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Kirk Cousins Quietly Having His Best Season - and Perhaps NFL Best This Year Too

Denver Broncos v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

When sports writers pull the file on Kirk Cousins, the same narrative is written: He’s okay statistically, but he doesn’t win the big games and doesn’t carry his team.

Cousins used to fight that narrative, but beginning this past off-season, he’s embraced it and said he needs to do better. That started with his, “I’m basically a .500 quarterback, and that’s not good enough” quote this summer, and has continued this past week with his comment that he needs to play well because he likes playing in Minnesota, understanding that if he doesn’t get it done this year, a contract extension won’t be coming next year.

And after leading Sunday’s comeback win over Denver, which Mike Zimmer said was his best game as a Viking, he said this in response to a question about Stefon Diggs telling the media to give Cousins credit rather than being so hard on him:

You guys [media] can be as hard on me as you want. I’m living a dream, I’m well compensated, and I’ve gotta take the good with the bad, right? So, I’ve gotta lot of good with my job, and if there is pressure or weight and expectations that are sometimes unfair, that comes with the territory - welcome to maybe living life at a higher altitude than I’m used to. So, that’s okay. Sure, I’d like to have all the credit and none of the blame - like Michael Scott says in The Office. But it doesn’t work that way, and if anything I’d like to, when the blame gets there, I’d like to set an example for my teammates of what it should look like to take blame, and point the finger at yourself, to own up. I think if you do that, you can send a message to people about how you should handle it.

Cousins took that blame and pointed the finger at himself after the loss to the Packers week two, and the Bears game week four, also apologizing to Stefon Diggs and his receivers.

While in Washington, it was said that Cousins didn’t shoulder the blame well, instead pointing the finger at other players, and that created some friction between him and his teammates, while also making his leadership role more difficult.

So, while this is Cousins’ 8th year in the NFL, and 5th year as a starter, he is still learning the finer points of his job, particularly the above the shoulders part. And that learning seems to be showing up on the field as well.

One of the ways that’s shown up on the field is Cousins’ demeanor and decision-making. Prior to this season, Cousins looked to be pressing at times, particularly when trailing - and trailing late. This year he’s been a little more poised, or at least not as tense, as he’s worked through difficult game situations.

He mentioned during his last press conference many chestnuts about not getting too high or low, taking what the defense gives him, and the importance of character. He also mentioned that it doesn’t help to throw deep into double coverage to try to get back into a game. Sometimes you have to take the dinks-and-dunks and wait/hope for a post or a go route to open up.

Cousins has talked about such things in the past, but it seems this year he’s taken them more to heart, and it’s showing in his game.

Best Season Ever

Cousins’ first season as a Viking last year was arguably his best statistically, or at least his best since 2015 - his first as a starter. But this season, so far, has surpassed both years in most key statistical metrics for quarterbacks.

It’s also been significantly better than any of his prior seasons in the most important metric: win-loss record.

Kirk Cousins, at any point in any season as a starter, has never had a record better than 6-3-1 prior to this year. So, going into the bye-week at 8-3 is the high-water mark for Cousins.

The Vikings last two wins that have eclipsed his best winning percentage have been in situations when Cousins hasn’t done well in the past. Beating a winning team in the Cowboys, on the road, in prime time helped dispel the narrative of Cousins’ being able to win big games on a big stage. Prior to that, Cousins was 6-13 lifetime in prime time games.

Another signature stat for Cousins is his record when trailing in the 4th quarter. Since coming to Minnesota, Cousins was 0-10-1 on that score - until last Sunday’s comeback win against the Broncos. But Cousins led the up-tempo comeback against the Broncos’ 4th ranked defense, with touchdowns on each of the Vikings’ four second-half drives and a 153.5 passer rating. He overcame a 16 point deficit to open the 4th quarter.

And while 1-10-1 isn’t such a great record either when it comes to overcoming 4th quarter deficits, he did become the only quarterback to overcome a 20+ point halftime deficit in the last 100 attempts. And so far this season, he is 2-0 in prime time games.

But, having overcome some of the narrative in terms of prime time games and 4th quarter comebacks, Cousins has yet another signature stat to overcome: he’s 0-7 lifetime on Monday night.

His next outing will be a Monday night road game against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson has never lost to the Vikings, and the Seahawks are 19-2 in prime time home games since 2010.

Cousins himself is 1-2 against Wilson and the Seahawks, including 1-1 at Seattle.

Battle of Top Passers

As of today, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins have the top two passers ratings in the NFL this season. Wilson is fractionally higher at 114.9, while Cousins stands at 114.8.

It’s interesting that both quarterbacks were drafted back in 2012. Wilson was drafted in the 3rd round at #75, while Cousins was drafted 27 picks later, in the 4th round at #102. Seven and a half seasons later, Wilson is currently 2nd all-time in career QB passer rating, while Cousins is tied for 6th.

This season, Cousins and Wilson are very similar in most key metrics:

Kirk Cousins vs. Russell Wilson

2019 Cousins Wilson
2019 Cousins Wilson
Passer Rating 114.8 (2nd) 114.9 (1st)
Completion % 70.6% (3rd) 68.5% (7th)
Passing Yards 2,756 (5th) 2,737 (7th)
ANY/A* 8.43 (2nd) 8.27 (4th)
W/L Record 8-3 (7th) 8-2 (T-6th)
Passing TDs 21 (T-2nd) 23 (1st)
Passing TD % 6.6% (3rd) 7.0% (1st)
INTs 3 (4th) 2 (T-2nd)
INT rate 0.9% (4th) 0.6% (T-2nd)

* Adjusted net yards per passing attempt

It will be interesting to see the two quarterbacks go head-to-head again on Monday night.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Wilson, who’s central to the NFL MVP discussion this year, and Cousins is their big-play ability and prime time performance. Wilson has long been known as Tarkenton-esque in his scrambling and big-play ability, while his prime time win/loss performance is pretty much the reverse of Cousins’. On Monday night, Wilson is 8-2 all-time, while Cousins is 0-7.

Last season, the two battled in a Monday night game that was 3-0 after three quarters, and ended 21-7 Seattle. Wilson came out on top, but with a career-low 37.9 passer rating, completing only half his passes for 72 yards and an INT. But it was Cousins who was excoriated for his prime time performance, going 20/33 for 208 yards, a late TD, fumble, and a 89.0 passer rating.

The game was largely a defensive battle, with Seattle’s defense coming up big with a 4th and 1 stop, a goal line stand, and the fumble returned for a touchdown. The Vikings defense struggled against the run, allowing the Seahawks over 200 yards on the ground. Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired shortly after that game.

NFL’s Best Passer ?

Kirk Cousins isn’t a leading contender for NFL MVP, simply because he hasn’t shown the big-play ability of Russell Wilson or Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes. And until most recently, hasn’t shown the ability to carry his team when they needed him to do so.

But he could end up with the best overall passing statistics of any quarterback in the league this year, if he’s able to maintain his current pace.

Undoubtedly the Vikings hope Cousins can maintain his 100+ passer ratings through the stretch run and postseason. Why? Well, while Cousins isn’t said to carry the team, the only three games Cousins didn’t have a 100 or better passer rating, the Vikings lost.


Is Kirk Cousins earning his paycheck this year?

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