EAGAN, Minn. – Kirk Cousins’ start to his time with the Minnesota Vikings has demonstrated his worth of every bit of the three-year, $84 million contract in the offseason.
Cousins was paid, finally, like a franchise quarterback. He’s being treated as such on a team that had traditionally stuck with the tradition of running the ball first on offense and playing strong defense.
With Cousins and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, the Vikings’ offense has joined the passing revolution in the NFL. Cousins has set an NFL record by completing at least 30 passes in four consecutive games.
The success, and volume, of passing for Minnesota has created questions about the need for balance. The Vikings are just enjoying the offensive success; however it comes.
“I just want to get wins,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday as the Vikings prepared to face Arizona on Sunday. “I don’t care how we do it. Obviously, I have a philosophy, but we have to do what we have to do to win football games. If you watch some of these teams have been great throughout the years. They may throw it 60 times per game then they may run 50 times per game. Whatever we have to do to win the football game is really what is important to me.”
Balance has been a topic of conversation with the Vikings for several weeks. With Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, Minnesota still wanted to run the ball this season.
But Cousins and DeFilippo have combined with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to give the Vikings a chance to stick with opponents in the ever-growing number of passing shootouts around the NFL.
While Cook has been limited with a hamstring injury, Minnesota hasn’t even attempted 20 rushing attempts in a game since the season-opening win against San Francisco. The Vikings have the league’s second-worst rushing attacking, averaging 65.8 yards per game.
Cousins’ right arm is keeping Minnesota in games.
He’s second in the league with 1,688 passing yards. As a team, the Vikings are third in passing, averaging 321.4 yards per game. Cousins is second in team history in passing yards and passing touchdowns (11) through the first five games of a season, trailing only Daunte Culpepper’s marks of 1,766 yards and 18 touchdowns from 2004.
“In the first few weeks, we felt like throwing the football, getting pass attempts so our best athletes on the outside can make plays was our best chance to move the football and to score points,” Cousins said, downplaying the statistical thresholds he’s reached and potentially are in front him. “That may not be the case every week but it’s given us a chance to be explosive early in the season and we’ll see if it can continue.”
Minnesota’s defense, which has slipped to 23rd in the league in points allowed per game after leading the league in the category last season, has necessitated some of the shootout mentality for the Vikings. Minnesota’s lack of success on the ground has also added to the need for Cousins to take to the air.
“The thing that I think is the defenses now, there’s so many defenses now that are playing single-high (safety),” Zimmer said. “That makes it much more difficult to run the football into, usually. These teams that are checking the ball and throwing it. They’re taking a five-yard throw as opposed to a two-yard run. I think that’s just kind of how it is. I do think it’ll get more balanced as the season continues to progress a little bit. I could be wrong, but I think it’ll get more balanced.”
It’s hard to alter the approach when Cousins is having success, too. Cousins is fifth in the league in competition percentage and sixth in quarterback rating. He’s one of four quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Jared Goff and Matt Ryan are the others) to rank in the top-10 in completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Cousins is also handling when opponents try and pressure him.
According to ESPN’s NFL Matchup, Cousins is second in the league with a 109.4 passer rating when pressured. His 110.9 passer rating is seventh in the NFL against the blitz.
Cousins credited the protection schemes, understanding where his quick outlet is located, trusting receivers to get open and the line holding up in his ability to handle the pass rush.
And despite Minnesota’s struggles to run the ball, play-action has still been effective for Cousins. He owns a passer rating of 135.2 on play action, according to ESPN’s NFL Matchup, which is sixth in the league.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said of Cousins. “His accuracy is there. The offense, he’s made for it. I think DeFilippo puts him in great position to be successful. For the most part, he’s doing a great job with the rush. I can’t say enough about what he’s doing. He commands that huddle and does a great job.”
With a new quarterback and coordinator, along with some necessity, the Vikings are now a pass-first team.
“We were doing good things last year as well,” Thielen said this week. “But when you have a franchise quarterback like we have now, and you have the guys that we have in this locker room that are very selfless and a coaching staff that works their tails off to put us in good positions, all that together is usually a pretty good thing."
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings