Since Kirk Cousins arrived here in 2018, he has statistically been a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers, who he will go up against Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium as the Vikings open their 60th season.
Cousins has posted a 103.0 passer rating compared with Rodgers’ 96.5. He has thrown 56 touchdowns compared with Rodgers’ 51 and has completed 69.7% of his passes compared with Rodgers’ 62.2%.
But where it matters most, Rodgers has gotten the better of Cousins and the Vikings — going 2-1-1 against the Purple since 2018, including two dominant victories in 2019.
“I mean, I think it’s motivating. They did a great job. They beat us twice last year,” Cousins said. “When you remember how sick you felt after those games, you don’t want to let that happen again for a third time. It’s certainly some level of motivation there. But in pro football nobody wants to feel that way, and the motivation is pretty high every week regardless of the past games.”
Yes, in the NFL the only saying that matters is “Just Win, Baby,” and that shows in Cousins’ and Rodgers’ four battles.
Cousins has completed 94 of 149 passes (63.1%) for 1,119 yards and nine touchdowns, with four interceptions. Rodgers has completed 95 of 144 passes (66%) for 904 yards and four scores, with one pick. But the record goes Rodgers’ way, and Cousins knows he will have another great test Sunday.
“I think it’s an honor to go against such great players, and Aaron is going to be in the Hall of Fame and will go down as one of the greatest of all time,” said Cousins. “Every time you get to play against someone like that, it’s an honor. And it’s a tall task to play at the level you need to play to be able to win. But that is the job. I look forward to taking on that challenge.”
Working with Zimmer
This offseason, the Vikings ownership left no question as to how they view their best chance at winning a Super Bowl by giving Cousins a two-year contract extension worth $66 million that keeps him in Minnesota through 2022. They also gave head coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman extensions through 2023, meaning this is the group going forward.
And while Zimmer is known as a defensive-minded coach, Cousins says working with him has been great.
“It’s the same job as it would be for any coach, you have to protect the football, you have to find a way to win in the fourth quarter,” Cousins said. “He has been great with me and understanding I have a lot on my plate, and ultimately he just wants to see me play well and help the team win.”
Does Cousins feel like the offense is starting to be as important to this franchise as the defense? “I hope so. I hope we can be both an explosive offense and a very stout defense and be very strong on special teams,” he said. “I think that to go where we want to go and play deep into the playoffs; you’re going to need to be successful in all three phases. That’s certainly what we’re working toward. This season will decide if we can be that kind of a team.”
Teaching, learning from WRs
The hope around the Vikings is that the loss of receiver Stefon Diggs — who accounted for 19.7% of all receptions and 30.3% of receiving yards last season — can be offset by a well-rounded offense.
Cousins said the wide receivers room is showing a lot of promise.
“Adam [Thielen] is certainly the most experienced player in the room and a good leader for the group,” Cousins said. “But it has been fun to see Olabisi Johnson continue to develop and watch Justin Jefferson start to learn the ropes, and Tajae Sharpe has been an outstanding veteran coming over from Tennessee. I feel really good about the group.”
How does Cousins view his role as a teacher when there’s a younger group of receivers?
“I have total trust in our coaches and [wide receivers] coach [Andrew] Janocko to relay information,” Cousins said. “So usually it’s just in the moment, if we’re right after a play and I have a chance to talk about something with them or before a play maybe, maybe it’s even in the huddle many times it’s informal, just trying to keep an open dialogue.
“And then vice versa, I love to hear from them whenever they have thoughts, too. How they like to get open or what routes they like to run. It’s kind of an ongoing, constant dialogue, and that includes coaches.”
Terrific tight ends
Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings as the seventh-best tight end group in the league entering this season, and it’s easy to see why.
Kyle Rudolph (39 receptions) and Irv Smith Jr. (36) ranked third and fourth on the team in catches last season. And Cousins said that group could be even better.
“I have been impressed with what Tyler Conklin has done. He continues to improve and become a more confident tight end, and I think he can do a lot for us, as well. Then you have Rudy, who has been so dependable for so long, has such good hands. Irv Smith showed flashes last year of what he’s capable of, and we’re going to continue to put more on his plate.”
• Packers wideout Allen Lazard starred at Iowa State and has some experience against the Vikings cornerbacks from his Big 12 days. “I actually went against Holton Hill [Texas] and Jeff Gladney [TCU] in college, so I actually asked our video guy to pull up some of my old film, one, to study myself, and two, just to be able to see how I matched up against those guys back in my college days. But having those new guys out there, obviously with them losing Xavier [Rhodes] and Trae [Waynes] and not having that film or any preseason film is going to make it very difficult.”
• Steve Christoff, the former Richfield, Gophers and North Stars hockey standout, sold his 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal and a game-worn jersey at auction. The medal sold for $319,000, which exceeded the amount two other 1980 hockey golds sold for. Mark Wells’ medal sold for $310,700 and Mark Pavelich’s sold for $262,900. The jersey sold for $116,850.
• Twins center fielder Byron Buxton went 1-for-15 to start the season (.067), but he entered Saturday hitting .280 with seven homers, 16 RBI and 11 runs scored over 22 games.
• Former Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson, who is in the first year of a three-year, $28 million contract with Texas, is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA in nine starts for the Rangers.
• Sauk Rapids-Rice product Anthony Bemboom is with the Angels. The 30-year-old catcher is hitting .194 with two home runs, including one Friday vs. Colorado, but also has played well defensively. He has thrown out five of 15 potential base-stealers. He has also made one pitching appearance, throwing a shutout inning. Bemboom made it to the major leagues in 2019 after eight minor league seasons.
• Gophers junior catcher Chase Stanke was named to the Northwoods League Postseason All-Star team. Stanke batted .310 with three home runs and 22 RBI for Willmar, while committing only one error.