One of the knocks on Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins is the idea that he folds under pressure. Despite having one of his better seasons in 2019, Cousins still can’t shake the idea that he isn’t very good when things are at their worst. However, by at least a couple of metrics, that would appear to be an incorrect assumption.
Nick Shook of NFL.com has put together his list of the NFL’s top ten quarterbacks under pressure. For the sake of clarification, this is how he describes the way he came up with his list.
To organize our list of the top 10 QBs under pressure in 2019, we’re going to rely on two specific numbers tracked by Next Gen Stats. The first is passer rating under pressure, a slightly modified version of a traditional metric that most football fans should understand (158.3 is perfect, while anything 100 or better is pretty darn good, etc.). The second is completion percentage above expectation while under pressure, which might be the best indicator of all. How effective are you in the most trying moments on the football field? That statistic attempts to answer that question.
When Shook was finished putting his list together, Cousins wound up at #5 on the list. According to Shook’s numbers, Cousins had a quarterback rating under pressure of 91.5 and a completion percentage 3.8% higher than expectation.
Cousins was a stud under pressure in the earliest years of NGS tracking, which helped destroy a narrative of him being average at the absolute best. But thanks to a play-action offense built out of an emphatic rushing attack led by Dalvin Cook, Cousins doesn’t face as much pressure as he once did. Even with that considered, he still lands in the top five of most under-pressure metrics. His passer rating under pressure was fifth-best, his completion percentage under pressure was fourth-best and his completion percentage above expectation while pressured was also in the top five. You won’t often see Cousins’ name mentioned among the Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes of the league, but he has the numbers to back it up.
So. . .if you build an offense around a quarterback’s strengths and what he does well, he performs better?
Yes, Cousins had some games in 2019 where he was decidedly not great under pressure, such as the second game against Green Bay and the playoff loss to San Francisco, but a lot of that can be chalked up to the offensive line spending the entire game not blocking anybody. It’s one thing to be good under pressure, and quite another to be good when you have a defender sitting in your lap before you reach the top of your drop on every single snap.
Maybe there’s something to the idea that we mentioned the other day about the Vikings potentially being better in 2020 than they were on 2019 despite the departures on defense. If Kirk Cousins can continue to be solid under pressure and the offensive line can take another stride forward, it’s possible that’s exactly what we’ll see.