Kirk Cousins and Mike Zimmer are just different people from different generations raised on different sides of the football that have united them in their four-year quest to win Minnesota's first Super Bowl.
Cousins laughed a little about it Wednesday when something Zimmer said about their new weekly sitdowns was relayed to him during an interview with the Star Tribune.
"Sometimes," Cousins said, "I agree to disagree with Coach."
Funny. Zimmer said essentially the same thing in an August interview while talking about moving on after a very public difference of opinion with Cousins on getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
But make no mistake. There is a bond that's finally growing between the grizzled 65-year-old defensive-minded Baby Boomer head coach and his 33-year-old millennial quarterback. Perhaps it's a bond born out of necessity as the two key figures try to keep the Vikings afloat in what might be a make-or-break year for everybody.
"I think Coach Zimmer and I have similar experiences in terms of the pressure that's on us for this organization to win," said Cousins, whose Vikings (5-5) play at San Francisco (5-5) on Sunday. "So we kind of share that bond, maybe uniquely to us over anybody else in this building in terms of the weight we carry. So, yeah, it's good to carry that weight together now."
Zimmer has spent a chunk of time recently answering questions about the striking turnabout in Cousins' aggressiveness down the field in wins the past two weeks compared to losses the previous two weeks.
"Just [Cousins'] confidence, I guess," Zimmer said. "I think encouraging him to be that way. … Just maybe giving him the green light a little bit more. If you throw an interception, hey, you throw an interception. You turn the ball over, we got to go out and stop them."
Though Cousins appreciates Zimmer's efforts to keep him from feeling "constrained," the quarterback said he won't suddenly become careless with the ball. He also said he isn't the one who changed, that he isn't at the root of the reason the passing game was more aggressive in the wins over the Chargers and Packers compared to the losses to Dallas and Baltimore.
"I really think it has more to do with game plan and play-calling and kind of the way the coaches have chosen to attack defenses the last couple weeks," Cousins said. "For me, it's just going where my reads take me. Having a plan and certainly giving our best players on the outside opportunities. So I think a lot of it has been aggressive play-calling."
'I've been well-coached'
Cousins' aggressiveness or lack thereof has been a consistent topic of discussion throughout his seven seasons as a starter.
In 2017, when he was in Washington, Cousins defended himself in a Sports Illustrated article, saying if he played quarterback like then-coach Jay Gruden wants, he would throw 20 interceptions a year. Gruden responded later, saying, "He'd throw 60 touchdowns, too" before adding, "I just think there is going to be a point in time where he is going to have to give some receivers some chances that maybe look a little covered."
Wednesday, Cousins was asked if perhaps his big self-described methodical brain sometimes gets in the way of his talented and highly accurate arm. He laughed.
"Maybe coaches do sometimes," he said. "They have you so systematized. I think you want to do what your coaches are telling you because ultimately they're coaching the team, they're leading the team, so you want to be coachable.
"To the degree that a coach says, 'Hey, just go play,' then you just go play. But to the degree that the coach says, 'Hey, take a seven-step drop here, one hitch, make sure on your second hitch you're getting here. Make sure versus quarters you're going here versus zone blitz you're going here …' So you factor all that in, too."
So do coaches try to jam too much in that brain of yours?
"Not too much," Cousins said. "It's hard to argue too much if you're playing at a high level and doing good things. From where I'm sitting, I think I've been well-coached."
Cousins ranks third in passer rating (106.3) and has thrown a league-low two interceptions. In the past two games, he has aggressively targeted Justin Jefferson 21 times for 17 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns. In the two losses before that, he targeted Jefferson nine times for five catches, 90 yards and a touchdown.
In the loss to Dallas, the Vikings converted 1 of 13 third downs. They failed on their final 12 tries. In those 12 tries, Cousins got a pass off nine times, completing four for 20 yards.
Average length of those nine passes: 2.8 yards.
Average distance behind the sticks when the ball arrived: 6.2 yards.
What say you, Kirk? How do you juggle the need to be more aggressive with what appears to be a more conservative voice in the back of your head?
"I don't see it that way," Cousins said. "I don't really need to be more aggressive. I look back on my seven years playing, there's been a lot of balls going through the air. You talk about air yards, you talk about net yards per pass attempt, per completion, I think all those numbers would suggest I'm being aggressive.
"I'm pushing the ball downfield. I think the receivers and tight ends and running backs I've played with would suggest they've gotten a lot of opportunities and put up a lot of yards. I think I just trust my coaches. When they want to call aggressive plays and tell me to take the ball down the field, I will. When they don't, I won't. It's really as simple as that."
Learning from every rep
Zimmer used to meet weekly with Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford when they played quarterback for him. He started doing that with Cousins this year. They meet on Thursdays to watch tape of the team's third-down plays and talk football for up to an hour.
"I don't think my approach [with Cousins] has changed," Zimmer said. "I think our relationship has changed quite a bit."
Zimmer brought up one of his recent meetings with Cousins to illustrate how they share their perspectives.
"He talked to me about something that happened," Zimmer said. "I said, 'When did that happen, how many games ago?' He said, 'Like five.' And I said, 'Let that go, this is this week.'"
When this was shared with Cousins, it produced the above-mentioned response, "Sometimes, I agree to disagree with Coach."
"I disagree with him in a sense that I learn from every rep I take," Cousins said. "I've got reps from 2017 that affect the way I play today. That's having experiences and learning from it.
"It's a balance. I understand what he's trying to say. 'Let it go. Don't let it negatively impact you.' But I think there is a level of learning from previous reps that I will always carry with me. I think that's what makes you play at a higher level."
Cousins started 57 regular-season games in Washington. He went 26-30-1. He has started 57 regular-season games for the Vikings. He is 30-26-1. Add them up and he's 56-56-2.
He's also the third-most accurate passer in NFL history (67.1%), ranking just below Drew Brees (67.7%). Cousins' 25 games with at least 300 yards and three touchdowns passing is the second-most by a player in his first 10 seasons, ranking two short of Dan Marino. He heads to San Francisco as the sixth player in NFL history to string together seven road games with two touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100-plus. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are among the other players to do that.
Cousins was shown all these stats with his name next to a handful of first-ballot Hall of Famers. Your thoughts, Kirk?
"I don't have any thoughts," he said. "My story really isn't written yet. There's plenty of time for that stuff after I'm done playing. I'm just focused on Week 12 and letting my story write itself."