The Vikings are halfway through their 2020 schedule at 3-5. Every day leading up to Monday night’s game in Chicago, we’ll break down how each position has fared so far.
QB: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
Before and after giving Cousins a two-year, $66 million extension in March, the Vikings talked about how they expected their starting quarterback to improve during his second year in Gary Kubiak’s system. They traded away Stefon Diggs — Cousins’ top target whose disenchantment with the Vikings’ offense was an open secret — the same day they finalized the quarterback’s deal, and used the first-round pick they got for Diggs to draft Justin Jefferson, before taking offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland in the second round. With a consistent system, plenty of weapons around Cousins and what the Vikings hoped would be a better offensive line, the team publicly talked of taking the next step with the quarterback after a NFC divisional playoff loss last year.
Where they are
Cousins’ 10 interceptions were the most in the NFL through six games; that number is now the second-highest total in the league after two interception-free games during which the Vikings asked Cousins to throw only 34 times. He has thrived in back-to-back wins where he’s handed off to Dalvin Cook more times than he’s thrown the ball, and he’s been sacked only once in each game. Cousins’ durability remains one of his strongest traits — he’s only been on two injury reports in his career, listed as probable before Washington’s 2012 wild-card game and before Week 1 of the 2013 season — and the Vikings head into each week confident they won’t have to consider contingency plans (with Mannion, or practice squad passers Jake Browning and Nate Stanley) like they’ve had to do with quarterbacks in the past.
Player to watch
Cousins. His ability to throw downfield off play action has been well-established in the Vikings’ offense, but can he connect on the intermediate throws that have led to some of his turnover issues this season? The Vikings will inevitably run into games, possibly as soon as Monday, where they can’t lean on Cook for 20-plus carries against a strong run defense. They’ll again need Cousins to make some key throws, trusting he can put the ball in tight spots and avoid lapses like the ones he had on interceptions to linebackers K.J. Wright and Deion Jones in back-to-back games.
7.9: The average number of air yards Cousins’ completions have traveled this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. No quarterback has thrown the ball further on his average completion this season.
Photo credit: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune