For the Minnesota Vikings, the offseason was highlighted by one major move. The purple and gold inked a fully-guaranteed deal with Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was given a three year, 84-million dollar deal. While the move was seen as an upgrade by many, opinions of the signing have quickly shifted to disappointment with the quarterback’s recent play. It is hard to blame Viking’s fans as the team has caused a fair amount of angst with their 7-6-1 record, and Cousins’ season has not done anything to change that narrative. But what fans don’t seem to understand is that Kirk Cousins was and is the best quarterback for the Vikings for 2018. Even with all of the criticism that Cousins has received, there is more than enough evidence to suggest he will not only improve, but strive as a Minnesota Viking.
A recent knock on Kirk is that he struggles mightily under pressure, but this can be attributed to the play calls that put him in those pressure situations. Cousins is a quarterback that lives and breathes the short passing game but was frequently thrown into play calls that weren’t suited for his skill set by former offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo. The Vikings offensive line also has left much to be desired, as Cousins has been one of the most pressured quarterbacks in the NFL. With dynamic receivers who can consistently get open quickly in Adam Thielen and Stephon Diggs (as well as a receiving threat in Dalvin Cook), it is in the team’s best interest to get the ball to them as fast as possible.
According to NFL savant, when passing short left Cousins is completing 83.61% percent of his passes, while totaling 446 yards in those passes. When passing short right, he is completing 80.43% of his passes while totaling 579 yards in those passes, his most of any pass types. In comparison, MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes, is only completing 79.03% of his passes short left and 67.82% when throwing short right. These stats demonstrate that when Cousins is playing his game (which is getting the ball out quickly) he is one the league’s best. As of today, Cousins is completing 70.4% of his passes (second in the NFL) only trailing another MVP candidate in Drew Brees.
Perhaps the most significant criticism on Cousins is the ever-looming career record against winning teams. Fans and analysts continue bring up this stat, and while the record is abysmal at 5-20, this does not tell the entire story. Take the 2017 season for example, which was Cousin’s last with the Redskins. A common trend in these contests was Cousins’ solid performance and poor play from the rest of the team.
In total, the Washington Redskins lost to eight teams that had winning records and Cousins played well enough for his team to win in all but one game. In these eight games, the Redskins defense gave up an average of 33.25 points per game, not ideal numbers for a team that wants to compete. Cousins, aside from the one game against the Chargers where he only threw for 151 yards and one touchdown, was the reason his team had a chance. In the other seven games, Cousins averaged 275.1 yards per game while throwing approximately two touchdowns per game. A more current example of this came in week four of this season, as Minnesota faced the LA Rams. The Vikings vaunted defense (certainly more renowned than the Redskins unit) got shredded in that contest as well. Minnesota gave up 38 points, but Cousins kept the Vikes in the game by putting up huge numbers, totaling 422 yards and tossing three touchdowns.
Cousins isn’t the only quarterback to have struggled against winning teams, as Matthew Stafford’s record before this season against such opponents was 5-46, while fellow NFC North QB Aaron Rodgers was 21-29. The aforementioned Brees even had a career record of 20-48 against .500+ teams before this season, so Cousins’ subpar record can’t be judged too harshly when compared with some of the marks that his peers have put up in the same category.
It is apparent that Cousins does not fair well against winning teams. But it seems that often times that he is not the issue. When Cousins is put in situations that allow him to thrive in his strengths, he is a top tier quarterback that can lead a contender against top competition. On the other hand, when he is in a situation where the defense is struggling, and he is constantly being pressured, he is perceived as a below average talent.
Kirk Cousins hasn’t actually played that poorly against .500+ NFL squads, but the teams that he has played on are a different story.