Breakout Game Is Inevitable for 2 Vikings

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The Minnesota Vikings started into the season with a 4-1 record, despite two of the most important stars not playing their best football. Vikings fans are used to seeing performances at a higher level from quarterback Kirk Cousins and pass rusher Danielle Hunter.

Neither of the two is playing in a familiar system. Cousins played in a somewhat similar system in Washington, but half a dozen years later, the playbook and the offense, in general, look a lot different. Head Coach Kevin O’Connell worked with offensive mastermind and Super Bowl champion Sean McVay in the last couple of years and certainly picked his brain.

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Cousins is not playing at the same level as he mostly did in the past, but he is doing just enough for his team to pull off victories. The quarterback is also playing his best football in the most important drives. That led to three consecutive games with game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter. His statistics show just seven touchdowns and five interceptions. That’s noteworthy because Cousins is throwing for about 30 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions every season.

While there can be outliers, most NFL players usually get back to their career averages. That’s why a breakout game feels inevitable. Cousins has not thrown for 3 touchdowns in a game in the 2022 season. Since he joined the Vikings, Cousins ranks fourth in the league in games with at least three passing touchdowns with 21, only trailing quarterback royalty Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. In the last two seasons, he had 13 such games.

Cousins is also without a 300-yard passing game through five games. Since he became a full-time starter in 2015, Cousins is third in the league in games with 300 yards with 39. Twenty such games since 2018 rank him fifth.

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The veteran passer also had a lot of games with the two statistics combined. Since 2018, Cousins has had 14 games with at least 300 passing yards and 3 or more passing touchdowns, which ranks him third in the NFL, only trailing Mahomes and Brady. His 23 games with those numbers rank him even second since 2015.

The offensive line is currently playing at a high level, and Cousins has the receivers to take advantage of the defense and put up big numbers. Cousins is also known for slow starts into seasons. His career passer rating in September is 93.5. It rises in October to 97.8 and reaches its peak in November at 109.8. Cousins should get more comfortable with the new playbook and the new offensive system every game. He played a good game against the Bears last Sunday and is slowly heating up.

A breakout game that looks like an MVP performance on the stat sheet is inevitable. Vikings fans would prefer a winning team over the numbers, but, of course, there’s a way for the two to co-exist. Miami’s defense comes fresh off a game in which they allowed 40 points to the New York Jets.

There are some similarities between Cousins and Hunter. Hunter had to undergo a scheme change. He had to change his position from defensive end to outside linebacker. While the job is the same on paper, there are some differences. A linebacker is rushing the passer standing up in a two-point stance. A defensive end, meanwhile, has his hands on the ground. The timing of pass rush moves is different. He certainly has to get used to his new position.

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However, Hunter is too talented to be limited to two pressures per game and two sacks combined in five games. The Vikings defender came into the league in 2015 and has since been a problem for opponents in the passing game. He had 97 pressures in his last fully healthy season in 2019. That’s more than 6 pressures per game. He’s currently at 2. Hunter missed 2020 because of a neck injury and only played seven games in 2021 because of a torn pectoral.

A big game will come soon. It may be as soon as Sunday against the Dolphins. Hunter faced some elite competition. It’s not easy to impact the game against Penei Sewell, Lane Johnson, and Ryan Ramczyk. Greg Little, the right tackle of the Dolphins, is the worst offensive tackle in the NFL per PFF by a wide margin. He allowed ten total pressures in the last couple of games.

It’s certainly possible that we view the two Vikings stars a lot differently after their breakout games. They just needed some time to get used to the new system.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt