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Can Kirk Cousins shine against an elite defense?

Kirk Cousins has an opportunity on Sunday to blow up some notions about his performances on the biggest stages.

For the majority of his career as a starting quarterback, Cousins has struggled to shine against winning teams. It has reached the point to which each Vikings loss is followed by a flood of Cousins stats like these:

While it’s only Week 4, the Minnesota Vikings head into Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears with huge potential implications on the final results of the 2019 season. If they come up short, the Vikings would fall to 0-2 in the division with road losses to the two teams most likely to be contending for the NFC North title at the end of the year. It would also leave them with no room for error through the next quarter of the season in which they face New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington.

They may all count for one win but Cousins is well aware that division games against playoff-caliber teams mean more in the standings.

“Knowing that our division appears to be very strong this year, we will take any win we can get and we need to get as many as we can, especially if you can get one on the road, very important,” Cousins said. “This is big boy football, Chicago knows that too. We’re not going to have any extra motivation that Chicago doesn’t have. We’re going to go in there with two heavyweights and one is going to emerge with a victory.”

Cousins and the Vikings went 0-2 against the Bears last season, including a Week 17 loss that eliminated them from the playoffs. Chicago’s top-ranked defense held Cousins to 5.7 yards per attempt in the first matchup and 4.0/YPA at US Bank Stadium. He was sacked six times between the two matchups and threw two key interceptions at Soldier Field.

While 2018 Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is now the Denver Broncos head coach, the Bears defense has been outstanding through the first three weeks of 2018. They have allowed 4.7 yards per play (T-third), picked up 11 sacks (fifth) and given up 3.1 yards per rush (third).

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has proven that he can make good defenses look bad in the past but he gained just 2.6 yards per carry last season against Chicago. If the Bears slow him down again, the game will be in Cousins’ hands.

“It’s been amazing to see how their brand of defense and the way they’ve been for so many years has continued now, they’re doing a great job,” Cousins said. “They’re a whale of a defense and take a lot to prepare for and go against. I’ve played there now several times. At this point, the newness of it, the first time there has come and gone. It’s about going and playing a good football game and getting the job done.”

In the two Bears wins last year they created a remarkable amount of pressure on Cousins. He was under duress on 21 of 38 drop backs in Week 17 and 21 of 49 drop backs in Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus.

Even with Akiem Hicks a game-time decision, Chicago has plenty of other pass rushing weapons, including the league’s leader in pressures Khalil Mack.

Cousins talked about the importance of making the right decisions when the Bears do get into the backfield.

“I’m going to drop back and go through my reads and when I sense the pocket is closing down I use my instincts to make the right decision,” he said. “You practice, you play all these years to train your instincts correctly so you can rely on them but if you start to predetermine ‘oh he’s going to get in here so I’m going to leave the pocket earlier or throw the ball to my checkdown’ next thing you know a guy is running open 40 yards down the field and you’ve predetermined you were going to throw to the check down or you had a pocket and you predetermined you were going to leave.”

So far this year under pressure Cousins has just a 41.9% completion percentage. He also has four fumbles, which is tied for the league lead.

Will all of this add up to another rough game for Cousins?

His history as a full-time starter against defenses that match up with Chicago’s skill level is not particularly promising.

Here is a look at how Cousins has performed against defenses that finished in the top five in yards per play allowed since he took over as a full-time starter in 2015:

Opponent QBR (1-100) PFF Grade (1-100) QB Rating Result
’18 Bears 23.5 58.6 79.4 24-10 loss
’18 Bears 67.6 58.6 76.5 25-20 loss
’17 Vikings 79.8 79.9 78.7 38-30 loss
’17 Broncos 62.6 60.8 94.3 27-11 win
’17 Cardinals 60.9 53.6 116.8 20-15 win
’17 Seahawks 35.2 60.7 91.7 17-14 win
’16 Cardinals 67.7 56.2 77.6 26-15 loss
’15 Panthers 61.1 59.8 89.2 44-16 loss
’15 Jets 43.5 45.1 57.9 34-20 loss
Average 55.7 59.2 84.6 W-L: 3-6

The Vikings will be short their right guard Josh Kline and No. 3 receiver Chad Beebe but are otherwise bringing a full deck of weapons to Chicago along with a defense that has just as much talent. More likely than not, Cousins will have his chance to turn around some of the numbers that point strongly against him against tough opponents.

“Great opportunity for us now to go down to Soldier Field and make amends in some way,” Cousins said.


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