The Kirk Cousins Confusion Bodes Well for the Vikings

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Confusing Kirk Cousins is no small task.

The veteran QB has some sneaky athleticism and a fantastic arm, but it’s his brain that allows him to elevate above most NFL QBs. When he’s on the field, Cousins does a really nice job of processing a lot of information before the snap; doing so keeps the Vikings in a favorable play call. Another year working alongside Kevin O’Connell will further improve Cousins’ ability to process information.

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and running back Dalvin Cook (4) in action during the game against the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As a result, Cousins’ admission that the Brian Flores defense has been causing him some confusion was pretty notable.

Flores, the Vikings’ new defensive coordinator, certainly has a reputation. Basically anyone who watches a Flores defense comes back to the same word: blitz. Over the weekend, Dustin Baker suggested as much in a piece for Vikings Territory, describing how “the amount of blitzing on display at training camp almost seems like an addiction.”

Apparently, #8 has also taken notice.

The Upside of Some Kirk Cousins Confusion

Over on PurplePTSD, I spend some time discussing the implications of Cousins’ confusion.

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and center Garrett Bradbury (56) take practice snaps before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

“The defense,” Cousins notes, “it’s really been the curve ball of camp for me.” Shortly thereafter, Cousins describes how his NFL experience usually gives him a good understanding of what to expect in a training camp. Interacting with the Flores defense has caused him to step back, though: “Going against Coach Flores’ defense is a first-time deal, so how are we going to handle these pressures? How are we going to handle these fronts? How are we protecting them? I’ve been wearing out my quarterback coach in meetings asking questions.”

Hearing the QB express some confusion should be encouraging to Vikings fans.

At this point, no one could persuasively argue that Cousins isn’t a smart football player. The man puts a ton of time and effort into his craft, and that’s evident when he takes the field. If Cousins struggles with deciphering what’s taking place, then other QBs will struggle, as well.

QB Is Now the Vikings
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) prepares for the snap from center Garrett Bradbury (56) 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.

Later in the press conference, Kirk Cousins describes how Minnesota’s defense does “a good job of showing you one thing, and then after the snap it’s something else.” That’s the key, folks. Creating an effective disguise will go a long way in neutralizing what an offense is trying to accomplish.

By and large, Vikings fans are desperate to see the defense become more formidable. Many fans today are the byproduct of the Purple People Eaters era. Very reasonably, there is a deep appreciation of strong defensive play among these fans.

More recently, Vikings fans had Mike Zimmer at the helm. Yes, things quickly devolved in the final couple of seasons, but those two seasons weren’t the norm. Back in 2019, the Vikings put together the 5th-best defense in the NFL by allowing an average of 18.9 points against per game. The year prior was 9th with a 21.3 points against average and the year before that was 1st with a 15.8 points against average.

Vikings Defender Heads
Oct 11, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer shakes hands with inside linebacker Ryan Connelly (57) during pregame warmups against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports.

Flores has a difficult task ahead of him. Few, if any, are expecting the former Dolphins head coach to get the Vikings defense back into allowing less than 20 points per game. Ensuring they don’t get into (and beyond) the mid-20s would be a notable accomplishment, though. Finding a way to get his pass rushers some favorable looks will go a long way in actualizing the goal.

Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins will be looking to keep gaining more knowledge about how to combat pressure. In the end, the hope is for an offense that neutralizes the blitz and a defense that excels with the blitz since all parties are gaining more knowledge.

The Vikings take on the Seahawks on Thursday night. Consider it an appetizer for what Flores has been cooking on defense.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.