Case Keenum’s style of play last season caused Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to say it seemed as if the quarterback “has got a horseshoe right now.” This wasn’t considered a compliment, but rather Zimmer’s way of expressing that Keenum’s luck eventually would run out.
That a key interception or fumble was around the corner. Zimmer was proven to be correct when the Vikings were routed in the NFC title game in Philadelphia and the Eagles returned a Keenum pick for a touchdown. That was why the Vikings decided to pursue Kirk Cousins this offseason and sign the quarterback to a three-year, $84 million contract.
Cousins was considered to be more reliable than Keenum. In many ways, Cousins is the superior quarterback. But there is one area of his game that has Zimmer worried.
That would be Cousins’ penchant for turning over the ball. Cousins continued to do so in the Vikings’ 27-17 victory over Arizona on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. That was one reason why Minnesota had only a three-point lead on an inferior opponent at halftime.
Cousins had an early second-quarter pass intercepted by cornerback Tre Boston that gave Arizona the ball at the Vikings 47-yard line. The Cardinals drove to the 1-yard line before running back David Johnson was stopped on fourth down. But two series’ later, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones forced a Cousins fumble on a sack and Budda Baker returned the ball for a touchdown to tie the score at 10.
Cousins now has thrown three interceptions on the season. More worrisome is the fact he has fumbled six times and lost five of them. Cousins is among the NFL leaders in fumbles since 2015, when he took over as Washington’s starting quarterback, with 37. He has lost 16 of them.
In 15 games and 14 regular-season starts last season, Keenum had seven interceptions and only one fumble (he lost it). That means Cousins has matched Keenum’s regular-season turnover total in only six games.
It’s no secret that Cousins isn’t playing behind a very good offensive line right now. Rashod Hill played Sunday’s game in place of the injured Riley Reiff at left tackle, meaning rookie Brian O’Neill had to start at right tackle. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that Cousins needs to do a better job of sensing the pressure around him so he can protect the ball.
“I’m concerned about all the fumbles,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said when asked about Cousins’ turnovers. “We’ve got to do a better job. I think the two times, the two that I remember that he fumbled, both times guys were coming from behind him. When he starts moving up in the pocket, he has to be ready to put the ball (away), so we’ll address that.”
So what about the fumbles, Kirk?
“All (of them) are different,” he said. “I think when you have one like I had against the Bills, where I was running forward and the ball was not secure against my body and it got punched out from behind, that’s unacceptable. That’s 100 percent on me. When you’re in the pocket, when there’s two hands on the ball, when you are having to see downfield and something happens, that’s a little different. If I’m going to drop back scared about fumbling I’m never going to make a throw or a play.
“There were completions today that the only reason they are being made is because I’ve got to be aggressive and fight to keep the play alive and find a completion. Finding that balance of protecting the football while being aggressive: Welcome to quarterbacking in this league.”
Cousins said he was “climbing the pocket” and did not want to take another sack on the play in which he fumbled on Sunday. “I had two people in front of me that I could dump it to, and I just was trying to dump it to them and pulled my arms apart,” he said. “The minute you don’t have two hands on the ball now it’s free rein for the defensive lineman to grab it, and I thought he had me more on my lower half. I thought I could get rid of it. But he clearly was able to punch it out.”
Cousins completed 24 of 34 passes for a season-low 233 yards — the Vikings had a season-high 195 rushing yards — with a touchdown, an interception and four sacks. His scoring pass was a nice 13-yard strike to Adam Thielen in the third quarter and he also ran for a 7-yard touchdown later in the quarter.
The Cardinals did manage to get enough pressure on Cousins to tip seven of his passes, including one that the quarterback caught for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-2 play in the first quarter.
“I thought it was more of a credit to the Cardinals defense and their scheme,” Cousins said of the tipped passes. “The way they played. They were ready to bat balls down (more than) anything we were doing.”
Cousins is now 2-0 when giving the pregame speech on the field. Cousins did that for the first time last week before the Vikings won in Philadelphia and defensive tackle Linval Joseph told the quarterback to do it again before this game. “It’s (Joseph’s) show, I just do what he tells me,” Cousins said. “Try to keep him happy.”
Zimmer, for one, will be far happier if Cousins begins to hold onto the football on a consistent basis.