MINNEAPOLIS — OK, it’s time someone takes on this assignment. Because Kirk Cousins is paid as much as he is, the Vikings quarterback is going to absorb much of the blame when things don’t go well for the purple. That was the case on Sunday as the Vikings lost 43-34 to the Green Bay Packers in their opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
So how much blame should we put on Cousins? I’ll attempt to answer this question each week, asking how much fault should Cousins shoulder after a loss and how much credit does he deserve for a victory?
- The numbers: Cousins finished 19-of-25 for 259 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, a sack and a 118.6 passer rating.
- The reality: This loss begins with a terrible performance by the Vikings’ defense, but Cousins and the offense did play a role. Cousins padded his stats in the fourth quarter, but in the first half he was 3-of-5 for 54 yards with the interception and a 57.5 rating. The Vikings had the ball for a dismal 7 minutes, 15 seconds in the opening half.
- How bad was Kirk when it mattered? Cousins’ worst moment came with the Vikings trailing 15-7 in the second quarter. The Packers had just scored when the Vikings got the ball at their 25-yard line with 39 seconds left. Cousins threw an incomplete pass for Adam Thielen and then went right back to his No. 1 receiver. Unfortunately, this pass was thrown behind Thielen and while he got an arm on the ball, the pass ended up in the hands of Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander at the Minnesota 45. Two plays later, Aaron Rodgers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling down the near sideline for a touchdown that beat Vikings rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler. That 11-second drive gave the Packers a 22-7 lead.
- Not Kirk’s fault but … : The play that changed the game involved Cousins, but to say it was his fault would be a reach. It came with the Vikings leading 7-3 in the second quarter after they had gotten a huge stop with the Packers facing fourth-and-goal on the Vikings 1. After running back Dalvin Cook gained 3 yards, Cousins dropped back to pass. Alexander blitzed and no one picked him up, enabling him to sack Cousins in the end zone for a safety that pulled the Packers within three points. Green Bay got the ball back and Mason Crosby’s 43-yard field goal gave Green Bay a one-point lead. The Packers never trailed again.
- How were the stats padded? The Packers scored on their final three possessions and the Vikings followed by doing the same. In other words, the game was over but the stats were increasing and Cousins benefited without the feeling that he was ever really leading his team back. Cousins went 15-of-17 for 193 yards and two touchdowns in those drives. In the first seven drives of the game, Cousins was 4-of-8 for 66 yards with an interception. Cousins also failed to connect with wide receiver Tajae Sharpe on a deep pass on fourth-and-3 in the third quarter. That was the only time Sharpe was targeted in the game.
- Who else benefited from the stat padding? Wide receiver Adam Thielen had two catches for 32 yards on the Vikings’ opening possession — the drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dalvin Cook — and then did not catch another pass until Cousins started to pad his stats. In those last three drives, Thielen caught four passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
- Where was Irv? Irv Smith, the Vikings’ second-year tight end, should be a big part of several game plans this season, but he had almost no role in the passing attack on Sunday. Smith caught the only ball thrown his way for 11 yards. Cook, who also needs to be involved in the passing game, was targeted only twice and caught one ball for minus-2 yards.
- The Kirk Blame-O-Meter says: Here’s how this will work. Zero means Cousins has no responsibility and a 10 means it’s all his fault. So where does the Blame-O-Meter fall for Sunday’s debacle? We’re giving Kirk a 5, in large part because the interception was a terrible pass and led to another Packers touchdown that pretty much ended the game at halftime. As always, the most important time for Cousins to be good is when it counts, not when the only people who care are the ones who drafted Cousins in fantasy football.