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New-Look Vikings May Flash Promise, But Kirk Cousins CONTINUES TO BE Biggest Hurdle

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In the largest moments, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins arises small. He’s an anchor once the franchise is looking for its Aquaman.

The 34-year-old signal-caller personifies mediocrity in a global where elite quarterback play is more essential than ever before to compete at the best level. The overall game is made around superheroes posing as professional athletes. Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson bring Superman-like qualities to the positioning.

Cousins doesn’t have even outstanding natural arm talent to create up for his insufficient athleticism or the precision to continually beat defenses with accurate throws predicated on pre- and post-snap reads. He lacks an individual elite trait.

The Vikings organization defiantly pays him massive guaranteed contracts to help keep him as its offensive leader. It’s an inexplicable approach that keeps the complete organization trapped in the Phantom Zonei.e. an inescapable prison built of its making.

The juxtaposition of the team’s performances through the initial fourteen days of play perfectly encapsulates where in fact the quarterback and his squad sit on the list of NFL’s hierarchy.

During Monday’s 24-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Cousins threw three interceptions and averaged under 5.0 yards per attempt. All three turnovers came in the next half and were backbreakers.

To be fair, the initial interception was forgivable. Justin Jefferson didn’t work across Darius Slay’s face, and the cornerback undercut the pass at the 1-yard line. Also, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave hit the quarterback as he attempted his throw, which took something off the pass.

Another two were a lot more problematic.

Cousins looked toward Adam Thielen to convert a 3rd-and-7 situation. The veteran signal-caller didn’t recognize the underneath dropper. Instead, Avonte Maddox backpedaled and made a significant overhead grab for the turnover.

After Jalen Hurts threw an interception, the Vikings had to be able to slice the lead midway through the fourth quarter. Instead, Cousins saw an unblocked edge defender, faded backward also to his left, and threw a lollipop in to the end zone for Slay to snag.

You can argue that Cousins was pressing throughout a contest Minnesota never led. The Vikings trailed by at the very least two touchdowns from the first-half two-minute warning through the entire third and fourth frames.

I thought Kirk battled tonight,” head coach Kevin O’Connell told reporters. “Put him in a few tough spots. I put that one 100 percent on me.”

Maybe Cousins felt he had a need to make some plays. Therein lies the issue. He does not have the expertise to consistently make off-platform plays or create beyond structure.

BECAUSE THE Athletic’s Arif Hasan previously noted, Cousins’ EPA (expected points per attempt) when trailing with 10 or less minutes remaining and in 3rd-and-long situations on the previous seven years ranked 30th and 25th, respectively. He’s not the guy in high-leverage situations that lots of of his contemporaries are.

Cousins’ real strength is orchestrating the offense as it’s constructed. When he’s in rhythm and comfortable, he is able to be impressive. Eight days earlier, the Vikings appeared as if a totally different offense.

Minnesota defeated the rival Green Bay Packers by 16 points. Through the contest, Cousins completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 277 yards and two scores. However the Packers did something unexpected and made life possible for their opponents. They didn’t regularly match Jaire Alexander with Jefferson, and the receiver had a field day. Jefferson caught nine passes for 184 yards against Green Bay’s heavy zone looks.

Cousins told reporters afterward:

“I’d be considered a little surprised, yep. Whenever he’s got a casino game at that magnitude, not due to him, nevertheless, you expect him to obtain taken away a bit, and he’ll sometimes. Our coaches want to find methods to still keep him involved, and we could actually do this today. So it is likely to be sort of a conversation we’d a whole lot last season, and well have this year every week of so how exactly does he get defended.”

Jefferson is ascending toward superstar status. But he must excel against top cover corners. Slay caught more interceptions in direct coverage of Jefferson compared to the corner allowed receptions, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

“He’s among the best on the planet,” Slay told ESPN’s Lisa Salters (h/t Kimberley Martin), “but I’m among the best on the planet too.”

Obviously, not everything falls on Cousins. Jefferson can play better. Multiple drops occurred through the entire contest, particularly a heartbreaking bobble by tight end Irv Smith Jr. which should have converted into a 63-yard touchdown.

The margin of error for Minnesota is too small. It can’t make those mistakes. The Vikings’ top performers must arrive and show out weekly, because they don’t possess a quarterback with the capacity of elevating lesser players or overcoming adversity when everything isn’t perfect around him.

We have to play better and can play better,” Cousins stated.

It’s just what a quarterback should say when addressing the media. However the team’s problems with its current setup revolves around what Cousins can in fact do.

Plenty of talent resides on the roster for the Vikings to compete on a weekly basis. Jefferson will bounce back after being mostly turn off. The 32-year-old Thielen can be one factor. Dalvin Cook will not be held to 17 rushing yards regularly. The defense under coordinator Ed Donatell will study from playing a mostly two-high-safety look Monday against a solid ground game while still creating a major mental mistake to surrender a 53-yard touchdown bomb.

The Vikings stay in transition. New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell wanted Cousins back again to provide some stability. His signing was also rooted in concern with subpar quarterback play. The 11-year veteran offers a distinct baseline. The thing is his ceiling and floor overlap. Therefore, Minnesota remains in limbo because of average quarterback play.

Cousins is what he could be, and it’s inadequate. The franchise, meanwhile, will tread water until it finally goes into another direction at the game’s most significant position.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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