MINNEAPOLIS - It’s been arguably the most polarizing question for the Minnesota Vikings since signing Kirk Cousins to an $84 million contract before the 2018 season.
Can he be the franchise quarterback to lead Minnesota to a Super Bowl? They’re certainly paying him like one. After one of the best seasons of his career in 2019, including his first playoff win as a starter, the Vikings signed Cousins to an extension worth about $66 million guaranteed.
But through six games, the Vikings are 1-5 and have more questions than answers when it comes to Cousins. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and right now the lasting image of Cousin that fans have is three interceptions and one of his worst games in a 40-23 loss to the previously winless Atlanta Falcons before their bye week.
In a 1-5 start, the Vikings are third to last in the NFL with a minus-7 turnover differential.
“We’ve got to possess the ball. That’s the only way we can win football games here is by possessing the ball. We can’t turn the ball over, we’ve got to be smart with the football. We’ve got to protect it,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We don’t have enough firepower to overcome that right now.”
They’ve created five turnovers, and given it away 12 times. That includes 10 interceptions from Cousins, who has double digits in interceptions in five of his last six seasons. Last year, he had 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
They’ve come in a variety of ways. Some have been Hail Mary passes, other times he’s been hit while throwing. Against the Falcons, he stared down Justin Jefferson, only to throw it right at a linebacker.
Cousins says he looks at each turnover as its own entity. Watch the tape, learn from it and move forward. He says he has to find a balance between trying to hit a home run, while also staying focused on moving the offense down the field.
“One thing we’ve done really well on offense is we’ve been really explosive, we’ve had a lot of big plays. The problem has been when we aren’t having those explosive plays, we aren’t getting the singles,” Cousins said. “It’s always a balance, the minute you’re not aggressive, the minute you’re not taking a shot or forcing it in a good way, you’re going to regret those too. You just have to play through it and keep learning off each rep.”
So what are those singles? Utilizing the screen game more, getting the ball to tight ends more and getting it out quicker to receivers on more high-percentage throws before pressure can cause problems.
One thing is certain, at least publicly. Cousins has the support of his teammates and coaches, no matter how bad it might seem at times. He’s being paid as such, and his teammates look at him as a leader.
“You can do nothing but just let your quarterback know 1,000 percent that you’re there for him. Kirk knows that, we’re 1,000 percent behind him no matter what goes on. That’s our brother, that’s our leader and everybody has their times,” running back Dalvin Cook said.
Zimmer’s offense thrives off being physical at the line of scrimmage, running the ball and using that to set up big plays. It also relies on controlling the time of possession, and that happens by not turning the ball over and making the right decisions.
If things don’t go as planned, how do you respond?
“The biggest thing is an old coach told me one time when you don’t play as well as you hope to, it’s what are you going to do when you get back in the huddle on Monday when they’re all looking at you? You’ve got to go in there and prove that you’re the guy, you’ve got to go back in and do it, you’ve got to go back out and fight, you’ve got to go back out and show everybody that you’re the guy that they can rely on. That’s really what it’s all about,” Zimmer said. “That’s kind of what I’ve told him before, if everybody’s looking at you, what are you going to do?”
Cousins hasn’t lost confidence in himself, and his teammates and coaches haven’t lost confidence in him. Even General Manager Rick Spielman said last week not all the interceptions are on Cousins.
But he has to play better if the Vikings are going to do anything in the final 10 games, and that starts Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“We know what we can do when we’re at our best and we’ve shown that with explosive plays, moving the football and getting a lot of guys involved. We know we can get back to that, what we have to do is do it consistently,” Cousins said.