Can Vikings build off Kirk Cousins' success Sunday against Browns?
MINNEAPOLIS - Kirk Cousins is off to one of the best starts of his NFL career, and if it weren’t for an overtime fumble and a missed field goal, the Minnesota Vikings would likely be 3-0.
Despite the Vikings being just 1-2, Cousins’ confidence is at an all-time high. Through three games, he has 918 passing yards, eight touchdowns and no turnovers. With Dalvin Cook out nursing a bad ankle, Cousins had 323 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Mike Zimmer has spent the last two weeks lauding Cousin’s leadership. So can it be tracked back to Zimmer and Cousins getting on the same page? The two have been meeting once a week since before the start of the regular season to watch film, go over game plans and talk.
"I think it’s helped both ways. The communication between both of us is much better," Zimmer said.
Cousins said it’s something they’ve done in the past, but got away from. He pitched the idea to Zimmer before they faced the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I just think it helps to have that planned time every week to go over third downs, go over our offensive plan at a high level, go over our team dynamics, whatever it may be. It was a no-brainer," Cousins said.
So can they attribute the meetings to Cousins’ 2021 hot start?
"No, I just think he’s playing good. I don’t think I have anything to do with it," Zimmer said.
Just a few months ago, Zimmer was frustrated with his quarterback over the COVID-19 vaccine and having to miss a week of training camp due to being a close contact to Kellen Mond, who had tested positive. Cousins has put up the stats, led the Vikings to their first win and most importantly, avoided an 0-3 start.
The numbers don’t lie. According to Pro Football Focus, when Cousins has a clean pocket this season, he’s completing 81 percent of his passes for 763 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s the No. 1-rated quarterback in the NFL.
Cook watched it from the sideline on Sunday.
"It was just fun watching him turn it loose. Once he’s comfortable and we give him a clean pocket, best in the game, man. The best. That’s how I feel about my quarterback," Cook said.
VIKINGS RE-UNITE WITH KEVIN STEFANSKI
The Vikings look to get back to .500 on Sunday as the Cleveland Browns come to town, which means reuniting with Kevin Stefanski. He spent 15 seasons on Minnesota, leaving to take the Browns’ head coaching job last year.
Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 mark in his first season, and they reached the AFC Playoffs for the first time since 2002. Vikings’ players were happy to see him succeed in his first season as a head coach, which included him being named the NFL Coach of the Year.
"Everything that came his way, it was well-deserved. He’s my coach for life," Cook said.
WILL DALVIN COOK, ANTHONY BARR PLAY SUNDAY?
One of the big questions ahead of facing the Browns Sunday is the health of running back Dalvin Cook. He missed Sunday’s win with an ankle injury suffered against the Arizona Cardinals. Without him, Alexander Mattison ran for 112 yards and had 171 total yards from scrimmage.
Cook was on the practice field and in pads on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center. He was asked if he’ll be back.
"Attacking my rehab every day real hard. We’ll see how this thing plays out, but I’m extremely confident about what we’ve got going on internally, and what they’re doing to take care of me to get back on the field," Cook said.
Anthony Barr was in pads at practice as he works his way back from a knee injury that has sidelined him the first three games. Christian Darrisaw was also at practice, and Zimmer said they plan to give him more reps.
Players not practicing Wednesday included Adam Thielen, Patrick Peterson, Rashod Hill, Harrison Smith, Tyler Conklin, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Mackensie Alexander. Thielen, Peterson, Hill and Smith were given veteran rest days. Conklin is dealing with elbow and glute injuries, Smith-Marsette has a toe injury and Alexander missed for personal reasons.
The Vikings’ offense will have its hands full Sunday. The Browns recorded nine sacks, 4.5 from Myles Garrett, and held Chicago to 47 total yards in a 26-6 win over the Bears.