Things are coming to a head for Minnesota’s $84 million man.
Kirk Cousins’ first year as the Vikings quarterback wasn’t a complete disaster. But it was far from a success as the Vikings regressed from a 13-3 division winner without him to an 8-7-1 team watching the playoffs from home last season.
After Sunday’s inept offensive outing in a 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears to fall to 2-2, it’s fair to question if signing Cousins was a critical misstep. In doing so, the answer becomes clear.
Signing Kirk Cousins was a mistake
When looking at one of the NFL’s best defenses alongside high-level skill talent in running back Dalvin Cook and wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, one doesn’t have to look hard to find the weak link on the field in Minnesota.
Cousins isn’t the answer.
Just ask Thielen, who didn’t hold back in calling out his quarterback after Sunday’s loss.
Thielen’s harsh words for Cousins
“At some point, you're not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” Thielen told reporters, per The Athletic. “That's when you have to be able to throw the ball. ... You have to be able to hit the deep balls.”
Those are not the words of a man who has faith in his quarterback. They’re the words of a man who’s long been frustrated with the man running his offense.
At first glance, Cousins’ day against the Bears — in typical Cousins form — didn’t look terrible on the stat sheet. He completed 75 percent of his passes for 233 yards without an interception.
Cousins repeatedly wilts in pressure of big play
It was just impotent. And a deeper look at the box score reveals the flaws. He failed to find the end zone. He took six sacks. He fumbled twice, losing one in the red zone. He averaged 6.5 yards per attempt.
He couldn’t hit the big play, despite being surrounded by big-play talent.
He missed a big third-down throw in the first half to Thielen from midfield that could have gone for a touchdown.
— SKskolReport (@SKOLreportSK) September 30, 2019
“He made a great read of finding me open, and just didn't complete the pass,” Thielen said. “It's as simple as that.”
To his credit, Cousins owned the mistake.
“Yeah, it's a throw I want back,” Cousins said. “Yeah, you want to hit that one for sure.”
But Cousins’ job isn’t to admit mistakes. It’s to avoid these kinds of missed opportunities in the first place.
Cousins’ critical mistake vs. Packers
It’s not the first big missed opportunity against a division rival for Cousins this season.
With a chance to take a late lead against the Packers in Week 2, he threw an inexcusable end-zone interception that sealed a victory for Green Bay.
Facing pressure on first-and-goal late in the fourth quarter, he floated a pass off his back foot up for grabs to the back of the end zone.
Packers cornerback Kevin King came down with it. It was the worst-case scenario on a first-down play that should have ended with a throw out of the back of the end zone to give his offense three more chances. Instead, the Packers held on for the 21-16 victory. Cousins finished the day completing 14 of 32 pass attempts for 230 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Cousins doesn’t fare well against good teams
That result, like Sunday’s against the Bears, was typical of Cousins, who regularly fades in big moments. With Sunday’s loss, Cousins falls to 4-27 in the NFL against teams with winning records. For every “You like that!” moment, there are half a dozen working against Cousins’ favor.
Granted, wins and losses don’t fall completely on quarterbacks, and Cousins wasn’t surrounded by the highest level of talent in six seasons as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
But the Vikings — in full-fledged win-now mode — paid him like a difference-maker in signing him to his record fully guaranteed $84 million deal.
He’s not a difference-maker. He wasn’t in Washington, where the Redskins never eclipsed nine wins during his tenure.
And he’s the antithesis of one in Minnesota, where he is surrounded by top talent that fared better without him.
What do the Vikings do?
If Cousins’ first season with the Vikings — where he completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,298 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a team that missed the playoffs — was disappointing, Year 2 is shaping up to be ugly.
Prior to Sunday’s ineffective game, Cousins connected on 58.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions for 502 yards.
Over the long run of the season, Cousins is likely to see an uptick in those numbers as he levels out to the good-but-not great stats that convinced the Vikings to hang their Super Bowl hopes on his right arm. Also, he won’t be playing the Bears and Packers defenses every week.
Can they bench Cousins?
Even that prospect begs the question: Should there be a long run this season for Cousins?
With lifetime backup Sean Mannion and his career 66.4 quarterback rating, the answer — unfortunately for Thielen and Vikings fans — is yes. Barring some outside-the-box personnel thinking, there isn’t a viable option for Minnesota not named Cousins.
That leaves the Vikings hoping that Cousins will find the big-play touch that has largely eluded him during seven-plus seasons as an NFL quarterback. It’s unlikely.
Already trailing the Packers and Bears in the standings, and in head-to-head matchups, the Vikings face an uphill battle to make the playoffs. If they don’t make the postseason for a second straight year, it will most certainly be time to park the final year of that $84 million on the bench in search of a quarterback who can harness the short window of success the talent in Minnesota presents.
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