The four-game stretch after the Vikings’ bye week that spelled the end for interim offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was also perhaps Kirk Cousins’ worst, at least from a statistical perspective, of his first season in Minnesota.
Cousins had a passer rating below 90 in three of the four games — all Vikings losses — and posted his two worst days of the season against the Bears and Patriots, throwing two interceptions for the first time all year against Chicago and doing so again in New England.
Apart from one (notable) play against the Dolphins, Cousins got back to playing efficient football in Kevin Stefanski’s first outing as the Vikings’ play-caller, posting a passer rating over 100 for just the second time since the start of November and throwing a pair of touchdown passes in the Vikings’ 41-17 win. Time will tell whether Cousins can continue to produce with Stefanski calling plays and the Vikings trying to clinch a playoff spot in the season’s final two weeks, but the quarterback seemed optimistic about his working relationship with Stefanski, his quarterbacks coach-turned-coordinator.
“As long as he’s the play-caller and I’m the quarterback, we’re always trying to build a rapport,” Cousins said. “Every game we’ll get more inventory of what we do well and what we like to do together. We have a small sample size right now so we’re still in the process of building a rapport and obviously the fact that he’s been in the quarterback room for so many months helps. I don’t think anything I tell him is a surprise or mystery to him and vice versa. Communication has been good, but with only one game under our belt, I think there’s still a lot of growth that can happen.”
The Vikings focused on play-action against the Dolphins, employing it on 32 percent of their passes after using it just 18.6 percent of the time the first 14 weeks of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. Cousins had a perfect 158.3 passer rating on those throws, hitting six of seven of them for 103 yards and a touchdown.
He also threw both of his TD strikes after the Vikings altered their tempo to take advantage of the Dolphins’ languid pace as they lined up. The Vikings used a no-huddle offense before Cousins’ touchdown throw to Stefon Diggs, and quick-counted the Dolphins’ defense on his 40-yard throw to Aldrick Robinson, where Pat Elflein snapped the ball as soon as he lined up.
“They can’t quite get comfortable and tee off,” Cousins said. “You love to be able to change it up so they can’t get comfortable or used to any one thing. Anything you can do to keep defenses on their toes is important. Snap counts, pace of play are certainly one way to keep the defense honest.”
His one mistake came on the second-quarter interception he threw to Minkah Fitzpatrick, who returned it 50 yards for a touchdown after Cousins tried to hit Diggs on a wide receiver screen. Cousins said he threw the ball to Diggs assuming Fitzpatrick would be blocked; the cornerback slipped by a block attempt from tight end Kyle Rudolph to jump in front of Cousins’ throw.
“If you’ve watched the games we’ve played against the Rams and the games we’ve played against the Packers and the big plays we’ve had, you’d say, ‘We can’t afford to not have that play call and not have that ready to go,’” Cousins said
“It’s just a play that you have to be careful with because it can happen quick. Like I said, I understand the defensive end is the one who can be my issue because he’s unblocked. If that guy’s not blitzing, block him. If he is blitzing, let him alone.”
Stefanski, Cousins said, has remained part of all of the Vikings’ quarterback meetings, though assistant QB coach Drew Petzing and tight ends coach Todd Downing (who could be seen talking to Cousins on the sideline on Sunday) have taken on larger roles since Stefanski became the interim offensive coordinator.
As the Vikings try to replicate their results against the Dolphins on the road Sunday against the Lions, they’ll again ask Cousins to be at his best with the new team around him.
“They’ll fight hard, they’re well-coached, and we’re playing on the road,” he said. “We’re all in this league fighting to put good things on tape, and we’re all being evaluated. Nobody is safe. Nobody has arrived and nobody can feel like they can just roll their helmet out there and play.”