NFL Mondays are intended for recovery, reflection and refocusing. Teams attempt to turn the page as quickly as possible. Some weeks that task is more difficult than others.
This is one of those weeks for the Vikings as it relates to their quarterback, aka the Human Piñata.
Kirk Cousins suddenly faces a critical week in his NFL career. At least in terms of calming the masses and shifting the focus to something other than his aptitude as a starting quarterback. The Vikings need him to have a bounce-back performance in the worst way.
If you haven’t noticed, Vikings faithful are just a little upset at Cousins after his turnover-plagued performance ruined a chance to leap out of Lambeau Field with a stunning comeback instead of a 21-16 loss.
The temperature setting on Cousins currently reads nuclear. He probably should encase himself in a cocoon and shut off all forms of media, because his approval rating has plummeted to new depths.
A strong outing against the Oakland Raiders this week won’t restore all faith, but can you imagine the mood inside U.S. Bank Stadium if Cousins struggles or makes poor decisions that result in interceptions? No amount of house music will be able to drown out the boos.
Cousins had a chance to alter the narrative attached to his short tenure in purple, that he wilts in big games. Instead, he reinforced that line of thinking in the most gruesome way possible against the one opponent that gets circled on the calendar every season.
The cliché that quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame is typically true, but this is not one of those instances. Cousins’ mistakes should cause alarm in the upper reaches of the organization for multiple reasons.
One, his decision-making on the game-sealing interception in the end zone was a rookie mistake. He is not a rookie. Such reckless situational awareness for a quarterback with Cousins’ experience speaks to a fundamental problem that coaching might not be able to fix.
Two, Cousins’ turnovers remain a problem. He had three more against the Packers on two interceptions and a fumble. His interceptions were the product of poor decisions, not bad luck or exceptional defense. He threw into quadruple coverage on the first one, and double coverage while in retreat mode on the second one.
Three, this might be the most troubling development: Cousins posted the third-worst passer rating (52.9) in his career as a starter despite the offense rushing for 198 yards — 154 by Dalvin Cook in the kind of a grind-’em-down performance that Mike Zimmer covets.
And Cousins still couldn’t thrive under those conditions.
The blueprint looked exactly how Zimmer sold it all offseason. Run-heavy emphasis to set up play-action passing and a more balanced approach. Surround Cousins with better infrastructure and the right system with the right coaches and the entire offense will hum more efficiently. That’s what we were told.
In two games with the new offense, Cousins has either been a nonfactor or a liability.
A healthy Cook is a game-changer. He is dynamic, special, pick any superlative. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called Cook a “top-five running back” in the NFL after the game and no one will argue that point. If Cousins can’t maximize his own performance by capitalizing on being paired with an elite running back and two star receivers, then they might be out of answers.
The frustration gets compounded when you see Cousins make throws like his 45-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs in the third quarter. His touch, placement and timing were perfect. You hope to see more of that. But then those other moments happen — the critical mistakes and turnovers — and, well, here we are.
“He can do better,” Zimmer said Monday.
Zimmer wasn’t about to bash his quarterback publicly, but the whole operation is dependent upon Cousins not just being better, but performing at a level that makes the Vikings a true contender. Jobs likely are riding on it.
His struggles Sunday weren’t a one-off but more a continuation of a theme. The loud, exasperated reaction from fans reflects growing unrest and lack of confidence that things will change.