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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What do Pro Football Focus’s numbers say about Kirk Cousins?

By Matthew Coller

As we head into the final week before free agency, there is a new report almost every day that connects the Minnesota Vikings to top free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins.

We have looked at what the film tells us about his game. Now for the analytics based on Pro Football Focus’s first edition of its “Quarterback Annual.”

While PFF’s grades have been widely debated, their tracking data is used by nearly every NFL team, including the Vikings. So there’s a lot we can learn about how Cousins plays and what he might need to be successful in Minnesota. Let’s have a look…

Scheme and supporting cast

Context in quarterback analysis is incredibly important and also very difficult to pinpoint. All 32 QBs are playing on a different playing field. They all have unique schemes – some tailored to their strengths, others not (ahem, Teddy Bridgewater 2015, for example), some pump up stats like completion percentage with short throws (like Sam Bradford 2016) or drag down completion percentage (like Cam Newton for much of his career) by asking the QB to work the ball down field.

There is also the matter of score effects. When a quarterback is down by two scores or involved in shootouts, he might see an increase in yardage numbers. For example, Drew Brees’s yardage total sunk this year, but his yards per attempt was the best in the NFL. His team’s defense played much better this year and the Saints ran the ball more often when leading.

So what can we figure out about the context of Cousins’ career and most recent season?

First, the drop off in his supporting cast played a role in the decline in his play. He graded 19th overall by PFF, the worst since being locked in as Washington’s starting QB (14th in 2015, ninth in 2016). When throwing to tight end Jordan Reed, his rating was 113.5, but injuries kept Reed to only 33 targets in 2017.

However, Chris Thompson’s excellence out of the backfield made up some of the difference. His rating when throwing Thompson’s way was 125.4 on 51 targets. Top receivers Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder were not as effective as Pierre Garcon or DeSean Jackson had been in 2016. Crowder ranked as the 31st best receiver overall and Doctson was ranked 75th.

He was on the wrong end of a mid-pack number of drops at 5.6 percent of his throws (18th)

Washington also suffered injuries on the offensive line that made life more difficult on Cousins. He was pressured on 36.6 percent of his throws. While that number was up from 2016, it was equal to 2015, as was the average depth of his throws.

When he was pressure, there were widely varying results. PFF wrote:

“Cousins is absolutely fearless under pressure and that’s not necessarily a good thing. His 11 big-time throws under pressure ranked fourth, while his nine turnover-worthy throws ranked sixth. The result was a passer rating of 66.3 when pressured.”

Cousins was not asked to throw deep on a regular basis. He ranked 28th in average depth of target (8.2) Two of his three seasons have ADOT under 8.5 yards per throw. Notably, he has been very good at executing a short-pass offense:

One of the things to notice in Pro Football Focus’s stats is that Jay Gruden’s offense relies greatly on play-action passes.

When Washington ran play-action, Cousins had a rating of 118.7. When he didn’t, his rating sunk to 87.4. One reason this is relevant is that in big situations like third downs and late fourth quarters, play-action throws are ineffective against defenses who know the opposing QB has to throw.

PFF ranked him as the 31st graded QB (of 41) on third downs in 2017.

“Cousins’ gunslinger mentality shined through on 3rd downs, where he was sixth in big-time throws(8) yet had the fourth-most turnover-worthy throws(7).”

The takeaway: While Cousins did have some challenges with his teammates this season, Gruden set him up to succeed by running over 20 percent of his throws as play-action. When he didn’t have that advantage, Washington’s free agent QB struggled.

Talent

One of the goals of the PFF annual was to separate box score stats like yards, completion percentage and touchdowns from a QB’s actual skill.

So they looked at the types of throws each QB made in 2017. Taking away passes like screens and short dump offs shows us which quarterbacks were asked to make “NFL throws,” like deep outs or seam routes down the middle etc.

On those types of throws, Cousins sat securely in the middle of the NFL – far behind Tom Brady, but far ahead of Jay Cutler.

Taking it a level deeper, he was mid-pack on big-time throws, which are described this way: “The highest end of both difficulty and value. While the value is easy to see statistically, the difficulty has more to do with passes that have a lower completion percentage the further theball is thrown down the field. Therefore,the big-time throw is best described as a pass with excelent ballocation and timing, generaly thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window.

Here’s a look at Cousins’ 2017 ranks in a number of areas, including big-time throws.

The turnover-worthy plays also give us a window into one of Cousins’ shortcomings. He’s been prone to turning the ball over, throwing 36 INTs and fumbling the ball 31 times over the last three years.

We also see his grade when Washington’s blocking was solid was not among the better QBs in the NFL.

Here’s how his grades in different areas compare to the average NFL QB in 2017:

The bottom line

The reported price for Cousins is somewhere in the range of three years, $90 million guaranteed. That might be a steep price for the Vikings to pay for a quarterback who is only average when it comes to making big-time throws when called upon. However, if the Vikings have the right scheme and the supporting cast remains healthy, he can continue to succeed in the areas where he’s been best in Washington.

Cousins is smart at the line of scrimmage, he can hit passes down the field and he can even use his legs from time to time. But there will be frustrating risks and game situations where defenses can take advantage of his inconsistencies in anticipating and accuracy.

The reasons for Washington deciding to move along are evidenced in some of the PFF data. You can also see why the Vikings would see him as a QB who can outperform his 2017 numbers when given receivers like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

The post What do Pro Football Focus’s numbers say about Kirk Cousins? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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