Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4 other subscribers

MN Vikings Tweets

Bleacher Report – Vikings

Kirk Cousins and the changing definition of success

By Matthew Coller

Kirk Cousins doesn’t want you to know when a question has gotten on his nerves, so he nods intently, works his face into at least a half smile and then tries his darnedest to give a polite answer. It’s unintentionally very Minnesotan.

But following the Minnesota Vikings’ second preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars — which was an ugly performance by the first-team offense — Cousins showed his hand a little when a columnist asked about expectations being higher in Minnesota than he’s ever faced before.

“We’ve been asked this question pretty much since March,” Cousins said. “It feels like every week I talk to the media and this question comes up.”

Every time Cousins has been asked the question — the number of times asked cleared double digits awhile ago — he’s given a slightly different version of the same answer. On that late Saturday afternoon, he gave this iteration:

“I don’t go out on third down and think about the pressure. I am thinking about coverage, blitzes, setting up the protection the right way, making my reads, my footwork. It just doesn’t really end up affecting the operation of the job. Is there pressure to play in this league? Yes, there always has been. I felt a great deal of pressure as a rookie just fighting to make the team and to wonder if I was even going to have a career here as a professional. There is pressure for every guy that is out there. It is a very competitive league. Small margin for error. You have to recognize the pressure for what it is and put it on the shelf and go to work and not let it get in your way. There is enough for me to think about, enough for me to be doing that I don’t really need to be thinking all that goes with it on the outside.”

Cousins knew when he signed a contract with $84 million guaranteed that he would have that number shoved in his face at every turn. But that’s nothing particularly new to the Vikings’ veteran quarterback. For several years his contract status has been debated in Washington, D.C. — a far more up-front media market.

ESPN’s Louis Riddick openly questioned Cousins’ commitment to his team before the 2017 season. Many others scrutinized Washington owner Daniel Snyder for not breaking the bank to keep the former Michigan State QB.

So Cousins has heard it all before when it comes to his paycheck. But he has never been judged purely on the team’s final result the way he will this year.

Over the past three years, Washington has sported pathetic defenses. Last year’s 7-9 group gave up the fifth most points in the NFL. In Cousins’ previous two years as a starter — 2015 and 2016 — they were 17th and 19th, respectively.

It isn’t that his pedigree as a “winner” has never been questioned, it’s that Cousins always had his numbers and the defenses’s numbers to look toward. Three straight 4,000-yard seasons, 97.5 quarterback rating since 2015, 81 touchdowns to 36 interceptions and an impressive 7.8 yards per attempt.

Put two-and-two together and you get a lot of permutations of: Not Really Kirk’s Fault.

There’s plenty of other things that pull you in both directions on whether he’s a winner or not. He turns the ball over too much, but he also led the league in game-winning drives last year. Sometimes he’s been good on third down, other times not so much. And on and on forever.

In Minnesota there won’t be any debates. His numbers won’t matter. There isn’t a whole lot of justice in it, but the reality is: we can analyze his fantasy impact and his Pro Football Focus numbers down to the finest detail and it won’t mean anything to Vikings fans and national media. In the big picture, his grade will be the final score.

You’ve already seen some evidence of this in 2016. Sam Bradford had one of the best Vikings quarterback seasons in team history with an NFL record (at the time) completion percentage of 71.6 percent, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions and a 99.3 rating.

There were no parades for Bradford’s 2016 excellence because the team was capable of playing for a Super Bowl and ended up with an 8-8 record.

Bradford did get the benefit of the doubt because his O-line fell apart and he overachieved from past down seasons. He didn’t have anything near the career that Cousins had prior to joining the Vikings. And he didn’t make $84 million guaranteed.

That means Cousins won’t get any benefit of the doubt. The move’s success or failure hinges entirely on how far the team goes. Even his regular season Win-Loss record won’t be mentioned in the long run if Cousins gets the Vikings back to the Super Bowl. Just ask Eli Manning, who won the Super Bowl as a 9-7 quarterback in 2011.

Being graded solely on a thing that you can only control to a point is harsh, but that’s the new reality Cousins is facing. It’s fair for fans to look at it that way when he is inheriting a team with two No. 1-caliber receivers, an up-and-coming superstar running back and the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

But there’s no way for him to prepare for the pressure, no matter how many times he practices the answer in the preseason. A slow start will land him as a debate topic on every TV show. And if he thinks the question about expectations has gotten old now, wait until the first bump in the road.

None of this is to say that Cousins, who went 24-23-1 over the last three years as a starter in D.C., will wilt under said pressure. It’s only to say that — whether it’s fair or not — he is facing new territory and how he navigates the terrain could determine whether the Vikings make it over those bumps.

The post Kirk Cousins and the changing definition of success appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>