Kirk Cousins wasn’t perfect in the Vikings’ 37-30 loss at Seattle on “Monday Night Football,” throwing for 276 yards, two touchdowns and one interception — but it says a lot that his 87.2 passer rating was his second-worst mark of the season, trailing only his 52.9 mark in the Vikings’ 21-16 loss at Green Bay in Week 2.
The fact is that Cousins is putting together a historic campaign.
And he said that even though the Vikings lost to the Seahawks, he can take positives away from that game just as he took negatives away from their 27-23 win over the Broncos.
“I mean there’s always positives and there’s always negatives,” Cousins said. “In a win like we had against Denver, there were a lot of negatives and the result is obviously what drives the narrative, but there are points throughout any game where you can point to good things and bad things.”
Cousins’ 111.9 rating ranks second in the NFL behind only Ryan Tannehill of Tennessee, who has played in just eight games. But that mark would be the highest in Vikings history, a record set in 2004 by Daunte Culpepper, when he threw for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns.
And when you consider that Cousins has now been without Adam Thielen, easily one of the best receivers in the NFL, for four games, it’s all the more impressive.
Cousins said his view is that no matter what, you are going to deal with injuries throughout the season, and you have to respond.
“I don’t think many teams have the guys they started the season with,” Cousins said. “And we lost Chad Beebe [in Week 3], he was a key piece of our offense and he hasn’t been here because of an unfortunate injury. You know you lose people. You have to find a way to keep going. I think the good football teams are the ones that regardless of who has been injured you still win and you find ways to get it done.”
One player who has definitely stepped up is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Including the Week 9 game at Kansas City where Thielen got hurt, Rudolph has caught 16 passes for 154 yards and five scores in Thielen’s absence.
“I think it has been really just a result of play calls, coverages and then Kyle making some spectacular catches,” Cousins said. “But certainly he has had a little bit of an uptick through the middle of this season. I think that has been great not only for him but for our offense. It’s made a difference. It has been great to see how he’s made us right so many times when we give him the football, a tough catch, a tight window, making the play.”
Stefanski on system, Cousins
First-year offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski believes there’s no doubt the system the team put in place in the offseason is helping Cousins’ historic season. But he also said the game plan wouldn’t matter if Cousins hadn’t worked extremely hard to learn a brand-new system in just a few months.
“We’re definitely doing things that Kirk is really comfortable with, and it’s important as we put this thing together to have a scheme that plays to his strengths,” Stefanski said. “I think certainly you see with the way he has performed this is something that he does really well, our play-action game, the screen game, on third down, in the red zone, he has really taken the bit. To his credit it is a new system for him, and he has really grinded on it to get to know the ins and outs of every play.”
And the fact that Cousins has been able to roll out so much this season has changed everything. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Cousins has averaged 2.97 seconds holding the ball per pass, the best mark in the league.
“That’s something he has done in his career,” Stefanski said. “You go back to the Michigan State days, he was a really good player when you got him on the move. At least from our standpoint, it is something he is really good at, keep doing it, because he matches up with our run game.”
Clean pocket, fewer sacks
The pressure stats back up that Cousins is getting better protection. He has taken just 1.8 sacks per game this season after taking 2.5 per game in 2018.
“No sacks the other night [against Seattle] — when you’re going against these defensive fronts in the NFL, there are some really talented rushers,” Stefanski said. “We have put our guys in some tough spots, and they have responded.”
What has also pleased Stefanski is the fact that even though the team has had injuries on the line, players have stepped up to play multiple positions and still had success.
“We have had guys in and out of the lineup due to injury and you’d love to see all five of those guys play together for 16 games, but that’s just not the reality most years,” he said. “I have been really proud of the guys that have stepped up, stepped in at right guard, then come in at left guard; Rashod Hill came in this last game and played. It’s a group that really is working together, which is so important for those five guys. It has been so impressive with how they’ve gone about it.”
• Jerry Reichow will be the Vikings’ honorary captain for their game with the Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Reichow played for the Vikings from 1961-64 and has been with the franchise for over five decades in various scouting and player personnel roles. There are few people who have shaped the franchise more than Reichow.
• Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on the team being ranked 16th in total defense after ranking in the top five the past three years: “We’re not worried about stats. What we’re concerned about is helping our team win.”
• Pro Football Focus’ NFL mock draft sees the Vikings picking cornerback Jaylon Johnson of Utah: “With Trae Waynes a free agent and Xavier Rhodes struggling, the Vikings could very well address cornerback in the first once again,” PFF wrote.
• The fact that Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman are believed to be the first teammates to be named All-Big Ten first team at receiver is unbelievable. The fact that Bateman can’t turn pro until 2021 is a huge bonus for next season.
• A big plus about the Gophers’ 2020 schedule is that their first four games are at home — nonconference contests with Florida Atlantic and Tennessee Tech, then Iowa on Sept. 19 followed by another nonconference game with BYU. They will also face Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern at home while traveling to Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska.
• The latest projections have the Gophers playing in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. It could be a tough opponent, most likely from the SEC, such as Alabama, Auburn or Tennessee.
• The Gophers have played on New Year’s Day only twice — the 1961 Rose Bowl and the 2014 Citrus Bowl, under Jerry Kill.