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Flacco to Denver Shows the Vikings Made the Right Move with Cousins

In the year since it had been rumored that the Vikings were “number one with a bullet” in terms of where quarterback Kirk Cousins wanted to end up, I’ve been an unabashed apologist for the Big Ten product who definitely needed someone apologizing on his behalf. While he did start his career in purple and gold looking every bit the top three to five MVP candidate I predicted he’d be, that production fell off and the Vikings hopes and dreams followed with it. Because of that, many people have said the Vikings made a mistake in bringing Cousins to Minnesota and that they would have been better off keeping 2017’s starter Case Keenum. However, Keenum’s new team has seemingly replaced him, after one 6-10 season, with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, who at 34 was replaced by rookie Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. So while Cousins left a lot to be desired during his first season in Minnesota, the move in Denver shows that the Vikings made the right decision in bringing in Cousins. Let’s chat about why.

Now many people, myself included, predicted a large drop off this season as in my lifetime (at 34 years old) the Vikings have typically had a relatively large drop off the season after they’ve lost a NFC championship game. In 1999, after a magical 15-1 season, the Vikings ended up going 10-6, which isn’t awful but was far from the bounce back Super Bowl season many predicted at the time. In 2001, the year following their disastrous 41-0 loss to the Giants after an 11-5 record, the team went 5-11 and ended up losing head coach Dennis Green in what was his first season without a winning record. The same went for 20110, when the team pulled out all the stops in an attempt to recapture the magic from the 2009 season and failed miserably. While past performance, or lack thereof, isn’t a realistic way to manage a team, it’s pretty safe to say that the Vikings wouldn’t have received the same level of performance from journeyman Case Keenum this past season that they received in 2017.

The Vikings ran a much more limited offense with Keenum than they did with Cousins, as they didn’t really trust him with the same amount of passes that they trusted Cousins with. Typically, Keenum would have two options on each pass play and he often chose the underneath route too early, leaving someone (often times Adam Thielen) wide open down the field. I would argue that that was the main reason why the team thought that they both should bring in Cousins (who can make all the throws) and could also not invest heavily in protecting him despite any objective person knowing that he struggles when under pressure. Despite the fact that the Vikings offensive line configuration was completely different in 2018 than it was in 2017, namely without it’s two guards in Joe Berger and Nick Easton to retirement and injury respectively. The Vikings didn’t invest in the guard position in free agency or the draft and that’s definitely what was ultimately the downfall of the 2018 season.

While Keenum is much better under pressure than Cousins, a lot of that was more luck than anything else. There were often times where he would duck or spin, or duck and spin, out of pressure and extend plays, which was something that Cousins simply couldn’t do. Despite that, Keenum’s 2017 numbers, in 15 games, were as follows: 67.6% completion percentage, 3,547 yards, 7.4 yards per pass, 236.5 yards a game, 22 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. His 2018 numbers, 62.3% completion percentage, 3,890 yards, 6.6 yards per pass, 243.1 yards a game, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Cousins’ stats last season were as follows: 70.1% completion percentage, 4,298 yards, 7.1 yards per pass, 268.6 yards per game, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 99.7 QB rating. One of the main differences comes in terms of how often they were sacked, with Cousins being sacked 40 times compared to Keenum being sacked 22 times in 2017, and 34 times in Denver.

Depending on how you rank offensive lines, the Vikings ended the season as the 29th “best” offensive line in the NFL (according to Pro Football Focus) where as the Broncos had the 24th best line and one thing that people don’t realize when talking about Keenum vs. Cousins is how much better the line was in 2017. Joe Berger and Nick Easton were definitely a gigantic step up from Tom Compton and Mike Remmers at the position. Competent guard play made Pat Elflein’s job a lot easier as opposed to playing next to two black holes on either side, he actually had the mediocre play of Easton and the good-to-great play of Berger. Outside of the guards, you had Remmers playing at his natural position, right tackle, and Riley Reiff being healthy at the left tackle position. It was only during the bye week in the playoffs that the Vikings made changes to the line because of injury, and it was that line that more closely resembled the 2018 line.

While they held up okay in the Saints game, you could argue that the two early turnovers that occurred in the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia were caused by the line. So while this is all theoretical, it’s not hard to figure that the combination of having a much worse line as well as having Keenum fall back towards his career average as a mediocre quarterback would’ve been enough for the Vikings’ season to have ended even worse than it already did. That’s exactly what we found in 2018 as well. Keenum didn’t magically become a pro bowl level passer in 2017, he actually just found the right system at the right time and he was surrounded by a lot of offensive talent, while being relatively well protected. However, he was playing well above his typical level and it was only a matter of time before he would regress back to his average level of play. That is what seemingly happened this season, and is why the Broncos made the move to bring in Flacco, that they will make official sometime in March. It is also why the Vikings made the right move in bringing in Cousins.

