Previous Story Is it fair to compare the Vikings’ QB situation to the Chiefs with Alex Smith? Next Story Dalvin Cook’s impact on passing makes his extension case compelling

How good was Kirk Cousins’s supporting cast in 2019 (and how much better can they be)?

Overall the Minnesota Vikings finished the 2019 season with the eighth best offense in the NFL in points scored and quarterback Kirk Cousins set career highs in quarterback rating and adjusted net yards per attempt.

But with the last eight teams that reached the Super Bowl ranking in the top five in scoring, the Vikings will aim to build on what produced last season.

Where do they need to improve the most? How much better can the group around Cousins really be? How do they compare to the other supporting casts in the NFC?

We start with a look at how each NFC team ranked by Pro Football Focus’s team grades in pass blocking, receiving, running and run blocking:

Team Pass blocking Receiving Running Run blocking Average
Vikings 27 9 16 12 16.0
Arizona 9 27 8 24 17.0
Atlanta 25 4 30 11 17.5
Carolina 22 22 25 19 22.0
Chicago 20 28 32 21 25.3
Dallas 8 10 2 7 6.8
Detroit 21 13 24 9 16.8
Green Bay 3 17 9 8 9.3
Los Angeles 29 5 13 26 18.3
New Orleans 2 6 11 5 6.0
New York Giants 17 17 22 22 19.5
Philadelphia 3 21 28 1 13.3
San Francisco 19 1 5 4 7.3
Seattle 30 8 14 20 18.0
Tampa Bay 10 2 23 13 12.0
Washington 22 25 17 15 19.8

Six of the NFC’s 16 teams had better overall grades in the four categories that would tell us about the quarterback’s situation.

Statements we can make from the rankings: 

— While Cousins’s sack numbers went down, he did not receive improved pass protection in 2019 than he did in 2018. In Washington his O-lines ranked 26th in 2017, eighth in 2016 and 16th in 2015.

— Even with Adam Thielen missing nearly half the season and lacking a true No. 3 receiver they were still a top 10 receiving team. That speaks to Stefon Diggs’s impact as the No. 1 during that time along with the improvements made during the draft with second-rounder Irv Smith and seventh-round pick Bisi Johnson. Also Dalvin Cook’s contribution in the passing game can’t be overlooked.

— On the ground the Vikings would have had a better ranking had Cook played the entire season. PFF rated him the fifth best RB in the NFL.

— The Vikings’ draft pick of Garrett Bradbury in the first round showed that their priority was to be an excellent run blocking team. They achieved that with one of the lightest O-lines in the NFL and made huge gains from last year.

Now some questions: 

— Should the Vikings have put more emphasis on pass protection considering Cousins is not a mobile quarterback? They spent a first-round pick on a center, signed a free agent right guard, kept an expensive left tackle who hadn’t shined in pass pro at any point since joining the Vikings and ended up with largely the same results during the Mike Zimmer era.

— Cousins’s quarterback rating dropped from 114.0 when clean to 87.0 when pressured and his PFF grade sinks from 94.4 (out of 100) to 48.3. If the Vikings can improve from 27th to 16th and cut pressure by even 5%, how much better would his play improve in 2020? Or do the Vikings absolutely need that improvement in O-line play because it’s unlikely Cousins will post a 114.0 rating when clean again next year?

— How valuable is it to have a top-10 receiving group? The Vikings have been top-10 in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and were 12th in 2016 and each of those years have seen quarterbacks set career highs. Sam Bradford’s ’16 season, despite awful pass blocking, ended up being his best by quarterback rating and second best by PFF grade. Case Keenum ranked seventh by PFF in ’17 and hasn’t cracked the top 20 since and Cousins easily set his career best in PFF grade and QB rating. That would seem to point toward Diggs/Thielen/Rudolph and Co. being incredibly valuable toward QB performance. What does that say about extending Cousins? How much better would it be if they added a speedy No. 3?

About the rest of the league… 

– San Francisco was strong in the same areas as the Vikings and weak in pass protection but they were stronger in same categories. They gave Jimmy Garoppolo the No. 1 receiving group and a more effective run blocking O-line, which likely played a big role in the 49ers’ no-name running backs having great success.

— Free agent quarterbacks should want to join Tampa Bay. With a more responsible QB, the Bucs could be a serious contender next year.

— Dak Prescott’s career year was helped along by a very good group around him. It’s also shocking that the Cowboys missed the playoffs with strong performances all around on offense.

— Chicago’s QB Mitch Trubisky was bad but he received very little help.

— Russell Wilson had a good case for MVP considering how poor his team was overall. Seattle has the best QB by a long shot, if they can rebuild around him we may see Mahomes vs. Wilson in the near future.

— The Saints should have all sorts of regrets. They had the best supporting cast and No. 2 ranked QB by PFF. Their ’19 performance will be tough to repeat.

— If Philadelphia has healthy receivers and keeps its O-line together, they could bounce back to being a legit contender again in 2020.

— Same goes for Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers did not have an overall impressive year but his receivers were poor. If the Packers find him more weapons, they could be at the top of the NFC North again.


Previous Story Is it fair to compare the Vikings’ QB situation to the Chiefs with Alex Smith? Next Story Dalvin Cook’s impact on passing makes his extension case compelling