EAGAN, Minn. — When John DeFilippo was hired by the Minnesota Vikings, he explained on a conference call how the Philadelphia Eagles had gotten the most out of journeyman quarterback Nick Foles during the team’s Super Bowl run.
“I sat him down and made him list me with our coaching staff, ‘What are your best concepts? What do you see yourself do well?” DeFilippo said.
That conversation may or may not have happened with Kirk Cousins when the team decided to sign its franchise quarterback last March, but there hasn’t been much evidence of the Vikings’ offense being a collaborative effort in the same way it was under 2017 offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
With quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski in place as the play caller, head coach Mike Zimmer suggested that Cousins will have more say in the team’s offensive approach.
“Number one they have a good working relationship,” Zimmer said on Wednesday. “They sit in meetings all the time and talk a lot, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth with those guys. I feel like Kirk will be open to suggesting things a little bit more.”
Over the last two weeks, the only drive in which the Vikings’ offense looked explosive was when they went no-huddle and Cousins appeared to be fully in charge. After the game he mentioned that it might make sense to try going up-tempo more often, but the Vikings never did and produced only seven points in the six quarters since then — and the lone touchdown came at the very end of Monday’s 21-7 loss.
Cousins not only has four years of starting experience and several more seasons as a backup under his belt, he also operated offenses that were run by some of the league’s most impressive offensive minds.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with really good coordinators,” Cousins said Wednesday. “If you look at my history, it’s been Mike and Kyle Shanahan, it’s been Sean McVay. My quarterbacks coach the first two years was Matt LaFleur, who’s gone on and had a lot of success. And that you look to Jay Gruden, who I think did a really good job my one year with him calling plays, and then I’m here with Coach Flip. While there’s been some turnover and I’ve had different names and different people, I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good ones, so I see that as a benefit.”
Cousins had a close relationship with some of his play callers. San Francisco GM John Lynch revealed earlier this year that Kyle Shanahan wanted the 49ers to sign Cousins last offseason and Cousins
Cousins gave McVay a signed jersey with the inscription, “I owe you my career” when he became head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.
“That’s probably as special a gift as I’ve ever received from a player because of how much Kirk meant to me,” McVay told ESPN.
In a 2017 interview with the Star Tribune, Stefanski was asked why the Vikings’ offense had reached the top 10 in scoring with Case Keenum at the helm.
“The way I describe it is we run the Vikings offense, it truly has pieces of everything that Pat has been a part of previously and he’s great at allowing this thing to be very collaborative,” Stefanski said. “We bring all our ideas and we see what fits us. And then that’s what becomes the product on the field.”
If Stefanski carries over the influence from the Vikings’ most successful offensive coordinator in the Zimmer era and makes the offense more of a “collaborative effort,” the opportunity exists for Cousins to focus on the things that work best for him.
Cousins made the point Wednesday that Stefanski has a different perspective having coached multiple positions during his 13-year tenure in Minnesota.
“He’s very sharp, he’s been here for many years, which is unique in the coaching profession, to be as here as many years as he has,” Cousins said. “He’s coached a number of positions. He started out playing defense, so he has the perspective of someone from the other side of the football, as well as now having coached nearly every position on offense. He’s got an even-keel demeanor about him.”
As far as the team finding its identity, Cousins rejected the idea that teams in today’s era can have a singular focus, rather they need to adjust to what’s happening week to week.
“Your identity can adapt based on your opponent, based on the situation you’re put in,” Cousins said. “I don’t think you just, in the NFL, say this is what we do, we’re going to line up and be better than our opponent. The nature of the salary cap and the nature of teams these days is there’s a lot of parity and so you have to, week to week, be able to adjust and find what works that week against that opponent.”