• One of the best quarterbacks in the league: Since joining the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdowns, and he ranks top-10 at his position in PFF grade, one spot behind Josh Allen and one spot above Andrew Luck.
• Under constant pressure: The Vikings' biggest problem recently has been the offensive line and protecting Cousins. Since 2021, the Vikings quarterback has been either hit or sacked on 16.9% of his dropbacks, the seventh-highest rate among the 35 signal-callers who have dropped back at least 500 times in that span.
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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Kirk Cousins is a polarizing figure in NFL circles.
Since joining the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdowns, and he ranks top-10 at his position in PFF grade, one spot behind Josh Allen and one spot above Andrew Luck.
But despite everything he's done in Minnesota — including the 46-35-1 record and the two trips to the playoffs — Cousins has been fixed in the crosshairs and surrounded by the narrative that he can't get his team over the line when the lights are brightest.
With how important the quarterback position is in today’s NFL, some of that is reasonable. However, over the past two seasons, Cousins has shown that maybe the blame shouldn’t fall entirely on him.
Highest-graded quarterbacks since 2018 (among 66 QBs with 500 or more dropbacks)
Cousins has a great supporting cast of skill players. The group is led by Justin Jefferson, who recently joined NFL legend Randy Moss as only the second wide receiver ever to produce 5,000-plus career receiving yards before turning 25.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2023
In the middle of the 2022 season, the Vikings also traded for tight end T.J. Hockenson, who has earned a receiving grade of at least 73.0 in each of the past three seasons.
With the skill positions set, the Vikings' biggest problem recently has been the offensive line and protecting Cousins. Since 2021, the Vikings quarterback has been either hit or sacked on 16.9% of his dropbacks, the seventh-highest rate among the 35 signal-callers who have dropped back at least 500 times in that span.
However, he's taken 238 total hits over that time, 24 more than the next-closest player at the position.
|Quarterback||Total dropbacks||Passing grade||pressured dropbacks||sacks||hits||Pressure %||Total hits||Hit %|
Despite all of that, Cousins has missed only one game, and his 87.5 passing grade is tied for the third-highest among that same group of quarterbacks.
Pressures and sacks are not solely on the offensive line, though: They are also a responsibility the quarterback shares. In today’s game, a high number of quarterbacks can create plays out of structure, and with that comes the tendency to invite more hits, piling pressure on the offensive line.
But that's never been Cousins' game. And in Minnesota's case, the blame should fall almost exclusively on the offensive line.
Cousins was responsible for just 5.0% of his pressures in 2022 and 4.1% of his pressures in 2021, both of which ranked second-lowest at the position over those seasons. The simple fact is that he is not often creating his own pressure by running into sacks or holding the ball too long.
This isn’t to take all of the blame away from him. He still has a problem with turning the ball over. It’s an area that has always stopped him from being considered one of the top-tier quarterbacks. His 23 turnover-worthy plays last season were tied for the fourth-most at the position. He's already already fumbled three times this season, which must be cleaned up, especially behind his porous offensive line.
He can’t continue to make a bad play worse.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2023
Last Thursday night's game was another example in a long line of games where Cousins played really well in a loss. His 83.1 overall grade was the third-best mark at the position in Week 2, and he continued to keep his team in the game despite being pressured on 37.0% of his dropbacks.
One of his best throws in this game came near the end when Justin Jefferson hadn't even come out of his break before the ball was delivered.
Outside of the strip sack, I thought Kirk Cousins played really well yesterday. He had some throws in here that genuinely stunned me pic.twitter.com/q5k9Pwj34t
— JP Acosta (Pug Dederson Stan Acct) (@acosta32_jp) September 15, 2023
It’s the sort of play he has to make, given how his offensive line has been playing. He’s being forced to rely on timing and anticipation to beat defenses, and he did that in last Thursday’s loss to the Eagles.
While Cousins will be the first to tell you he needs to improve in certain areas, it’s time to give him some credit and less blame. He’s consistently performed as an upper-echelon quarterback over the past couple of seasons despite getting pummeled every week.