Cousins Born a Scramblin’ Man
The Minnesota Vikings inked Kirk Cousins during free agency in 2018, an acquisition that was theorized to pair a volume passer with a rugged defense. Minnesota lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship two months earlier, and Cousins was tapped as the man to catapult the franchise beyond conference championships. So far – no such luck.
Cousins has been effective in an individual regard as his numbers exceed the value he contributed while playing for the Washington Football Team. In Washington, his passer rating was 93.7. As the Vikings quarterback, this rating climbs substantially to 102.9 – a 10% spike. That is noteworthy in football terms.
But the Cousins addition has not propelled the team back to the NFC Championship. Minnesota shocked the New Orleans Saints – almost an annual gig now – last January in the wildcard round of the postseason before concluding their 2019 efforts in San Francisco. The 49ers snuffed out the Vikings, Packers, and nearly the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. The loss to the 49ers was the deepest point in a season that Cousins and the Vikings have driven to date. 2020 will not provide a better-reviewed sequel to 2019 unless the Vikings get oddly hot – fast.
On the nuts and bolts of his game, Cousins has rebounded admirably after a shoddy start to the 2020 season. The Vikings collapsed into their bye week with a 1-5 record while Cousins looked like an amateur in spots. Call it an inopportune preseason.
Since Week 8, though, the Vikings have won five out of seven games. And, Cousins has statistically been a Top 3 signal-caller since the season’s midpoint.
To nearly universal approval, the 32-year-old has added (reclaimed?) a scamper to his repertoire. Because Cousins does not often tuck the football and run, a tendency exists to classify him as “immobile” a la Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, or Tom Brady. Like many talking points pertinent to Cousins, that is false.
Cousins is making a living tucking and running with football – a flashback to his Washington tenure.
Already Double 2019’s Rushing Total
This newfound rushing habit is vivified in his statsheet. Cousins ran the ball for a whopping 63 yards in 2019. That was fewer yards than Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton — men nowhere near the conversation of “mobile quarterback.” Put simply, Cousins was a statue in the pocket and when he flirted with a scamper, he typically changed his mind.
With offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in charge, the former Broncos skipper must have whispered sweet nothings to Cousins. His rushing total has risen to 130 yards through 13 games. Of course, that is not stop-the-presses stuff, but it is a 206% increase from last season with three regular-season games left.
The shift in Cousins’ game is noticeable. Perhaps Kubiak signaled a greenlight to Cousins that was nonexistent under Kevin Stefanski last season. On Cousins’ 2019 rushing philosophy, the “why didn’t he do it” is unclear. One thing is certain: Cousins did not take off and run much in his first two Minnesotan seasons. But he’s doing it now.
Moving the Sticks
It is working.
On plays that Cousins probably would have crumbled in the pocket during 2018 or 2019 (or simply tossed the ball incomplete), he is now galloping. His hot feet are causing a firestorm of first downs (comparatively speaking).
In 2018, Cousins tallied 12 rushing first downs. A year later, that dropped to a puny total of eight. For the pandemic season, he’s notched 14 first downs via rush – in 13 games. An onlooker to these first-down jaunts can attest to their importance. These are not tiny quarterback sneaks or garbage time fluff. The plays are crucial, in-the-moment necessities that most Vikings fans did not know Cousins had in his arsenal.
He does – and he must keep it up.
Probably the Best Version of Cousins Imaginable
Scrambling Cousins is the peerless version of the man. He is not slow. He is also not fast, but the Vikings quarterback snuggles right in the middle of the two distinctions. At the NFL combine eight years ago, Cousins ran a 40-yard dash of 4.84. That’s the same mark that Baker Mayfield clocked. It’s also faster than Washington’s Dwayne Haskins.
This era of professional football is undergoing an influx of mobile quarterbacks. The body politic of sports seems to believe that is the only way to habitually win. “We just need a mobile quarterback” is an argument used by critics to subvert Cousins’ future on the Vikings roster. There is no empirical evidence to suggest mobile quarterbacks win more than “old school” ones, but the talking point will persevere nevertheless – probably because tuck-and-run quarterbacks are perceived as exciting.
The Vikings have a junior version of a quasi-mobile quarterback in Cousins – when the gameplay promotes his scrambling acumen. We’re starting to see nibbles of it under Kubiak. It’s probably why, in part, that the 2020 Vikings yards-per-play is the highest of the Zimmer era.