It’s difficult to look at the quarterback of a 5-5 team and say he belongs near the top of the MVP conversation, but on the other hand, Cousins has played as well or better than any quarterback in the league this year, and with worse pass protection than pretty much any other QB MVP contender. So yes, he should be in the MVP conversation at this point, although I’m not holding my breath for any consensus among pundits, sportswriters and fans to emerge... partly because of the 5-5 team record, but also because Kirk just doesn’t get the respect he deserves at this point in his career, playing as well as he has.
Be that as it may, let’s take a deeper dive into some of Kirk Cousins stats, and why he deserves to be in the MVP conversation at this point in the season.
Here are some overall QB stats that suggest he should at least be in the running for MVP:
PFF Grades: Cousins ranks 3rd overall in PFF passing grade, and 2nd in overall QB grade- within less than a point on both measures on a 100 point scale compared to Tom Brady, who is in the MVP conversation. And this despite being on the team with the lowest PFF pass blocking grade in the NFL at this point. Tom Brady stands behind the 3rd best graded pass blocking team in the league.
Cousins also has the 9th quickest time to throw in the league at 2.55 seconds, which is 6 hundreds slower than the third ranked, at 2.49 seconds- hardly measurable - so its not like he’s making life harder for his pass protectors either. Cousins also has the 2nd lowest sack rate in the league, just behind Tom Brady, despite having a much worse pass blocking line in front of him, so he’s done reasonably well in avoiding pressure - or at least not taking sacks when there is pressure - compared to most other QBs.
ANY/A & Passer Rating: Cousins also ranks 4th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, or ANY/A, at 7.72 - 0.02 behind Tom Brady, and is 3rd in passer rating at 106.3, two tenths higher than Brady. These are both pretty broad measures of unweighted passing success.
QBR, GWDs, & 4QC: Cousins also ranks 8th in ESPN’s QBR rating, which attempts to weigh QB performance according to circumstances like down and distance, game situation, and a variety of as yet unknown (proprietary) other weightings, at 59.1. This ranks behind such notables as Jameis Winston and Jimmy Garappolo, and just ahead of Tua Tagovailoa, who aren’t on anybody’s list of top ten QBs, so how valid a measure of QB performance QBR is remains a bit cloudy. But in terms of game-winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks, Cousins is tied for 6th in 4th quarter comebacks with Tom Brady and a few others with 2, and is tied for 4th in game-winning drives with 3 - one more than Brady. Of course Cousins would have more had a field goal or two been made at the end of them, but there you go.
DYAR: Yet another QB measure, DYAR compiled by Football Outsiders, has Kirk Cousins as its second highest ranked quarterback. Quarterbacks are ranked according to DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the quarterback’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.
Speaking of MVP candidates, Kirk Cousins is now second in the NFL in passing DYAR. Kirk Cousins!— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) November 22, 2021
Did I Mention the Vikings Have the Lowest PFF Team Pass Protection Grade?
It’s worth repeating. Kirk Cousins has achieved basically top 5 or better stats across the board this season despite having considerably worse pass protection than any leading MVP contender. That’s a significant disadvantage. Cousins faces pressure on basically 1 of every 3 pass attempts this season- which is an improvement on prior seasons. Aaron Rodgers faces pressure on 1 of 4 pass attempts. Matthew Stafford 1 of every 4.5 attempts. And Tom Brady just 1 out of every five attempts.
If you take pass protection out of the equation, and just look at pass attempts in a clean pocket, Kirk Cousins is the highest rated quarterback and passer in the league with an elite 93.2 passer grade, and a 94.6 overall grade. And, he has not ranked worse than 2nd after every week this season since week two. That is remarkably consistent, top level performance.
Cousins is also the 4th highest PFF graded QB on deep (20+ yard) passes, and 1st on intermediate (10-19 yard) passes, pressured or not. Those are the money passes QBs are paid to make. And Cousins has the 3rd highest adjusted completion percentage on deep balls, and the highest on intermediate ones.
Looking Again at W/L Record
Win-loss record is the ultimate team stat in football. It’s not a QB stat and it never has been. If it was, a QB like Deshaun Watson would’ve had a lot more wins. So would Matthew Stafford. And so would Kirk Cousins. But they don’t, because they haven’t been on good teams most of their careers.
As I wrote in my Great QB Fallacy piece last year, Kirk Cousins and Tom Brady have basically the same passer rating since 2015 when Cousins became a starter. Cousins had a 100.5 rating, Brady 100.2. This season is no different- the two are only two tenths of a point apart in passer rating. And Cousins has as many or more 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives as Brady since 2015 too - despite notably fewer wins.
But Brady had better teams around him. And it showed.
The above two charts are Brady and Cousin’s winning percentage broken down by passer rating. Cousins’ team, after over six and a half seasons as a starter, has never won a game in which he had a passer rating below 80. Brady’s team has won nearly half of them. This season has basically been an extension of this same trend, except both QBs haven’t won as much with passer ratings over 100. Brady won another game with a sub-80 passer rating, while Cousins lost the only game he had a sub-80 rating. The Vikings also lost a game when he had a rating over 120. Brady’s team won both games when he had a 120+ rating this season, extending his perfect streak. And that’s basically the difference in W/L record for the two teams and QBs this season. And yet Brady is probably front-runner for MVP at this point in the season, and Kirk is really not in the conversation.
Yes, Brady is the GOAT, while Cousins is usually (and usually unfairly) the goat, and there are certain intangibles both of those bring to the conversation, but if you’re considering play on the field, Cousins should be in the same MVP conversation as Brady, Stafford, Murray, and the others at this point in the season. He deserves to be anyway.