The One Big Caveat to Kirk Cousins’ Performance in 2021

The One Caveat to Kirk Cousins' Performance in 2021
Kirk Cousins

Stop us if you’re heard this Minnesota Vikings announcement before: The team’s pass protection is hindering the performance of the quarterback.

Thankfully for Minnesota, it’s not deadly. Heading into Week 14 (Monday Night Football is upcoming, so these rankings are not yet updated), Kirk Cousins ranked as follows via all quarterback metrics:

If the name “Kellen Mond” was attached to that tweet, you’d fall out of your chair with delirium. But, nope. It’s Kirk Cousins who is showcasing the lofty numbers, so fans aren’t quite as impressed.

Just as Mathew Stafford with the Lions or Rams is afforded universal, undying sympathy from fans and media, Cousins receives the opposite – skepticism on his ability and a general proclamation that the man is mediocre, at best. There is no rhyme or reason for the hypocrisy.

Interestingly, Cousins is doing his 2021 damage – 27 passing touchdowns, five interceptions, 275 passing yards per game – with one of the NFL’s worst pass-protecting lines. This is nothing new for the Vikings. Yet, the discrepancy pops as Cousins is executing a career year.

Here’s the tale of the tape – Cousins, per Pro Football Focus, is the league’s second-best quarterback while surrounded by the fourth-worst pass-blocking line:

It’s as simple as this – second-best passer with the fourth-worst support in the trenches.

Reasonable minds should be able to appreciate this. Cousins is not flawless – he’s far from it – with suspect pocket presence, a tendency to fumble, and curiously rotten games sometimes. On the whole, though, he’s leading the Vikings to respectability in spite of the NFL’s third-worst defense per yards allowed and third-most penalties teamwide.

Try to reconcile a team on the cusp of .500 while possessing the third-worst defense, third-most penalties, and fourth-worst pass protection. Something has to go right for the team to have six wins in the happy column, right? Yes – and that is Cousins.

Refusing to believe Cousins’ work in 2021 is commendable ignores all of the metrics listed above out of ignorance or selective application. PFF grades Tom Brady as the league’s top quarterback. There, PFF is correct. But when they get down to Cousins at #2, well, you can toss PFF’s legitimacy out the window – is the mindset needed to decry Cousins’ performance.

Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings do have one perk in terms of the offensive line. In recent weeks, the insertion of Mason Cole into the starting lineup, the maturation of Ezra Cleveland, and the eventual return of rookie Christian Darrisaw have enabled slightly better pass protection. Soon, Oli Udoh will likely be relegated to the bench, allowing Cole to start. That, in theory, should eliminate the one missing link in 2021 as Udoh has struggled tremendously with penalties.

For all of 2021, Cousins has performed at a Top 10 clip – every metric tells you so, unless you believe every single one is fake – despite comparatively bad protection. That’s telling. It should make you salivate for a version of Cousins who isn’t constantly under siege.

You know, like Matthew Stafford – the poster boy for “wait until he finds a different situation.” His offensive line in Los Angeles is tremendous, and the Rams are on track for a postseason run.

Funny how those items correlate.  

It almost brings back memories of this tweet. The one year the Vikings protected the quarterback to the tune of average, they reached the NFC Championship.

Cherish what the Vikings have in Cousins. In retrospect, when he’s done and gone from Minnesota, we’ll wonder just how in the hell the front office didn’t provide an astute offensive line for their pocket passer.

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).