The Minnesota Vikings and Their Kirk Cousins Conundrum

Kirk Cousins

The Minnesota Vikings have a Kirk Cousins conundrum.

Unless they pull off a miracle, the Vikings will look back at Week 3 as the turning point in their season. They led by two scores in the second half, and yet they allowed the Tennessee Titans to claw back into the game. With the defense struggling to contain Derrick Henry, Minnesota needed Cousins to step up and lead them to a win. Predictably, Cousins failed in this task.

Though he is being paid like an elite quarterback, Cousins has repeatedly failed to become an elite quarterback. Indeed, when they’re facing tough situations, Cousins usually performs a disappearing act so masterful that even Houdini would be proud.

The Kirk Cousins Conundrum and the Vikings Loss

The Minnesota Vikings had just finished their most impressive half of the season. Justin Jefferson came alive, sparking an offense that has been perhaps the worst in the NFL through two games. Dalvin Cook was picking up big chunks of yards as Gary Kubiak smartly decided to run the ball. Big games from Cook and our #2 wide receiver are usually enough for the Vikings, but Sunday was different.

On the first pass of the second half, Cousins threw an awful interception. Were it not for a boneheaded penalty from Jadeveon Clowney, the Titans would have had a pick-six. The Vikings defense stepped up, though, pushing Tennessee back so that they couldn’t even get a field goal. No harm, no foul. One bad pass isn’t the end of the world, and the Vikings truly did have a strong opening half.

While it’s sensible not to overreact to one play, Cousins’ interception foreshadowed a poor stretch of football for Minnesota.

Tennessee is a well-coached team. They’re built for tough road games. The defense, for the most part, did a pretty good job of containing Derrick Henry, but he eventually broke through for two touchdowns. Stephen Gostkowski also regained his ability to hit field goals (as kickers often do when they visit Minnesota), resulting in a six-for-six performance (complete with three field goals longer than fifty yards).

Even still, the Vikings had plenty of chances to win.

Final Drives

The penultimate drive was as consequential as the final one. The Vikings were successful in the opening half because they stayed ahead of the sticks, allowing Kubiak to have full access to his play call sheet. The issue, of course, is that the Vikings faced 3rd & 15 with very little time left in the fourth quarter. Rather than challenge for the first down, Cousins instead checked down to Kyle Rudolph, a player who essentially has no chance for scrambling for a first down in that situation.

Cousins’ biggest issue is that he has no it-factor, no ability to make something out of nothing. Last week, Tony Romo said that a special player is someone who can make up for another player’s mistakes. According to Romo’s definition, Cousins is not a special player.

The final drive was a complete mess. While it’s true that there were all kinds of issues – the most prominent of which being the botched snap – the simple fact is that Cousins couldn’t make magic happen. When you’re paying someone as much as $33 million a year, you’re expecting magic.

Looking Ahead

The season is likely over for the Vikings. In many ways, the focus shifts from succeeding this season to succeeding in future seasons. The primary question that the Vikings need to ask themselves rests in their starting QB: do the Vikings win because of or in spite of Kirk Cousins? Therein lies the key to the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins conundrum.

During the off-season, Mike Zimmer was asked about how Cousins can improve. His answer was telling: “when we get to the end of ball games, go win. That’s what everyone wants out of a quarterback is to go win games in the fourth quarter.” On Sunday, Cousins failed to win in the fourth quarter. Fans can point to any number of factors, and many of them will be persuasive. The issue, of course, is that excuses can only go so far. At some point, we need to recognize the common denominator behind all the excuses: Cousins’ consistently underwhelming play in big moments.

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