No NFL player has fumbled more times than Kirk Cousins has since 2015.
And, yes, the Rams’ top-ranked scoring defense has taken note of those 34 fumbles and adjusted coordinator Wade Phillips’ coaching points with visions of strip sacks, short fields and easy takeaways in Thursday night’s game against the Vikings at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
That’s what Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier did Sunday. Cousins fumbled three times, losing two of them to give Buffalo short fields and a 17-0 lead before the Vikings ran their seventh play in the 27-6 upset at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“[Cousins] was one of the guys that we put up on our board” as not securing the football, said Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who had a fumble recovery. “Every week, we try to emphasize to stretch for the ball and we figure out who on their team has been loose with it. He has been one of those guys.”
Heading into Week 3, Cousins had 31 fumbles since becoming a full-time starter for the Redskins in 2015. Only Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had more (33).
Wilson fumbled once in a victory over the Cowboys, while Cousins had his first three fumbles as a Viking. They’re tied at 34 apiece. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has 32, while Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston have 31 apiece.
“We talk always about keeping two hands on the football and when you’re in a crowd to secure it all the more,” Cousins said Tuesday. “On the first one [Sunday], certainly when I was running the fact [defensive end Trent Murphy] has the ability to punch the ball out coming from behind me would mean that I need to keep it tighter to my body and secure it that much more.”
In today’s pass-happy league, quarterbacks typically lead the NFL in fumbles by a wide margin because edge rushers have gotten bigger, faster, stronger, quicker and more efficient at chopping the quarterback’s wrist at precisely the right nanosecond.
“Anytime I’m in the pocket, I want to keep two hands on the ball,” Cousins said. “Fumbles are going to happen from time to time with the nature of an NFL pass rush. But I certainly want to limit them to as few as possible.”
Some just simply aren’t his fault. But Cousins can do better. He’s tied for fourth in fumbles this year. He tied for third in 2017 (13), fifth in 2016 (nine) and eighth in 2015 (nine).
Cousins has started all 51 games since 2015. He has 55 turnovers, including 38 interceptions and 17 lost fumbles.
By comparison, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — the guy he’s shooting for in the NFC North — has started 42 games going back to 2015. He has 29 turnovers (21 interceptions, eight lost fumbles).
Cousins doesn’t buy the age-old theory that fumbles on film serve as the proverbial blood in the water for future defenders.
“Logically, I don’t think they’re not going to come after the ball,” he said. “It’s not like they’re not trying to strip it if you’re someone who secures the ball. I think they’re always going to come after the ball regardless.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had the opposite viewpoint as a defensive mind. And he’d be right in assuming Phillips does, too, since he has an aggressive front seven that includes reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and three-time first-team All-Pro Ndamukong Suh smack dab in the middle.
“Anytime you’re playing somebody who holds the ball loose, yeah, the defenses know and they’re going to try to get the ball,” Zimmer said.
Sometimes, Zimmer said, the drive to strip the ball from a fumble-prone player overrides securing the tackle or the simple sack.
“They’re going to try and strip it,” he said. “Whether a guy carries the ball in his left hand or his right hand, or holds it out here, [defensive coaches] look at all those things.”
And Cousins has given defensive coaches a league-high number of fumbles to study the past four seasons.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org