An Annual Theme, Kirk Cousins Is Under Pressure

Kirk Cousins Riddle
Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins at press conference during practice at Hanbury Manor. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Kirk Cousins is always under a lot of pressure, on the field but also off the field. No quarterback has been hit more in 2022 and the Vikings still returned the whole offensive line with suspect pass protection, especially the struggling interior. But besides that, Cousins is also under pressure from a psychological point of view.

An Annual Theme, Kirk Cousins Is Under Pressure

An Annual Theme, Kirk Cousins Is Under Pressure
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball in the first half against the New Orleans Saints during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Saints 28-25. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

A controversial figure in the world of football, Cousins is always the man receiving the heat for underwhelming Vikings games and seasons. Of course, that is in part deserved. A good example was last year’s Week 2 matchup against the Eagles; he played one of his worst games in a while. However, he still faced an elite defense and the whole Vikings’ team had a poor outing. It was hard to find any bright spots. Yet, the blame for the loss was put on Cousins’ shoulders – who deserved some but not all of it.

A usual talking point leading up to a season is if Cousins can finally take a team on a deep playoff run. As a result, he gets grouped among QBs who are under pressure, and the same is happening in 2023.

Jeff Kerr from CBS Sports ranked the five QBs in the NFC under the most pressure in 2023 and Cousins comes in third.

Sooner or later, Cousins is going to have to win more than one playoff game for the Vikings.

Cousins is 35 years old and has just one playoff win in his 11-year career. He’s never been to a conference championship game despite completing 67.8% of his passes in Minnesota, throwing for 153 touchdown passes to just 50 interceptions and having a passer rating of 100.9. 

Jeff Kerr, CBS Sports

Kerr basically answered himself why quarterback wins shouldn’t be a statistic. Cousins played mostly well but the team hasn’t been winning enough. Football is a team sport.

A common topic when debating about the veteran passer is the fact that he has won only a single postseason game but he still helped his team beat a favored Saints team in the 2019 playoffs, followed by a blowout loss that had the Vikings player overwhelmed by a superior team. The organization missed the playoffs in 2020 and 2021 despite solid play from Cousins. The roster was simply not good enough to reach the playoffs, let alone win a postseason game. Putting that on a single player, even if it’s the most important one, is a strange step.

Reveals Vikings Post
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass the ball against the New York Giants during the second quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The loss against the Giants in January 2023 is another game that is blamed on Cousins who had maybe his best game of the season but the only play folks have talked about is the final one – a play that resulted in a turnover on downs that virtually ended the game.

In the moment of the pass, it was the right decision to give T.J. Hockenson a chance instead of taking the sack (maybe heaving it up to the double-covered Justin Jefferson a second earlier would’ve worked better). Play-call, pass protection, and route-running all left a lot to be desired on that play but the heat has been placed on Cousins.

If Cousins throws 25 touchdown passes this season, he’ll become the fifth player in NFL history to reach the mark in nine consecutive seasons, joining Peyton Manning (13), Drew Brees (11), Philip Rivers (11) and Tom Brady (10). Cousins has the fourth highest passer rating and fourth most touchdown passes in the league since joining the Vikings in 2018, while Minnesota has gone 46-33-1 in his starts.

The playoff numbers are good (71.7%, four touchdowns, one interception, 100.0 passer rating in three games with Minnesota), but the Vikings just haven’t made a deep playoff run with Cousins at the helm. If Minnesota takes a step back this year after a 13-4 season, Cousins may be looking for a new job in 2024.

Jeff Kerr, CBS Sports

Even if he has played well over the years and the team failed him more often than he failed the team, it is still fair to put pressure on the quarterback and it is also fair to assume that the Vikings will go in a different direction at the position if they can’t find some postseason success in 2023.

Cousins is entering the final year of his contract and will turn 35 before the season begins. The new regime – led by Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah – must decide next offseason if Cousins is still their guy or if they want to select his successor in the draft. It is unlikely that the four-time Pro Bowler will suddenly become a different football player in the next six months, so their decision may have already been made.

Vikings Face Need for Kirk
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets instruction from head coach Kevin O’Connell in the first quarter game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Cousins fans might argue (for good reason) that it is unfair to hold the ultimate team success or lack thereof on Cousins alone because the roster doesn’t scream Super Bowl contender but that reveals a problem. If the roster isn’t good enough to win a Super Bowl and takes another two or three years to become good enough, Cousins will be at least 37 at that point. He has been durable his whole career but father time is undefeated and he will get to Cousins at some point. If the franchise is not in win-now mode, employing the veteran doesn’t make much sense.

Long story short, the roster is either good enough to make a postseason run, putting pressure on Cousins to get it done, or the roster is not good enough. In that case, drafting a different signal-caller who can take advantage of the overhauled roster a couple of years down the road is a reasonable option.

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