During the opening six weeks of the season, Kirk Cousins was the main reason why the Minnesota Vikings struggled. Over these past four weeks, Cousins has been among the main reasons why they’ve had success. Cousins was magnificent against the Dallas Cowboys, but his team let him down. For the Vikings to find success, the defense and special teams will need to be considerably better.
The Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins
When Cousins was first signed in 2018, the Vikings believed that he could be one piece of a strong roster. The defense was coming off a dominant season, and there was plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Cousins, it was assumed, would merely be tasked with playing at an above-average level for the Vikings to be a top team. A couple years can make a big difference.
The defense has been humbled and the special teams are reeling. By this point, Vikings fans will know most of the stats, so we’ll just briefly reiterate some of the main takeaways. The defense struggles to get consistent pressure and the coverage has often been lacking. The special teams have been plagued by bad snaps and poor tackling. The end result has been greater pressure on the offense to keep the Vikings afloat.
Here's the final drive from the Vikings yesterday.
1st play, Kirk reads C2, goes to the hi-lo, hits Cook for 4.
2nd play, C2 again, JJ gets open but drops it.
3rd play, C1, good coverage, good throw—hits Thielen's hands but isn't reeled in.
4th, C2, pressure throws timing off pic.twitter.com/FzNxuEuRvP
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) November 23, 2020
Cousins, by and large, has held up his end of the bargain over these last four weeks. Against Dallas, Cousins put forth excellent numbers: 22/30, 314 yards, and three touchdowns. The skeptics will point to his lackluster final drive, but the blame really can’t be put on Cousins. The first play was a modest gain on a pass to Dalvin Cook. The second pass hit Justin Jefferson in the hands, but he dropped it. The third pass was a contested catch to Adam Thielen. The fourth was a desperation throw since Cousins was under pressure even though the Vikings were in max protection. Of these four plays, the only one that fans could reasonably take issue with is the third down throw to Thielen. How much can we really criticize Cousins, though, for delivering an accurate, though highly-contested throw to his #1 receiver on a critical moment in the game?
Moving Forward With Cousins
We’ve been critical of Cousins in the past, so we aren’t overlooking his faults. Cousins has his fair share of issues, many of them we’ve already covered. In Sunday’s loss, Cousins was the main reason why the Vikings had a shot to win.
To salvage this season, the Vikings need Cousins to continue his strong play. He has been making better decisions and has also demonstrated some poise in the pocket. There were moments against the Cowboys when Cousins actually appeared calm, cool, and collected as he moved around in the pocket.
Otherwise, the main thing the Vikings need to do is raise their floor on special teams and defense. Neither are going to be elite. The Vikings should thus ensure that the special teams and defense can be solid. We need at least some semblance of competence on special teams. The coverage teams need to do a better job of pursuing the ball carrier and actually getting him to the ground. The returners need to demonstrate greater poise and explosiveness.
On defense, Mike Zimmer needs to ensure the coverage responsibilities are simple for his own teams but complex for the opposition. It’s a difficult balance, but one he is capable of. The best coaches find a way of making things easy for their own players and difficult for the opposition’s players.
If the Minnesota Vikings can make improvement on special teams and defense, then Kirk Cousins may be able to lead us to the playoffs.
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