EAGAN — Last season Pro Football Focus rated Kirk Cousins the worst running quarterback in the NFL. ESPN’s Expected Points Added data agreed. This year, the Minnesota Vikings want to see their starting quarterback take advantage of openings to take off more often.
Cousins took a step toward making more plays with his legs when he escaped the pocket on a third down play in the preseason opener against New Orleans and was able to keep the Vikings’ drive alive.
“I think it’s a positive in his game because he has the ability to leave the pocket when people play a lot of man and those type of things and keep us on the football field,” Gary Kubiak said. “It’s something you talk about all the time. You don’t know how often it is going to happen in a game, but obviously you’ll be a good third down team if your quarterback has the ability to do that. The other night, we had a pretty good day third down-wise and one of those was because of him making a great play.”
The Vikings’ franchise QB hasn’t always struggled on the ground as much as he did in 2018. PFF ranked him 13th in 2017, when Cousins gained 179 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns.
In 2018, Cousins rushed for only five first downs on 173 third-down dropbacks.
“He is a good athlete,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “It has been a work in progress to get him to [run on third down]. When they are playing two-man [coverage] and doubling everybody and they have their backs turned, you have five blockers and four rushers and a quarterback so you have a chance to make some plays with your legs.”
Zimmer said it isn’t just about rushing but his mobility within the pocket.
“We would like to have him move more and the right times, we don’t want to see him move to move,” Zimmer said. “Moving in the pocket helps the offensive line.”
Cousins was pressured on 38.9% of his dropbacks last season, fifth most in the NFL. PFF’s analysis found that QBs tend to have control over their pressure and sack rates.