Bedfellows: David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and Kirk Cousins

Probably here due to the title, so what gives?

They share a commonality, and that is performing under pressure. For two of them, Bowie and Mercury, they perform fantastically under pressure. The other, Cousins, not so much. If Cousins has kryptonite as a starting quarterback, it is handling and performing under the pressure of a pass rush.

Sunday’s contest against the Cleveland Browns highlighted just that.

For all of the hoopla regarding the early season emergence of the offense — one that hadn’t missed a beat under new coordinator Klint Kubiak — it fell flat on Sunday. After their initial drive, it appeared a shootout was on the docket. The Vikings would cross into Cleveland territory four additional times during the game, two of which came in the last three minutes of the game when a touchdown was necessary. This was in large part due to the pass rush pressure.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski served as the Vikings quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for two seasons from 2018-2019. Stefanski and Cousins likely shared many intimate conversations regarding the quarterback’s likes and dislikes during their tenure, a fact highlighted by Ron Johnson after the game on KFAN. That intimacy presumably led to Stefanski knowing just how and where to attack Cousins and his weaknesses. The use of pressure against Cousins is not new though, and not every team can pull it off.

As an offensive coordinator with a traditional pocket quarterback like Cousins, it behooves a coach to tailor plays to the quarterback’s strengths schematically. Through the first three games of the season, that has not been an issue. Sunday’s game brought double the amount of pressure Cousins has experienced this season.

Minnesota could not get much of anything going on the ground after Dalvin Cook exited, nursing a lingering ankle injury. Despite this, the Vikings continued to plug away with the same script. As a coordinator, there must be a failsafe built into the game plan. Sometimes, the talent on the field is so damn good that the game script doesn’t matter.

The Browns bullied the Vikings offensive line all game. No debates there. The left side of the line was horrendous and accounted for the two lowest Pro Football Focus grades of the game. Factor in the PFF grade of tight end Tyler Conklin, who was asked to chip and block from the left side, and it becomes downright abysmal.

Somehow, Bradbury and O’Neill with top 5 grades from PFF but were unable to overcome the deficiencies surrounding them. They were far from bulletproof. Each surrendered at least one of the 22 pressures on the day. Yes, 22. Unsurprisingly, all of this led to the Vikings accounting for the worst pass block win rate percentage on the day.

That is not going to cut it.

Compounding everything, much of the pressure the Browns were able to apply was with only their front four. That’s not good and speaks to the talent the Browns have upfront. It also meant the Browns could blanket the coverage with seven players. There is not much a coordinator can scheme to negate that. His players need to do a better job of winning their assignments, plain and simple. 

With the Detroit Lions coming to town this Sunday, there may be no better time to install rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw into the starting lineup. It can’t get much worse than what the incumbent starter, Rashod Hill, has brought to the table thus far. If the poor play continues, inserting rookie Wyatt Davis along the interior could also be an option, too.

The Vikings have this Sunday to get it right.

After Detroit, the team heads to Carolina for a match-up with a Panthers team that is currently second in the NFL in sacks. They will have studied the Browns tape, attempting to replicate the results. Both the play calling and protection will need to be better if the Vikings envision finishing the season with a winning record.

Cousins is — and has remained — the same player initially signed to his massive contract. Not properly surrounding him with adequate protection and covering for his deficiencies makes his contract a poor investment. Let’s hope the multitude of draft picks invested in the line grow exponentially over the next few games, and the team’s most significant investment flourishes because of it.

We just might get Queen added to Cousins’ karaoke list then.