If Cousins needs everything to be perfect around him, how has the offense improved since Week 3?
Despite the fact that the Minnesota Vikings took the Seattle Seahawks (arguably the best team in the NFC) to the literal 59th minute last Sunday Night, there really hasn’t been a ton to be excited about in Vikingsland in 2020. Sure, the emergence of Justin Jefferson has been something that has energized the fan-base, and Dalvin Cook has been better than he was even in 2019 (which is saying something). But, these Vikings are 1-4, which is a far cry from the 12-4 record that a lot of writers in Vikings media predicted the Purple’d go this season.
With everything that has happened, it’s not hard to see why there’s a lot of negativity going around Vikingsland.
As the resident sad sack around these parts, I’m sure you’re expecting me to come out and gloat about my pre-season predictions (for the record, though, I did pick them to go 6-10). Instead, I’m here to find some positivity in this complete disaster of a season!
From what I can tell, one of the larger reasons that people are frustrated in Vikingsland is that the team recently re-signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a nigh salary cap destroying deal this off-season. When he started 2020 playing like he traded his thumbs for guaranteed money, people were rightfully upset that the team was essentially stuck with Cousins (and by extension, head coach Mike Zimmer (because who would want to come to coach the Week 3 Vikings?)) through 2022. Even with the #TankforTrevor camp, there was no way that Cousins would restructure or take a pay cut (unless they could somehow work out a trade deal with San Francisco (although that’d require the Vikings taking on Jimmy Garoppolo’s awful deal)).
However, there have been some positive signs since the first two games and that positivity has mostly been on the offensive side of the ball. There has been a lot of ink spilled about the emergence of Justin Jefferson, the continued excellence of Adam Thielen, as well as the next level play of Dalvin Cook. But, there’s one person who hasn’t received a lot of credit and I’ll let you guess who that is.
Looking at Cousins’ first two games, while he did have a 118.6 quarterback rating in Week 1, a lot of that was derived from garbage time. Since those first two games, though, despite the fact that Cousins has been playing behind Dru Samia and a bottom 20-ranked pass-blocking offensive line, Cousins has done a great job distributing the ball to the talent around him.
People often say that Cousins needs everything to be “perfect” around him for him to succeed. While I’ve tacitly agreed to that sentiment on my podcast(s), I don’t really think that’s a fair assessment. What was perfect around Cousins in 2019? When he broke down negative narrative after negative narrative last season (the comeback win in Denver, the playoff win against the Saints, etc.) despite playing behind the 27th-ranked pass blocking unit, was that perfect?
When he put the team on his back to start the 2018 season when the defense was in utter disarray, was that perfect? Sure, he’s had a lot of talented skill players around him, but he literally had to run outside of the “pocket” (or the place where the pocket normally should be) in 2019 just to complete a pass. How was that perfect?
So. I get that people think that Cousins is overpaid. But it’s not his fault that he is getting the maximum return on his talent. That’s what happens when a team has been unable to draft and develop a franchise quarterback for DECADES. When you look at what other quarterbacks are being paid, Cousins’ deal isn’t some egregious nightmare, it’s just what quarterbacks are paid now. Perhaps the league needs to change the salary cap to adjust to these new deals, but clearly, this is a quarterback’s league and Cousins proves that.
You can’t on one hand be very excited about Thielen or Jefferson and omit the guy who has been doing a great job distributing them the ball. Sure, he had a bad interception after half-time against the Seahawks, but he deserves credit for bouncing back after that and directing multiple drives of over 10 plays. The way that he executed the game plan last Sunday was something worth noting historically (with over five drives of over ten plays), but Cousins gets no credit because he has a good running back(s) to hand the ball off to and good receivers?
Is Cousins perfect? No. Is he overpaid? Perhaps. But, the cognitive dissonance of people being psyched about the potential of this offense while also ignoring the main cog in that offense is something I thought was worth pointing out.