There’s one reason above all others why Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is in the middle of the longest run of his NFL career without a turnover, a streak at four games after Sunday night’s 28-24 win in Dallas.
“He’s playing fast,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday, “and that’s probably the most important thing; making good decisions and playing fast.”
Cousins had to play fast against a strong Cowboys pass rush, which still came away with a season-high seven hits on him. But Cousins countered with quick-enough throws that mitigated the damage to just one sack. He’s also holding onto the ball; Cousins hasn’t fumbled in five straight games, also an NFL career best streak.
“It’s a combination of factors,” Cousins said. “Some of it is just getting better as a football player, having gone through more experiences and learning what it means to protect the football. Secondly, I think we’re protecting well, which is allowing me to see the defense and not have to take guesses.”
Cousins credited the offensive line, which is on pace to allow 13 fewer sacks than a season ago. But Zimmer came back to the Cowboys pass rush, which was the kind of obstacle the Vikings offense needed to prove it could overcome. Now, thanks in large part to Cousins’ clean play, the Vikings rank fifth in turnover differential (+5) through 10 games.
“There was a lot of times that he did a great job of getting the ball out, too,” Zimmer said. “He got hit quite a few times [Sunday night]. I’m not calling out the offensive line. He got hit a bunch of times [Sunday night], and there was times that he had to get the ball out quick, and I thought he did that well.”
Thielen, Joseph still on the mend
The Vikings do not know whether receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) or nose tackle Linval Joseph will be available for Sunday’s game against the Broncos, according to Zimmer, which is the team’s final game before the bye week. Thielen did not practice last week. Joseph underwent surgery last week to repair the meniscus in his knee, sources told the Star Tribune on Sunday, but he’s expected to return at some point this season.
Third-year defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, making his second NFL start for Joseph in Dallas, drew strong reviews from Zimmer.
“Played really well,” Zimmer said. “First play of the game, he tried to maybe come off a block a little bit too soon on the first run, but then after that he was really good. I thought he played hard.”
For just the third time, center Garrett Bradbury did not allow a single defender to pressure Cousins, according to Pro Football Focus. All three of Bradbury’s clean games have come in the past six weeks, marking progress from the Vikings’ first-round pick who struggled during the first quarter of his rookie season.
“Kirk’s a stud, we just have to give him time,” Bradbury said. “There have been times this season where there’s some plays I want back in protection, but as everyone sees, when we give him protection and give him time, he’s phenomenal — he’s lights out.”
Airing it out
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 397 yards — the most against the Vikings defense since the Rams’ Jared Goff threw for 456 yards in September 2018 — and much of that was directed at cornerback Mike Hughes, starting for the injured Trae Waynes. A tip of the hat was the only response to some of Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper’s spectacular catches.
“He caught some that may have been outside the white [sideline] a couple times,” Zimmer said. “Good throws, being in position. Mike probably could have been a little bit more physical with the receiver on the one touchdown that he had thrown on him. So there’s some things he can do better. There’s some things he did good.”