While there have been a number of reasons for the Vikings’ 4-3-1 start, it’s hard to see how anyone could look at the play of Kirk Cousins and blame him.
His 315 passing yards per game are the fifth-best mark in the NFL behind Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.
His 102.5 passer rating is 10th in the NFL, and his 16 touchdown passes are tied for sixth in the league with Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. His four interceptions are good for 24th in the league and are the fewest of any quarterback with at least 300 pass attempts.
Those are very respectable numbers when you consider that Cousins has taken 23 sacks.
Cousins is on pace for the most single-season passing yards in Vikings history (5,042), the sixth-most touchdowns (32), the fourth-highest passer rating (102.5) and the second-highest completion percentage (70.67).
The truth is that one of the big reasons the Vikings have been as competitive as they have been is because of Cousins and the passing game with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
This will be Cousins’ second game in his career against Detroit. With Washington in 2016, he lost on the road 20-17 while completing 30 of 39 passes for 301 yards and one touchdown, and he ran in another score.
What does he expect from them this week?
“I have a lot of respect for their personnel and their coaching, and I think that pretty much sums it up,” Cousins said. “I think bringing in [Damon] Harrison at the nose guard is a good addition for them. [The Lions traded for Harrison last week from the Giants, and he had seven tackles and a sack against Seattle.] I think he’s a great player.”
Goals remain attainable
When asked for his read on the season, Cousins said the first half hasn’t been perfect but the Vikings’ main goals are still available to them.
“There has been ups, there’s been downs, as many NFL season go,” Cousins said, while pointing out that he doesn’t try to predict how a season is going to go until he’s playing the games. “The good part is we have a lot of divisional games left to be played [five of their final eight games are against the NFC North] and with half the season remaining.
“I think it’s all ahead of us and we can still accomplish what we set out to accomplish at the start of the year.”
When asked about the passing numbers he’s putting up, Cousins said for the most part that’s a leaguewide change this season.
“I think this league is becoming a passing league, and it’s giving quarterbacks a lot of opportunities to air it out and create production in the pass game,” he said. “The key for me is to continue to be explosive but also make smart decisions and protect the football and not put us in harm’s way as an offense and as a team.”
When it comes to throwing to Diggs and Thielen, he continues to learn how they want the ball thrown to them, but it has been a fun process.
“They are two of the best players on our team. They are a big reason why we have won four games. They’re a big reason why we feel good about our chances in the second half of the season,” the eight-year veteran out of Michigan State said. “I am fortunate to be playing with them and have them as teammates.”
He added that he has really enjoyed playing with tight end Kyle Rudolph, whose 40.1 receiving yards per game are the third-highest total on the team.
“Kyle has been a great player here for a long time. He has as natural of hands catching the football as anyone I have played with,” Cousins said. “He is a very smart football player.”
And while Cousins has been pressured as much as any quarterback in the league, he said the offensive line has performed admirably while trying to get healthy and settled.
Cousins has a 91.1 passer rating under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus, which trails only Philip Rivers of San Diego and Ryan Fitzpatrick of Tampa Bay.
“I would say they have done a great job,” he said of the offensive line. “We have asked a lot of them with injuries and we have shuffled players around and yet we have continued to have production. I think it speaks volumes of their effort and their ability to adapt as this season has thrown them some curveballs.”
Still the right decision
When Cousins was asked if he has enjoyed playing in front of Vikings fans, he said his only concern has been living up to expectations.
“It’s an outstanding environment, the best stadium in the NFL, and our fan bas has been tremendous all year long,” he said. “I just want to make sure we’re giving them something to cheer about.”
Does he still think coming to Minnesota was the right move for his career?
“Without a doubt, there has been a great deal of affirmation since we made the decision that this is the right place for us and we’re in a great spot,” Cousins said. “We just need to win. If we win I get to stay and I want to stay. That is the goal.”
• The Las Vegas sports books opened with the Vikings as seven-point favorites, but as of Sunday it was down to four.
• Vikings 2017 second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook has played in only seven of a possible 24 games over two seasons after a torn knee ligament last year and dealing with its lingering effects.
• The Lions are giving up the second-most rushing yards per game this season, and Latavius Murray could have a big game.
• Pro Football Focus on naming Adam Thielen its NFC offensive player of the month: “Thielen’s last month has been darn near as perfect as a receiver can play.” Meanwhile, PFF has the Vikings ranked 12th in the NFL in defense, with the Bears ranked No. 1.
• The Detroit media ripped the trade of receiver Golden Tate, who had 44 receptions for 517 yards and three scores but was dealt to the Eagles on Tuesday. But Lions coach Matt Patricia said they aren’t giving up on the year.
• Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on linebacker Eric Kendricks: “Eric really pays attention to the details. He understands angles, staying inside out on tackling. He’s got the speed to get to the perimeter and still maintain leverage on backs and receivers.”
• Are Jimmy Butler’s trade demands having an impact on Timberwolves attendance? Through five home games they’re averaging 14,948 in attendance, dead last in the NBA, compared to 16,382 last year.
• Eric Musselman, the basketball coach at Nevada and son of former Gophers and Wolves coach Bill Musselman, is the subject of a big profile in this week’s Sports Illustrated. The Wolf Pack is ranked No. 7 in the country.
• NCAA Final Four hospitality packages for U.S. Bank Stadium have the cheapest package for entrance to all three games at $608.50. The most expensive is $1,182.50.