Cousins has shown flashes of brilliance, and because he can make all the throws the Vikings have a lot more options of offense than they did with Keenum. It really is a simple matter of protecting him, something the Vikings should be able to do this off-season thanks to free agency and the draft. It is a lot easier to do that than it would have been to expect Keenum to learn the other part(s) of the playbook, and learn how to make all the throws on the field in his late 20’s. It’s not a coincidence that Cousins, in a down year, posted numbers that were better than what Keenum did in 2017, despite the fact that Dalvin Cook was injured and thus there was more of an opportunity for him to air it out, as well. So, I have faith that the Vikings will fill the spots on the line that they need to and that Cousins will prove that he was the right pick, but until then I’ll be here apologizing for him in about 1,500 words or less.

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started back in May of 2015 and has talked Vikings online since the advent of the internet, namely on Reddit's /r/MinnesotaVikings section under the username p_U_c_K. He purchased before the 2017-18 season, used to write for and is the host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast, as well.

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    1. The only reason the Vikings missed the playoffs is because of the FG kickers ~You would have to know the number of times Zimmer went for it or punted instead of sending out FG Kicker to understand ~

  1. Keenum 2017, Cousins 2018 had very similar teams.
    You cannot compare the train wreck Denver Broncos
    to that. APPLES TO APPLES please.

    1. In my opinon Keenum is a better QB than Cousins because Cousin can have all the passin Spielman g stats that he wants. If Keenum had a better oline we probably would have won a superbowl and Spielman new it was on him for not up grading the oline so he had to get rid of Keenum.

  2. Lol so I guess it’s luck when a QB can avoid pressure by a duck and spin lol no that’s what mobile, creative QBs do aka Aaron Rodgers not saying keenum is that but it’s not luck. It’s called awareness something cousins doesn’t have.

    1. The same Rodgers that has led his team and failed to win more than 8 games in 6 of his 13 seasons. Maybe he should have been more aware. It is a TEAM game and great QB’s rarely win championships.

  3. B.effin.S! Kirk Cousins is straight garbage. He chokes. He wasn’t good with redskins, he’s not good with the vikings. Trade him and bring Keenum back. Boo this article. Writer needs to slap himself!

    1. Keenum is a career back up and will remain a career back up. As far as talent is concerned its not even close Kirk is far superior. The difference between him and Case is that Kirk follows the play to a T and when it breaks down its like he has sensory overload which I agree is bad but hes still a good player. But to say Kirk is garbage is just asinine. We had no running game for a majority of the season, the kicking game dropped from 84-85% to 72%. If you do the math alone on that it costs you 2 games. The oline gave up twice as many sacks as the year before which is drive killers. And they still were 1 win from the playoffs. Sometimes you just have an off year. But people like you and the rest of the fickle Vikings universe need to be thankful you actually have a Qb for more then 1 season then the patchwork QB play you’ve had since Tarkenton retired. They’re still a 16/1 favorite for the super bowl which is allot better then some other teams. You guys just need to be patient. But again if you think Keenum is the answer you need to rewatch his games from 2017. All the passes that he got bailed out of by Adam and Diggs, how he lost the saints game for us before divine intervention took over and we won. How he literally threw the philly game away with forcing stuff. Like come on, if he was the answer Zim would’ve kept him there.

      1. Kirk had no picket areness nor neccessary intangibles coming out of MSU nor has he gained insight into thesecin his time in Washington career 8-8 seasons under his leader ship. Nor have they improved I say degreased in Minnesota the few qualities keenum has over Cousins is pocket awareness, evading the rush ducking under oncoming rushers and improvising plays on the fly. One other thing he rarely fumbles had one his entire season in Minnesota and getting down to most important statistic of all 13-3 beats 8-7-1 each and every day of the week. You simply can’t teach pocket arareness and trust in your teammates. Case had that with his teammates Kirk simply doesn’t communicate on a nonverbal level with them like teddy and case are able to do. It really effects him in big moments. Jyst watch the two bear games. Case swept the bears the previous year. Tell me about kirks stat he jyst not a winner. 4-24 against winning teams career. That’s a stat that grows yearly 😑

        1. 8-7-1 with a first place schedule over 13-3 with a 3rd place schedule. I will state again Cousins wasn’t the problem. Kicking game being down over 12% over 16 games, oline 20 more sacks, no Tony, Flip never ran the ball. Went score for score with the rams but lost on final drive, Lost to the saints because of Adams fumble in the red zone. Got hosed vs Seattle on the no call block.Then multiple missed FG’s in the tie vs GB. That sums up your season as a whole. Could just as easily been 11-5 or 12-4.

