Stefanski’s chemistry with Cousins makes him the right choice for Vikings OC

The Vikings were hoping to clinch a playoff berth on Sunday, but that didn't happen despite their 27-9 victory in Detroit. The Vikings (8-6-1) had gotten help on Saturday when Tennessee rallied to beat Washington, but a last-second field goal that lifted Philadelphia (8-7) over Houston means the Eagles remain alive and the Vikings can't yet celebrate. A victory over the Chicago Bears next Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium would change that and put Minnesota in the postseason for the second consecutive year. A Vikings loss would mean they need Philadelphia to lose next Sunday in Washington or they would be out. The Vikings also remain alive for the fifth seed in the NFC, although it's more likely they will end up as the sixth seed. The Vikings would get the No. 5 seed if they beat Chicago and Seattle loses against Arizona next week. The Seahawks clinched a wild card playoff berth on Sunday night with a victory over Kansas City. "The bottom line is we have to go get a win next week," Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "We don't want to leave it up to anyone else. We've said it the last couple of weeks, that we control our own destiny. "So now it's one game and we've got to go get a win. Coach (Mike) Zimmer says it all the time, 'we've got to empty the bucket,' and that's the way we've got to play next week at home. I'm really looking forward to that environment being back in U.S. Bank Stadium because it's going to be like a playoff game." The Bears, who beat the Vikings 25-20 in Week 11 in Soldier Field, will have plenty of incentive to try to beat Minnesota. Despite the fact they clinched the NFC North a week ago, Chicago (11-4) can earn a first-round bye with a victory over the Vikings and a loss by the Rams (12-3) against San Francisco. The NFL moved the Vikings-Bears from noon to 3:25 p.m., meaning that game, the Eagles at Washington, the 49ers at Rams and Cardinals at Seahawks all will begin at the same time. The NFL announced on Sunday evening that the Indianapolis-Tennessee game in Week 17 will be flexed to "Sunday Night Football." The winner of that AFC South matchup will be in the playoffs and the loser will be out.

There’s a debate to be had about the relative attractiveness of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator job, but make no mistake, Kevin Stefanski was not the team’s only option.

The Vikings could have gone with an experienced play caller or waited to pluck someone young off one of the playoff teams’ coaching staffs like they did last year with Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.

But it always made more sense to amend a mistake made last offseason in passing over Kevin Stefanski than it did to bring in an outsider.

Aside from his years of experience working with multiple coaching staffs and multiple position groups, the best argument for Stefanski is that he’s had an entire year to figure out what makes quarterback Kirk Cousins tick.

Zimmer can talk about running the ball more often, we can talk about a new offensive line coach and this year’s offensive line crop in the draft until we’re purple in the face, but the reality of the situation is that the Vikings will only go as far as Cousins can take them. So the offensive coordinator has to be the one who can communicate with the franchise quarterback better than anyone else.

How do we know that Cousins could work closely with his quarterbacks coach last year? Aside from Cousins’ own acknowledgement of their relationship, a comment from Zimmer following Stefanski’s appointment as interim OC pointed toward a give and take with OC and QB.

“They have a good working relationship,” Zimmer said. “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.”

Being able to suggest things is key for Cousins. He is a student of the game, so he should naturally be a part of the game planning. Beyond that, there were times last year that he didn’t look comfortable or on the same page with receivers. Having an OC with which he can exchange ideas could be the most valuable thing the Vikings gain this offseason.

“When you carry yourself well and relate to players, that’s a very valuable trait in a coach,” Cousins said via a team release. “Not every coach has that trait.”

Indeed they do not. On the Mackey and Judd Show, former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon broke down what quarterbacks want from their offensive coordinator.

Gannon said:

“I want communication, I want honesty, I want a coach who can be up front and honest with me. Don’t tell me the things I’m doing well, coach me on the things I’m not doing well. I want a coach who is going to put in the time and the effort to put together a great concept and a great plan each week. Someone who’s willing to make adjustments, who’s willing to add different concepts that we see around the National Football League, someone who understands my strengths and someone who has some confidence and who has an aggressive mentality. Someone who’s willing to give me the ball in a critical situation and let me go make a play.”

New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, who had previous experience working with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck, wrote in his book The Quarterback Whisperer that he always gave the QB the final say.

Arians wrote:

“Sometimes quarterbacks see ghosts out there on the field. They think they spot a certain coverage when really they don’t. You have to have an open dialogue with them once they get to the sideline. I need to tell my quarterback that a defender is baiting him and tricking him and my quarterback has to trust what I’m saying. They quarterback has to know that his coach isn’t making crap up, that what I see is in fact correct and what he sees on the field is in fact incorrect.

To show my quarterbacks how much I believe in them, I let them pick their favorite plays that we’ll run in the game. On nights before a game we’ll sit down in a hotel conference room and we’ll have ix third-down calls for certain distances. On third-and-five, for example, I’ll ask my quarterback to give me his top three plays that he wants to run in that situation. Then on game day, well do that. Not only does this give ownership of the game plan to my quarterback, it also makes him more accountable for what happens in the game. I want my quarterback to feel like we are tethered at the hip — and at the heart.”

It never seemed that the relationship between DeFilippo and Cousins was tethered at the hip and heart and it’s clear that Zimmer won’t be that close with a QB unless Teddy Bridgewater somehow ends up back in Minnesota, so it’s Stefanski’s responsibility to be that confidant for the Vikings’ QB and get the extra two percent out of Cousins.

“I think it’s important to note that he doesn’t ride the roller coaster emotionally and he does have a consistent demeanor about him,” Cousins said. “He also has a strength of personality that would suggest he’s not a pushover or somebody that players can take advantage of….I go back to, it’s the right balance of personality.”

While there will be plenty of questions about Cousins’ ability to get his team over the top, there have been coaches in the past to build a rapport with the Vikings QB like the one Arians and Gannon described. Cousins’ former play caller Sean McVay, for example. Cousins gave McVay a signed jersey with the inscription, “I owe you my career” when the former Washington OC became head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.

“A lot of the good things that have happened with us kind of coincided together and there was a bond that was shared between us,” McVay told ESPN in 2017. “For him to write that, certainly I know that’s not true because he’s done a lot of that on his own. But to be a part of it and to try to help him is what coaching’s all about. And guys like Kirk are why you get into coaching.”

Funny that teams everywhere are looking for the next McVay in head coaching searches and, in a different way, the Vikings are too. And they very well may have found him in Kevin Stefanski.