Advice for Vikings from National Media: Let Her Rip

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass in the fourth quarter of the NFL Week One game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. The Bengals won 27-24 on a last minute field goal in overtime. Minnesota Vikings At Cincinnati Bengals

Since the start of 2016, Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in completions of 25+ yards. He’s completed 183 such passes in just over six seasons, averaging 2.3 per game.

In a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, Cousins completed three passes for 25+ yards, only bested by four other quarterbacks: Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr, Baker Mayfield, and Kyler Murray. Those men each tossed four completions of 25+ yards in Week 1.

For the Vikings, Cousins must continue these types of throws and intermingle even deeper ones. His longest pass ended with a gain of 34 yards to Justin Jefferson. All told, Cousins had an apt statistical day at the office, accounting for 351 passing yards and two touchdowns. Given some different replay opinions, Cousins easily could’ve concocted a three-touchdown, zero-interception day. But the referees were unkind to Minnesota during Week 1.

In 2020, Cousins averaged 8.3 yards per passing attempt. For Week 1 of 2021, that temporarily dipped to 7.2 yards per passing attempt. It’s tempting to think “what’s the big deal with 1.1 yards,” but those attempts assuredly add up – particularly when Cousins throws the ball 49 times as he did versus the Bengals.

The national advice to the Vikings and Cousins is to let her rip – throw the damn ball downfield. And fans will not disagree with the recommendation. Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report offered suggestions for improvement geared at all NFL teams. Regarding Minnesota, it was a decree to stop throwing the ball so short. Knox wrote:

“Part of that issue was Kirk Cousins habitually throwing short of the first-down marker. According to Next Gen Stats, Cousins threw, on average, 5.4 yards behind the line to gain. Cincinnati had little reason to respect the deep ball, which allowed it to clamp down on the ground game. Despite having the running-back trio of Dalvin Cook, Ameer Abdullah and Alexander Mattison, Minnesota averaged just 3.0 yards per rush. With quality downfield targets in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings should have found more running room. They didn’t. Repeatedly throwing short cost them. The Vikings need to do a better job of putting passes beyond the line to gain. Otherwise, they’re going to continue struggling to find room on underneath routes and on the ground. Defenders aren’t going to worry about Jefferson and Thielen getting behind them if Cousins isn’t willing to take shots deep.”

This is a curable ordeal. Since becoming a member of the Vikings, Cousins has delivered 13 touchdown passes of 40+ yards, which is the fourth-most in the NFL among active quarterbacks behind Patrick Mahomes (23), Dak Prescott (16), and Aaron Rodgers (14). Here’s some more perspective: Since the beginning of 2018, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins have the same number of 40+ yard touchdown passes (13), if that can be believed.

The Vikings just need to dial up some deep looks. Against the Bengals, Minnesota was so bogged down in 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations that Cincinnati’s defense marinated deep in the secondary protecting against big plays. Versus the Cardinals on Sunday, Minnesota should be able to force the ball deep, so long as 17 yellow penalty flags don’t hit the grass.

Encouragingly, new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak institutes much more pre-snap motion than his father in the two years prior. But all of the offensive sizzle and excitement was dampened by the Vikings offensive line infractions. Then, when there were no penalties, Cousins didn’t exactly have oodles of time to throw. That’s right, the Vikings offensive line was up to its old pass-protecting tricks, enabling five sacks on Cousins against a non-elite Bengals pass rush.

Cousins just needs time in the pocket. One of his weaknesses is pocket presence. He does not throw men out of the way when pressured, nor does he dance out of the way all that often. He either stands and delivers the pass – or recedes in the defender’s arms like a turtle into in its shell.

This is how good Cousins can be comparatively if allotted time to throw:

If the Vikings do fling it deep in Arizona this Sunday, it could be a pinball affair against the Cardinals. Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury enjoy launching it deep to DeAndre Hopkins, so a high-scoring contest might be on the docket.

Give Cousins time to throw the ball – or line him up with playaction – and he’ll make the throws. He just needs a few seconds to let the receivers get downfield. And those often evaporate along with the pocket.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).