Kirk Cousins continues his impressive start as the Vikings notch their first win of the season

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It is time for an article that is becoming something of an annual tradition around here.

The annual “Is Kirk Cousins actually better than we think?” thinkpiece.

Lost in the shadow of the Minnesota Vikings’ 0-2 start, and the way they lost both games, has been the play from the veteran Vikings passer. Entering Week 3, Cousins had completed 58 of 81 passes (a completion percentage of 71.6 that would be a career-high mark over the course of a season)for 595 yards and five touchdowns, without an interception. Cousins’ NFL passer rating of 112.9 entering Week 3 would also, extrapolated out over a season, represent a career-high.

But the Vikings lost both games.

Still, you could not put the blame on the Michigan State man’s shoulders. Cousins held up his end of the bargain in both games. Whether it was on this touchdown pass against Arizona, where he comes out of a play-action fake and hits K.J. Osborn on the wheel route for six:

Or this in-breaking route to Justin Jefferson from Week 1, that Cousins delivers with precise timing, rhythm and ball placement:

The Minnesota quarterback was holding up his end of the bargain.

Speaking of play-action, the lower rate of such designs in Minnesota has been a question to this point in the young season. Arif Hasan, who covers the Vikings for The Athletic, asked Cousins about that this week. This is a perfect example of the idea that if you ask a good football question, you will get a great football answer:

Now, let’s talk about Sunday.

Cousins continued his hot streak of play, guiding the Vikings to their first win of the season over the visiting Seattle Seahawks. After Russell Wilson and company got on the board first, the home team answered with Cousins’ first touchdown pass of the day, a seven-yard strike to tight end Tyler Conklin:

This was a great read, and throw, from the quarterback and a lovely design and use of personnel for this situation. Cousins aligns under center and Minnesota uses 12 offensive personnel, which sees Seattle respond with heavy defensive personnel. To the left side of the formation the Vikings run a two-receiver concept, with wide receiver Adam Thielen running a quick out-and-up route which pulls the cornerback, while Conklin runs a stick route. Working against a linebacker who is playing with inside leverage, Conklin has the leverage advantage shortly after the snap. Cousins spots this and hits his tight end for the score.

Cousins’ second touchdown pass of the afternoon might have been his best throw of the day. The Vikings, trailing by ten with just over five minutes left in the first half, faced a 3rd and 13 inside the red zone. They emptied the formation, with Thielen aligned as the outside receiver in a three-receiver bunch to the right. On another great playcall from offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, the Vikings run a concept often termed Dino, which consists of a pair of post routes from the right. Thielen is the receiver running the outside post pattern.

The Seahawks drop into a single-high coverage, and Cousins does a tremendous job of using his eyes to influence the post-safety to the inside route. As Cousins is staring daggers into the free safety, Thielen is running a beautiful route to spin the corner around and then cross his face. As the receiver makes his break, Cousins drills in a throw and the Vikings are back in the end zone:

Also, if you stick around for the replay in the above clip you’ll get a great breakdown of this play from former quarterback Mark Sanchez from up in the booth.

The third touchdown pass of Cousins’ afternoon, and his third of the first half, came right before halftime. Minnesota, taking advantage of an opponent missing a field goal, capped off a 12-play, 66-yard drive with this three-yard touchdown toss to Justin Jefferson. The critical component of this play? The absolutely filthy route from the receiver:

The second half was largely an example of Cousins managing the situation. The Vikings got the ball first to open the third quarter and embarked on a marathon of a drive, marching 50 yards over 16 plays — and taking almost nine minutes of the clock — before settling for a field goal and a 24-17 lead. Then after the defense forced a punt, Cousins and the Vikings again put together a long drive, covering 70 yards over 11 plays and delivering another field goal to push the lead to ten.

Then, and stop me if you heard this before, the defense forced a punt and the offense put together another marathon drive. This time the Vikings used 12 plays to pick up 88 yards, settling for yet another field goal — and a 30-17 lead — and erasing over seven minutes off the clock. But perhaps the biggest play of that drive came on this third-down situation, with Cousins standing in the face of pressure and converting on the crossing route to Osborne:

When you are playing as well as Cousins is right now, those are the kinds of plays and situations you convert.

Cousins finished the day having completed 30 of 38 passes for 323 yards and the trio of TDs. For the season the QB now has completed 73.9% of his throws — again keeping him above his previous career-high — for 918 yards and eight touchdowns, without a single interception.

Simply outstanding production from Cousins.

Now the question becomes, can Cousins sustain this level of play? Beyond the numbers put up today in the comeback win, the most impressive part of the victory might be the fact that the Vikings won without their talented running back, as Dalvin Cook was sidelined with an injury. But when your quarterback is playing like Cousins is right now, and making these kinds of reads and throws, odds are you are going to win more often than you lose.