day of the season while being pressured 35.5% of the time, according to PFF. That rate still isn't great, but it's well below the 47.7% rate he experienced through the season's first four weeks.
"It gives you a chance when everybody's on the same page," right tackle Brian O'Neill said. "Garrett [Bradbury] put us in great positions all day. His calls were very clear. Just from my end, my communication with [right guard] Dakota [Dozier] was spot on."