Oct 3, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Vikings now have some weird stats due to their turbulent start to 2021.
Here’s an example:
The Minnesota Vikings are the first team in NFL history to have a loss record in 4 games, while cumulatively beating opponents (+2) and making 2 or fewer turnovers.
— Dustin Baker (@DustBaker) October 4, 2021
Somehow they beat their opponents cumulatively – and find ways to lose. Viking-like, indeed. However, this does indicate that there is a good football team somewhere.
And that’s what quarterback Kirk Cousins is trying to extract. In the games, he’s brilliant – Cincinnati, Arizona, Seattle – the defense dwindles, leading to two defeats in that trio. When he and the offensive line are out, the defense pops up a bit, see: Cleveland in Week 4. As a result, Cousins gets into the rare stat action with factoids like this:
14 times in Viking history, QBs have started a season with 7+ TD passes through 4 games.
Kirk Cousins is the only one to leave Week 4 while his team had a losing record.
And it’s happened *twice* now – 2018 and 2021.
— Dustin Baker (@DustBaker) October 5, 2021
These outlier statistics do not occur for nothing. All facets of the team don’t shoot at the same time. Sales are low, Cousins was great in three games and yet the team has a 1-3 ‘record’. It’s madness.
In three out of four games, when Cousins had a respectable amount of time to throw the ball, he was phenomenal. Vikings fans have a hard time recognizing it because of the ubiquitous losing record. But based on the totality of Cousins’ performance in four games, the Vikings should have at least a 2-2 record – probably 3-1.
But no bones. Not this time, not this year.
Nationally, some people and entities understand. Even including cousins meh Week 4 production against the Browns, ESPN identified Cousins as the player with the best start through 2021, according to unnamed NFL executives. They get it. Vikings fans are so annoyed at the immediacy of the Browns loss — it’s hard to portray Cousins in a favorable light this week. Yet unbiased executives don’t have that problem. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote about the Cousins pick for the hottest start:
“Cousins does certain things so well that a player often labeled as overrated feels a little undervalued. He has seen a hot start because he starts so hot, completing 16 of 17 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns on opening drives this season. He showed again on Sunday against Cleveland that he is great in script, completing all six passes for 59 yards and a score to open the game. We already knew he’s great in a clean bag, with Pro Football Focus ranking him first if not pressured with a mark of 94.1 over three weeks. And it’s hard to argue with his bottom-line production during the first month: 1,121 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception on 108-of-157 passes (68.7%).”
The deal maker and deal breaker on Cousins is simple: He must have time to throw.
It’s elementary. If the offensive line of cousins protects him, he is deadly. If they don’t, it’s not him. The difference for him is the strong drop-off between the categories. He can play as Dan Marino with a clean bag; it can fold up like a banquet chair with a dirty bag. Once the viewer realizes this about the Michigan state alumnus, he is easier to understand.
To some extent, other quarterbacks — like Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, or Josh Allen — can make more money off a tarnished sack. Cousins, for the most part, not. This is what sets him apart from an elite level of classification.
Unsurprisingly, Cousins played well in the first three weeks of 2021 – as his offensive trenches gave him time to throw. Against Cleveland, they didn’t, and Cousins looked pedestrian.
Therefore, the Vikings offensive must find a way to protect their prized possession. Otherwise, the Cousins experiment is doomed to fail. He won’t drag a team into the Promised Land with filthy protection. Most don’t. Mahomes from the morning after the Super Bowl would like to hear a word.
Give Cousins time and the ESPN-marked hot start can continue.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007 host a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawho and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Guilty pleasures listed: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos’ and The Doors (the band).