At this point last season Kirk Cousins was leading a Redskins squad that was out of playoff contention at 6-8. Cousins had thrown for 3,636 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions through 14 games.
Compare that to his numbers this year of 3,913 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and you can see what he has meant to the Vikings offense.
But for Cousins, the most important thing is that he continues to find ways to improve as a player every week, and he said following the Vikings' 41-17 victory over the Dolphins last weekend that he is still accomplishing that this season.
"I have always looked to have continuous improvement as I play in this league, and I do feel that every year I have played I have gotten better," Cousins said this past week as he prepares to face the Lions. "Sometimes the outcomes and the results don't go your way, but overall I do think I've been a better player this year than the year before. And I'm excited to take those steps into the future."
Cousins said he has no regrets about coming to Minnesota, and through 14 games he has nothing but positive feelings.
"This is a journey for me, a longterm journey, and so far, 14 games in, I feel really good about this organization and my role on the team," he said. "I think it has been a good season. I think I continue to improve and I feel good about what we have done as a team and the fact that we have so much to play for with two weeks to go."
Stefanski willing to adapt
Cousins already had a good working relationship with new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, because Stefanski was his quarterbacks coach. How did he feel Stefanski did in his first game as coordinator?
"Kevin's goal as the coordinator and play-caller was to be ready to adjust and adapt depending on what the game called for," Cousins said. "With the success we had running the ball it necessitated continuing to run the football, and Kevin made some good adjustments to stay at them and stay on the ground. It was a good game. Any time you score 41 points, you're doing something right."
Through 11 games this season, Cousins was averaging 299 passing yards and two scores per game, but over the past three weeks that average has dropped to 208 yards and 1.3 passing touchdowns per game.
It also has meant fewer receptions for star receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Is Cousins worried about that?
"I think it's a combination of defenses and us running the ball last week," he said. "Two weeks ago [in a 21-7 loss to Seattle] we just didn't have much success offensively, period, not just Thielen or Diggs, pretty much everyone was limited. Week to week, things can change, and I wouldn't be surprised if this week they get the ball again. Who knows how it goes week to week."
Homecoming in Michigan
Cousins grew up in Holland, Mich., and played at Michigan State. He said one of his biggest goals when he was growing up was to play in the Michigan high school state championship at Ford Field, which he didn't get to accomplish as a prep standout.
His one NFL game at Detroit came in 2016, when he completed 30 of 39 passes for 301 yards and a score, but the Lions won 20-17 when Matthew Stafford completed a 18-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining.
"It is always fun for me to go back to Michigan, to my home state," Cousins said. "There will be a lot of people from my hometown that come to the game. When I was growing up, the dream was to play at Ford Field as a high schooler. I didn't get to do that, but now I'm living the dream at Ford Field as a professional."
Lions still dangerous
When Cousins faced the Lions at home in Week 9 he had a decent game in a 24-9 victory, completing 18 of 22 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He said that even though the Lions are out of the playoffs, their defense is extremly opportunistic, and with victories over New England, Green Bay, Miami and Carolina this year, there is no doubt they will present challenges.
"Well coached, first and foremost," Cousins said of the scouting report. "They do a great job with their scheme. They have some players up front that are tough to block, and Darius Slay [who had the interception against Cousins in the first matchup] is an excellent corner. I have a great deal of respect for their safeties [Quandre Diggs and Glover Quin], I think they're both very active and smart players.
"They gave us a challenge the last time we played them, and I expect the same this time."
Cousins said that he also knows the Vikings defense will have its hands full with Stafford.
"He is a great player," he said. "He has had a tremendous career. It is hard to believe he's already in Year 10. It seems like it has gone fast. He has always had a lot of production and at times with injuries and different setbacks, he really carried that team.
"When he's your quarterback you are always in it because of his talent and his ability to make plays. He will be a handful for our defense."
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he is not thinking about the playoffs at all. "We haven't really talked about it," he said. "We just need to win this one first and we'll worry about everything else the next week." … What does Zimmer expect from the Lions? "They're going to try to load up. Defensively, they're going to get into positions and use their big bodies to try to keep some of the running lanes down and use the safeties in the box some. We'll get some opportunities there to try and root them out a little bit."
• One of the surprises on the Vikings defense has been cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who Pro Football Focus had on its team of the week for Week 15. Over the past five games, Alexander has 14 tackles, five pass deflections and a sack.
• The Vikings passed only 34 percent of the time against Miami, compared to 66 percent of the time in their first 13 games. However, Dalvin Cook and the Vikings run game might have a harder time at Detroit. The Lions rank 16th in the NFL against the run (115.4 yards per game). The Dolphins ranked 31st (145.2).
• There's a slim chance Matthew Stafford won't play Sunday; if he doesn't, his backup is former Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, who is with his sixth NFL franchise and in his first year in Detroit. The 36-year-old has thrown six passes this season, including an interception. Stafford has battled a back injury but has made 126 starts in a row, the sixth-longest NFL QB streak ever.
• Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated wrote that the change to Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator was a real positive for the Vikings but also said, "I still believe that ex-Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is a really good coach who'll probably have a chance to call plays again next year."
• Of teams the Vikings have faced at least 20 times, they have the best winning percentage vs. the Lions at .649 (73-39-2).
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org