The Minnesota Vikings felt they were a franchise quarterback away from going to the Super Bowl in 2017. Therefore, prior to the 2018 season, they analyzed every single throw Kirk Cousins made in his six seasons with the Washington Redskins and felt strongly enough to sign him to a three-year, $84 million, fully guaranteed contract in March 2018. Problem solved, the organization believed. This team would be Super Bowl-bound!
Wrong. Cousins’ first year in Minnesota was a disappointment. But hope remained for a rebound in year two with Cousins. So far, though, the 2019 season has not gone according to plan.
Vikings fans are fed up
Week 1 hosting the Atlanta Falcons was an odd game. Cousins attempted just 10 passes, completing 8 for 98 yards and a touchdown while fumbling twice. Fans weren’t necessarily upset because he managed the game well and the team won 28-12. But things have not improved for Cousins.
Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers was a rough game for the Vikings’ signal-caller. Cousins went 14-of-32 for 230 yards, with 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumbles. But his stat line only tells part of the story, as the Vikings would turn to Cousins with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, and Cousins would fail to come through. On first-and-goal from Green Bay’s eight-yard line, Cousins threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by the Packers in the end zone, all but ensuring a loss to the divisional rival.
The Oakland Raiders traveled to Minnesota in Week 3. For the third consecutive week, Cousins tossed only one touchdown pass while passing for just 174 yards. But the Vikings’ 34-14 win masked Cousins’ pedestrian numbers and once again kept fans’ discontent muted a bit longer.
Then in Week 4, the Vikings went to Chicago for a big divisional matchup against the Bears, and Cousins froze again. Losing 16-6 while throwing for just 233 yards without a touchdown is not a good look for a quarterback now infamous for struggling against good teams. In fact, Sunday’s loss to the Bears makes Cousins 5-27 against winning teams in his career. The bigger problem is that the fan discontent is now starting to creep into the dressing room.
Adam Thielen: "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. That's when you have to be able to throw the ball. … You have to be able to hit the deep balls."
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) September 30, 2019
What to do?
The problem is, the Vikings don’t really have a choice. Cousins is in the second year of his record-setting, fully guaranteed, $84 million deal. Obviously, cutting Cousins is not an option, and with Sean Mannion as the backup, there is no debate on if Cousins should be benched.
Through four games Cousins is 37 of 63 for 502 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Very ugly box score stats, but when you take a deeper dive, it gets even uglier.
According to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), Cousins falls way below the average for quarterbacks. Cousins 15.88 grade through four weeks places him 34th out of 40 quarterbacks that qualify. That’s right, backups like Kyle Allen, Gardner Minshew, Mason Rudolph, and Luke Falk all have better PFN OSM grades than Cousins.
Cousins has been exceptionally conservative in 2019. His average intended air yards sits at just 5.1 yards per attempt, which is bottom seven in the league. Furthermore, through four weeks, Cousins has attempted just 14 passes that have traveled between 10-20 yards downfield. That ranks dead last in the league.
The coaches simply have to figure out ways to better utilize him. Vikings fans are sick of the below-average play from the guy who is making big money and only winning against bad teams while consistently losing against the good teams. This roster is too talented to be a .500 team.
Week 5 vs. New York Giants
The 2-2 Vikings march into New York to take on the surprisingly 2-2 Giants. The Vikings need a win and a big performance against a mediocre defense to get back on track and start competing in the tough NFC North. Of course, Cousins is just 13-23-2 on the road in his career – which will not inspire confidence from fans or silence their growing discontent.
Will Cousins keep fueling the narrative of not being able to win big games? Or will he turn things around and lead this talented roster to the playoffs in 2019? The Vikings need more out of him, or else his contract could go down as one of the worst contracts of the past decade.