Kirk Cousins had a great week for the Minnesota Vikings. With 352 yards passing, a pair of touchdowns, and a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, he did everything that Vikings fans have asked for. Well, at least on paper.
Cousins’ opening week performance put him on par with players like Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, but there was a meaningful difference in their performances. While the other two quarterbacks were able to lead their teams to victory, Cousins came up short. His performance in Cincinnati was a microcosm of his career.
This has become a weekly occurrence for Vikings fans. Cousins has the statistical resumé that belongs among the game’s best, but there’s often something missing. When comparing Cousins to Brady and Stafford, there are some similarities, but the difference between him and those two players is worth examining.
Brady’s current situation is similar to the one that Cousins has in Minnesota. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have surrounded Brady with a supporting cast reminiscent of a Madden Ultimate Team. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski at his disposal, Brady caught fire late last season and won the Super Bowl.
But the similarities are limited to roster construction. Before Brady arrived in Tampa, he was in Foxborough serving as Bill Belichick’s mercenary. Brady put up gaudy stats there but he never had an elite supporting cast outside of his legendary 2007 season. Despite the lack of talent around him, Brady led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl championships by elevating the performance of his team.
Perhaps comparing Cousins to Brady isn’t fair, but his current situation is similar to Brady’s in Massachusetts in one significant way. When he was playing for a defensive coach, Brady did what was asked of him and walked out of Foxborough with a fist full of rings.
What about Stafford? He always puts up big numbers, but he doesn’t have a playoff win, let alone Brady-level championship success.
It was easy to feel bad for Stafford in Detroit because he was surrounded by a poor supporting cast. While Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Golden Tate are above-average receivers, Stafford never had a complete arsenal of weapons like the ones that Brady and Cousins have this season. The only elite receiver he played with was Calvin Johnson, but there was never a pair like Cousins has in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson or the smorgasbord of targets that Brady has in Tampa.
Stafford was looking for greener pastures after the conclusion of the Matt Patricia error — I mean era — and wound up in Southern California. Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Van Jefferson aren’t a significant upgrade from what he had in Detroit, but what Stafford has is the same system that Cousins has been operating under for the past three seasons.
Stafford showed what he could do in Sunday’s victory over the Chicago Bears, using his big arm to rack up 321 yards on just 26 attempts. His 12.35 yards per attempt isn’t sustainable, but his tendency to go deep could lead the Los Angeles Rams back to the Super Bowl.
Cousins? Even though it makes some fans cringe, he is at his best when he lets it fly. The past two seasons have been the most efficient of his career. He’s averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. This creates the explosive plays that Mike Zimmer raved about in February and allows Dalvin Cook to be a late-game hammer.
But instead of being aggressive, Cousins was content to check it down on Sunday. While he threw for big yardage, he did so on 49 attempts, logging 7.1 yards per throw. This could be a result of a poor performance from the offensive line, but Pro Football Focus charted the same amount of time to throw (2.37) as Stafford did against the Bears.
Stafford never played with multiple elite receivers, which sets his performance apart from Cousins’. In fact, Cousins’ approach sets him apart from many quarterbacks.
Like Brady and Stafford, the top quarterbacks in the league aren’t afraid to take shots. Hell, Patrick Mahomes has his own meme because of it. Cousins’ day in Cincinnati looks great on paper but it’s not one that’s going to lead the Vikings to where they want to go.
While many things didn’t go the Vikings’ way on Sunday, they could have been better served if Cousins came out willing to grab the Bengals by the tail. Instead, Cousins checked it down and had a performance that has plagued his tenure in Minnesota.