The coming NFL season will be intriguing to watch quarterback Kirk Cousins because he finally has continuity with his offensive coordinators and systems.
The payoff could be special for the 34-year-old veteran who joined the Vikings in 2018. Entering last season, he had worked for five coordinators in his first five years. Now he is in preparations for a second go-round with offensive guru and head coach Kevin O’Connell who is also Cousins’ play-caller.
“Big difference in the second year for a QB in the same system,” a former coach said in a text message to Sports Headliners that has been edited. “All the off-season practices and film sessions add up, repetition matters. It also is easier to add wrinkles and make adjustments. Though Kirk has many years of experience in different systems, the second season will give him a level of comfort, which will lead to faster timing and decision making.
“Even a bigger deal, this is coach O’Connell’s second season in his system. He has never called plays before (the 2022 season) and I’m sure he will add wrinkles from his past systems he has been part of over the years.
“Just hope he doesn’t follow the ‘book’ when it comes to fourth down! The book is just a suggestion, not an absolute. Should be a very explosive offense and just need to outscore teams. After all, everyone loves offense!”
The reference to the “book” is the analytics NFL and college football coaches use to make key fourth down decisions, including whether to punt or try for a first down. While the stats indicate the probabilities of success in a fourth down situation, they aren’t infallible. There are so many variables in a football game—personnel, score of the game, field position etc.—that taking a conservative approach can be the best decision no matter what the home crowd is imploring, and the analytics say.
Cousins said he didn’t even know how to say the plays and couldn’t see them in his head a year ago. “It’s just night and day from last year,” he said in early May.
Cousins faces a 2023 season that could be a career highlight in offensive production, team success and for his national profile. His accurate throws and strong arm will likely target the most explosive group of receivers he has ever worked with. Justin Jefferson is all-world, rookie Jordan Addison has the potential to be a home run target like Jefferson, and third wide receiver K.J. Osborn at 25 is coming off his best season. T.J. Hockenson is a big play threat for a tight end and his familiarity with Cousins and the offense should be improved after joining the team during the 2022 season.
Then, too, the offensive line could be the best Cousins has worked with in Minneapolis. Tackles Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw are highly praised and center Garrett Bradbury silenced some critics in 2022. Guard play is a work in progress.
The Vikings won 13 regular season games in their first time around under Connell but took an early exit in the playoffs. The play of Cousins, who threw for a career high 4,547 yards in 2022, will again have much to do with whether the team wins 10 games or more. But it’s just as much about how far Minnesota goes in the postseason. Minnesota hasn’t won a playoff game since 2019 and hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in more than 40 years.
The Cousins watch will be fascinating when his team plays against some of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks. In the second game of the season on a Thursday night before a national TV audience the Vikings play in Philadelphia against the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts who could be the best quarterback in the NFC after a dominant passing and running performance in 2022. Then Justin Herbert, a top 10 talent, comes to Minneapolis with the Chargers on September 24. Two weeks later the world champion Chiefs are in town with Patrick Mahomes, the 2022 league MVP. If Mahomes doesn’t earn that recognition again, quarterback Joe Burrow might. The Vikings play Burrow’s Bengals in Cincinnati December 17.
And there’s also a November 19 date in Denver to play the Broncos and former Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson. “They’re going to play five elite Pro Bowl type quarterbacks,” said a former NFL executive who has ranked Cousins among the top dozen at his position in the league.
Cousins, though, won’t draw comparisons to Aaron Rodgers this year. The former Packers quarterback, who Cousins and the Vikings had to duel with twice per season as part of their past NFC North Division schedules, is now with the Jets and not on Minnesota’s list of opponents. Rodgers’ absence creates opportunity and expectations for Cousins and the Vikings, including a repeat of last season’s division championship.
Part of the looming opportunity, too, for Cousins is playing for his next contract. This off-season he and the Vikings didn’t agree on a contract extension. The former fourth round draft choice of the Redskins, has had to prove himself before in both college and in the NFL, and so this fall is more of the same. “…Wanting to go out there and prove it again, and do it again, and play at the highest level I can, and that’s really where my focus is,” Cousins said.
Minnesota’s quarterback could see his fame and profile enhance with a soon to be released Netflix film called Quarterback. Netflix had inside access last season to Cousins on and off the field as part of a film that also included Mahomes and Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The quarterbacks were mic’d up for every game including the Cousins-led greatest comeback in NFL history when the Vikings rallied to defeat the Colts after trailing 33-0 at halftime. The docu-series will show Cousins and the others in all kinds of situations from the huddle to inside their homes with families.
The humblest of celebrities, Cousins has never sought the spotlight with the Vikings but the nature of his position and circumstances in 2023 have him poised to be the center of much attention.