EAGAN — One of the biggest criticisms of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throughout his four years as a full-time starting quarterback has been the fact that he hasn’t led a team to a postseason victory.
In acknowledgement of last year’s disappointing Year 1 of Cousins’ tenure as a Viking, general manager Rick Spielman talked earlier this offseason about wanting to see Cousins reach the “next level.” Following Wednesday’s minicamp workout, Cousins was asked about what the “next level” means to him.
“I think the next level is all about winning,” Cousins said. “I’m pretty much a .500 quarterback in my career so far and I don’t think that’s where you want to be and why you are brought in or people are excited about you.”
The Vikings’ franchise QB has gone 32-30-2 since becoming the full-time starter in Washington in 2015. During that time he has posted the eighth highest quarterback rating among QBs with more than 500 passes but Cousins said that the team’s overall performance will determine how his 2019 season is viewed.
“If I don’t play well, if I don’t have gaudy statistics but we win multiple playoff games this year, the narrative will be that I went to the next level,” Cousins said. “I might not walk off the field every day feeling like I did but if we win, that’s the life of a quarterback….if I have my best year yet in 2019 but we’re 8-8 I didn’t go to the next level. That’s the reality of it.”
Last season Cousins was more harshly scrutinized in part because of the expectations that were set by a 13-3 year in 2017. He was thought to be the final piece to the puzzle to get the Vikings over the NFC Championship hump. While he tossed 30 touchdowns, the Vikings offense stalled at key times, including Week 17, in which they fell short to the Bears and were eliminated from the playoffs.
Now the question is how Cousins plans to change the narrative. Across the board the Vikings have indicated that the Gary Kubiak/Kevin Stefanski offense is a better fit for the soon-to-be-31 year old but he said that leadership will be a key factor.
“One thing I can do beyond playing the best I can is to start really coaching and leading other people so that I can never walk off the field saying ‘I did my part but so-and-so didn’t,’ that can’t happen as a quarterback, you have to be bringing others along so that isn’t a point you’re making at the end of a practice or a game,” Cousins said.
Beyond putting more on his shoulders to take responsibility for the record and performance of the offense, Cousins has been diving deeper into statistics to learn where he can improve.
“I just said, ‘hey can you get me things that jump out at you,’ right or wrong, good or bad, if you see a narrative that comes along that you think is true or if you see one that is true can you give me the numbers that back that up,” Cousins said. “I think information is power, knowledge is power. The more you can have the better off you are. I’ve given them an open door to say, here’s my number, you reach out to me if anything jumps out to you.”
Cousins said that his numbers when running play-action were consistently strong throughout his career. Last season he had the seventh highest QB rating on play-action of all NFL QBs with over 200 throws. However, Cousins ranked 28th of 37 in percentage of play-action plays used.
He also noted that the team’s analytics department analyzed his fumbles from 2018 and found he was “on par” with the rest of the league in fumbles (presumably per dropback) and that they stood out because the Vikings did not recover his fumbles as often as other teams. Per NFL.com, the Vikings fumbled 15 times last season and lost 10. The league-leading 49ers fumbled 29 times and lost only 12.
Speaking of narratives, one consistent theme of the offense has been that Cousins is more familiar with the Kubiak style offense than he was with John DeFilippo’s scheme last year. Cousins said that doesn’t exactly mean implementing the offense will be smooth sailing.
“It’s been an evolution so it’s a moving target a little bit,” Cousins said. “You can’t take a snapshot of the 2012 [Washington] offense and say it’s so similar because even plays that are meant to be similar have evolved as defenses have evolved and found ways to do things better. I got in that system with Sean McVay in Washington but he’s evolved that quite a bit when I watch on TV what he’s doing with the Rams.”
“I couldn’t just go out to practice without looking at the playbook, without looking at notes, I wouldn’t be able to do much,” Cousins added. “It’s new enough that I’ve really got to understand it in terms of the route depths, the snap counts and the concepts because it is different.”
The Vikings have one more day of minicamp on Thursday before they take a break before training camp.