Plenty of questions await the 6-2 Vikings in the second half of the season, but only one of them really matters: Which version of quarterback Kirk Cousins will show up most often?
First take: Michael Rand
It might sound too simple to talk about Cousins in terms of one extreme or the other, but this is a QB whose performance throughout his career has amounted to two uneven sides forming a middle ground.
After defeating his former team Washington on Thursday, Cousins is 40-39-2 in his career as a starter — the first time in his career he’s been above .500 since he was 1-0.
He threw the ball all over the field through eight games last season and was on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards before coming up short against good teams down the stretch.
He arrived at his 6-2 mark this season (making him 14-9-1 as a Vikings starter in 24 games) after four uneven games to start the year followed by four excellent ones.
Good Kirk. Bad Kirk.
Andrew Krammer: Fortunately for the Vikings we’ve seen more Good Kirk than bad to start this season.
Especially in the past four games, coordinator Kevin Stefanski has opened up the offense with aggressive downfield shots to pair with a Dalvin Cook-centric attack. The new approach, a departure from the conservative 10-pass season opener and short-throw game plan in Chicago, has kept opponents guessing.
The Vikings need Stefanski’s aggressive play calling to continue because it has fed Cousins’ resurgence. And he’s better than we saw at any point last year. Cousins’ 110-plus passer rating for four straight starts is the longest such streak of his NFL career.
Are we seeing an unprecedented Cousins? Is that kind of leap possible for a 31-year-old quarterback? We do know this — a fifth straight win Nov. 3 in Kansas City would be his longest NFL winning streak.
Rand: What’s particularly interesting is that the hot stretch has followed Cousins avowing to play with more of an edge after being ticked off by the Chicago game and its aftermath.
He’s definitely had more swagger — something a QB needs, even if Pro Football Focus can’t quantify it — lately. It’s reminiscent of one of the other best stretches of his career in 2015, which started with his now famous “You like that!” shout after a comeback victory with Washington.
Krammer: PFF did “like that.”
Cousins has been described as “streaky” in his career, beginning with that comeback win starting a 7-3 stretch at the end of his first full season as starter. So, I understand why Vikings fans may be waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But 19 points was pretty uninspiring against a downtrodden team like Washington. Cousins can be imperfect, as he was Thursday night in the red zone, but so long as he’s efficient and avoids the catastrophic mistake plaguing him in Minnesota, he should give the Vikings a chance given the talent around him.
Rand: Perhaps the biggest illustration of how streaky he is: He went into the week leading the NFL in passer rating and yards per attempt, and yet we’re still having this conversation.
Krammer: He’s doing more with less! Cousins is, technically, asked to do less than many peers while averaging 27 throws per game — 28th among quarterbacks. Lately, he’s just been doing a lot with those opportunities.
If this continues, we may have to change it from Good Kirk to Best Kirk.