Kirk Cousins Can End QB Carousel
In his debut game Kirk Cousins justified ownership’s investment in him, and the $84 million quarterback set expectations he can lead the Vikings offense at a high level for years to come.
Cousins completed 20 of 36 passes in Minnesota’s 24-16 opening game win over the 49ers yesterday at U.S. Bank Stadium. He threw touchdown passes to Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph in a game the Vikings seemed to control most of the time.
Showing a powerful arm, he even side-armed a completion while being hit. But he also threw the ball with finesse when needed. Not known for his running, he was mobile enough to avoid defenders yesterday. He was also tough enough to put his head down and dive for an attempted first down late in the game. No sliding to avoid tacklers and possible injury.
Although Cousins was ruled inches short of gaining a first down, he received the approval of Mike Zimmer after the game. The expected response might have been no way does the coach want his high-priced quarterback risking injury, but Zimmer told KFAN Radio listeners differently.
“I want him to get the first down,” Zimmer said. “That’s how our team plays. If he gets it there, we have a chance to run out the clock and win the football game.”
Cousins was a grinder both passing and running against the 49ers including 26 yards carrying the ball. For the game he threw for 244 yards and had an impressive 95.1 passer rating.
Now in his seventh NFL season, Cousins played his first six years with the Redskins before signing with Minnesota during the last offseason as a free agent. He is the Vikings’ seventh starting quarterback since the 2008 season. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s three rivals in the NFC North have collectively experienced a lot more stability at the most important position on the field.
Dating back to the 2008 season the Packers’ No. 1 guy each year has been Aaron Rodgers. Matthew Stafford has owned the starting job in Detroit since 2009. Even the lowly Bears have known continuity with Jay Cutler being the man from 2009-16. Since then Mitch Trubisky has the job.
Cousins’ predecessors are Gus Frerotte, 2008; Brett Favre, 2009-10; Christian Ponder, 2011-13; Ted Bridgewater, 2014-15; Sam Bradford, 2016 and Case Keenum, 2017. Favre was wonderful but couldn’t defeat old age. Frerotte and Ponder weren’t up to the opportunity. Bridgewater and Bradford were too fragile. Keenum, considered a journeyman until his impressive play last year, got snubbed by the front office during the offseason in favor of Cousins.
Despite the revolving door at quarterback the Vikings have managed to win four division titles since 2008. This is both an accomplishment and a gift from inept rivals. Rodgers, no worse than the NFL’s second best quarterback, is a load to compete against each season. The Lions and Bears, though, have been erratic and dysfunctional operations during the previous 10 years.
Since 2008 the Vikings have just two playoff wins and no conference titles. Cousins, with his $84 million three-year deal, will be expected to be a leader in changing that.
The teams he quarterbacked in Washington didn’t have big ambitions or results but he did create some impressive numbers. He had 4,093 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes with the Redskins last season. He is one of two quarterbacks (Philip Rivers is the other) with 4,000+ pass yards and 25+ touchdown passes in each of the past three seasons.
Yesterday Cousins led an offense that overall was okay. The Vikings didn’t have a lot of success running the ball, gaining 116 yards in the game. The highlight for the offensive unit beyond the debut of Cousins was the return of second-year running back Dalvin Cook who didn’t play most of last season after his ACL injury.
Cook had been used minimally in the preseason but didn’t show any “hangover” from his injury, surgery and rehabilitation. The Vikings used Cook as a receiver and runner on the first four plays of the game.
As compelling as the Cook and Cousins storylines were, as usual the defense was the foundation of the win. The 49ers tried to get the unit off balance with an imaginative approach that featured bootlegs, crossing patterns and receivers who might have been considered unlikely targets.
The 49ers also picked on rookie cornerback Mike Hughes. While they had some success, it was Hughes who came up with one of the game’s biggest plays when he ran a third quarter interception into the end zone for a 17-6 Minnesota lead.
Twice in the game San Francisco got inside the Vikings’ five-yard line. The best the 49ers could do was come up with one field goal, even though Minnesota was short-handed because of injuries in the secondary.
Cousins might have watched that defense yesterday and said a few “amen’s” of gratitude. It was a good beginning for the 30-year-old quarterback who no doubt would like nothing better than to build the kind of longevity that Rodgers, Stafford, and even Cutler, have earned in the NFC North.