      2. Davty said
        {{{ But to say Kirk is garbage is just asinine. We had no running game for a majority of the season, the kicking game dropped from 84-85% to 72%. If you do the math alone on that it costs you 2 games.}}}

        I totally agree Davty ~ In 2017 the Vikings were top 10 in rushing ~It’s one of the reason I hope they can find a way to keep Murray ~ He is such a good backup to Cook who has year to start 16 games sense being drafted ~But I look for them to draft a RB in the 3rd or 4th rd.

        I also agree on the kicking game ~ However IMHO the kicking game could have cost the Vikings 3 or 4 game IMHO when you stop and think about how many times Zimmer went for it or punted instead of seeing the FG team out on the field ~

        JDF Kick A$$ Offense didn’t help any either~

  4. I’m not going to deny there’s some valid points regarding the disparity in O line quality between the 2 years. However Kirk Cousin’s has continued his trend of being unable to beat good teams. He’s clearly a good quarterback in terms of his physical skills its just the mental intangibles that appear to be missing and make the investment a poor one. I would have preferred to promote Kyle Sloter to starter with an experienced backup over Keenam or Cousins.

    1. I assume you think Brees and Rodgers are great QB’s? Want to guess the team record over the past 26 season combined? They have failed to win more than 8 games in a season 50% of the time.

    2. I dunno Kirk went head to head with Rodgers and down by 3 scores he came back. Vs the Rams they were gutting the Vikings defense but he went score for score with them. The Buffalo game to me was the weird one but there was no tape on Josh Allen and he really caught them off guard. the games that Cousins really didn’t show up vs Chicago and New England the offense got shut down pretty hard those games. The Vikings have a good team though, I think with the moves they made with the coaching staff they will be right back in the thick of it next season.

  5. The only stats that matter is WIN and Lost.
    The Vikings(13-3) brought in Cousin so he can that the to the SB not to 8-7-1. Denver(5-11) a bad team Keenum did improved them to 6-10.
    A lot of Cousin stats are Vanilla, because the opponent(s) were up be 2 or 3 scores and the plays ‘soft’ defense that’s why his yards stats is so high.
    Look at the New Orleans game, playoffs (Keenum), regular season(Cousins). Case Keenum was able to bring the Vikings back(twice) and won the game
    Cousins cant, and lost the game.

    1. You seem to forget that it was Case that threw the pick 6 that gave the saints the lead and played like crap the 2nd half and basically cost them game before divine intervention took over and DIGGS made a great catch and stayed in bounds to win the game. The same Case that threw the philly game away when they had all the momentum. Yeah that guy was great. Get your head out of your a$$ lol. Vikings were dominating the Saints this year and then Adam fumbled in the redzone and it cost them the game. They held Brees to 150 yards passing. The Vikings were 13-3 off a 3rd place schedule a season of no Rodgers and a newly coached Bears team that wasn’t there yet plus they didn’t have any massive tragedies or injuries till the playoffs. The 8-7-1 Vikings team had a 1st place schedule, they had to play GB Chi twice, Philly the Rams, Saints and the Pats. Tony died a week before the season started, we only made 72% FG % during the year. But yeah its all Kirks fault lol.

  6. 4-24 against winning teams in his career. Beyond a small sample size that demonstrates cousins may have talent just can’t rise to the top. The move by spielman will cost the Vikings for years and will rival the awfulness we had to endure after the Herschel walker trade. No one person on a team is worth such a mortgage. Keenum had less talent but bigger heart. Cousins has talent but no heart. I’ll take heart over talent any day.

    1. Kirk is just money, the walker trade lead to draft picks that put Dallas over the top and led them to there dynasty in the 90s. Not comparable. The Vikings will be fine, I expect they will be right back in it. Stefenski seemed like he had a good sense of balance, The Kubiaks will bring allot of continuity of Kyle Shanahans system and I think they will tweak it accordingly and that will only help.

  7. I think there are some truths in whats being said about Kirk and Case ~ The same can be said for a lot of QB ~ But in the end no one can say the Redskins didn’t win because of Kirk ~ He was playing with one of the lower 3rd worst rated defenses ~ And people seem to forget about the Vikings getting off to a slow start in some early games in 2018 ~ That wasn’t the case in 2017 ~ Like it or not you just have to suck it up and say OK ~

    Good defense talent is a part of winning games ~
    Good offense talent is a part of winning games ~
    Good Special Teams talent is part of winning games ~
    Most of all Good Coaching is a part of winning games ~

    No one player wins games ~ Not even the great QB’s such as Brady or Rogers or Bress and so on ~Take away they running game and special teams and see just how far they get in a season~

    1. {{ Take away they running game and special teams and see just how far they get in a season~ }}

      This should have read ~(( Take away their running game and special teams and see just how far they get in a season))

      Stupid me ~ LOL