Week 1: How cowardly were Kirk Cousins’ checkdowns?

·5 min read

There are a lot of myths surrounding Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. One that continues to perpetuate is that Cousins is the king of the checkdown.

In this new series for The Vikings Wire, we will be focusing on proving or disproving that myth.

What will we be quantifying as a checkdown? It won’t just be a short route or a screen. It will be a receiver that leaks out short that is an emergency option outside of the standard progressions.

All quarterbacks take these and Cousins is no different. Why are we looking at going through with this series? Cousins has a tendency to want everything to be perfect which can result in throwing into the flat instead of trusting his weapons down the field or waiting a split-second longer for someone to come open down field. What this series will do is quantify each checkdown based on situation, pressure and confidence.

The scale that we will be using is from 1-10 with one being the most cowardly and 10 being the perfect decision. Some of this will be a little bit subjective but most of these will be closer to white or black than being a shade of gray.

Throughout the season, we will be breaking each one down and talking about why Cousins made the decision and what he could have or should have done differently.

12:43 remaining in the 1st quarter: 1st and 10 on the 41

This one is a shot play to the front side. Thielen runs a corner route to the pile-on and Jefferson runs an out route to the sidelines. Cousins ends up checking the ball down to Mundt for five yards.

He makes the right decision by not throwing to Thielen on the deep corner due to the defender having such close coverage but Jefferson does have the leverage and is open for a nice gain. Cousins didn’t feel comfortable initially going to Jefferson with a defender in the flat so he settled for the checkdown to Johnny Mundt.

This one is a layered conversation. The throw to Jefferson is easily one that Cousins can make and has made before. The backside pressure got to Cousins which forced him to make a quicker decision than he would have liked.

Overall, it was a good decision but there was a better one on the table and a decision he should have made.

Grade: 6/10

7:14 remaining in the 1st quarter: 2nd and 10 on the 15

The Vikings tried to use a modified rail concept with Thielen running a wheel route on jet motion. Jefferson on the hitch isn’t a throw that you could make with a defender layered in a few yards in front of him.

Thielen does get a step on the wheel route which is a shot that Cousins should take considering his other options and the time he has in the pocket. When he doesn’t get pressured with an opportunity to take a shot, he often doesn’t take them unless they are perfect.

This has been the big issue with Cousins in waiting for things to be perfect. Yes, it would be a tough throw that would need to be accurate. However, he has the arm to accomplish that with Thielen having a step on the defender. While Cousins looked great in this game, this is an issue that he needs to continue working on.

Grade: 3/10

0:18 remaining in the 2nd quarter: 3rd and 9 on the 31

The Vikings run two vertical routes with a frontside hitch route at the top. Outside of that, there are two routes in the flat that Cousins can hit if the vertical routes don’t come open.

At this point in the game, you are trying to strike deep with a shot that can get you some extra points before the end of the half.

Unfortunately, the three deeper routes are all covered and Cousins needs to check down to either flat which he does successfully.

The only issue is that he picks the wrong flat, as the frontside would have given a/ better opportunity for more yards. Overall, good decision.

Grade: 8/10

11:37 remaining in the 4th quarter: 1st and 10 at the 39

This shot play didn’t work at all for the Vikings. With a deep dig route behind a hitch route in the middle of the field, neither came open when Cousins needed to get rid of the football due to pressure.

Even if he had a clean pocket, the deep dig is a tough one. Jefferson has a corner trailing him and a safety out in front. Even if you wanted to attempt the throw, it’s not a smart one.

In the end, Cousins avoided the sack and got the ball off to Osborn. You wish it was completed, but that’s semantics considering how well the Packers covered this play.

Grade: 9/10

Overall

This was a very good game for Cousins. He threw four genuine checkdowns on his 33 attempts which is a 12.12% rate. That’s not the most ideal number but only two of those were arguably bad checkdowns and one of of those your mileage may vary.

Overall, this feels like an improvement for Cousins. The offense has him feeling more confident than ever and it showed on the field.

Overall grade: 6.5/10

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire