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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Should Kirk Cousins be more aggressive?

By Matthew Coller

Through the first nine weeks of the Kirk Cousins era in Minnesota, the Vikings are mid-pack or above average every relevant passing category.

They rank 16th in Pro-Football Reference’s “Expected Points” category, 13th in Adjusted Yards per Attempt (which is yards per attempt factoring sacks and interceptions) and seventh in team quarterback rating.

Where things get statistically interesting for the Vikings is in the stats that tell us about the type of passing offense they have used this season.

The Vikings sit 28th in yards per completion and Kirk Cousins has the fifth lowest air yards per passing attempt. He is also the third least aggressive quarterback in the NFL, according to NextGen stats that measure the percentage of passing attempts thrown into tight coverage. Cousins has thrown into tight coverage just 12.4 percent of the time. He has thrown 45 passes behind the line of crimmage, gaining just 5.5 yards per attempt.

None of these numbers are necessarily bad. Pat Mahomes, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have similar aggressiveness numbers and Brees averages even fewer yards per attempt. With the Saints running a highly-effective screen game with running back Alvin Kamara, Brees has an outrageously high 77.3 completion percentage. He also lands haymakers down field with incredible accuracy.

In Cousins’ best career season, 2016, he was the second least aggressive quarterback in the NFL.

NextGen has invented a system using player tracking to determine what a quaterback’s odds are of completing a given pass and compares it to the QB’s actual completion percentage. Despite the quick passes for Brees and Cousins, they make up No. 1 and 2 in completion percentage above the expected mark.

They are followed by Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.

So you could reasonably conclude that the Vikings’ plan to have Cousins throw quick passes to open receivers has been mostly successful and that he’s made exceptional throws this season.

But it’s worth asking if the Vikings could have even more success with Cousins throwing downfield more often and targeting receivers who aren’t exactly wide open.

For starters, per Pro-Football Reference, Cousins ranks 21st in attempts traveling more than 15 yards in the air, but has the fourth highest quarterback rating on such throws, only behind Brees, Phillip Rivers and Russell Wilson. He’s completed 23-of-47 for 652 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings’ quarterback is excelling on intermediate throws, going 43-for-61 with a 114.9 rating.

Cousins has the weapons to occasionally force the ball into coverage. Last season, Stefon Diggs led the NFL in contested catch percentage, according to PFF.

Stefon Diggs led the NFL in contested catches!

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 13, 2018

Last year 44.4 percent of targets toward Diggs traveled more than 10 yards. So far this season he has only been targeted 28 times down field on 78 targets (35.9 percent).

Fellow receiver Adam Thielen ranked sixth in contested catch percentage in 2017. Over the past three seasons, balls traveling over 15 yards have landed in Thielen’s hands 59.5 percent of the time and an assortment of QBs has totaled a 121.6 rating when working the ball down field to the team’s top receiver.

In some cases, play-actions and bootlegs set up down field throws with a high level of effectiveness. Cousins ranks 15th in percentage of drop backs using play-action and averages 8.8 yards per attempt with a 76.0 completion percentage (7.0 YPA when not using play-action). An improved running game with Dalvin Cook’s return may push the Vikings to use play-action even more often.

Throwing shorter isn’t always less dangerous. Cousins has struggled when throwing short over the middle. Per PFF, on throws between 0-10 yards in the middle, he has averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt with one touchdown and four interceptions.

Of course, there are concerns about working the ball into coverage or deeper downfield. Cousins already leads the NFL in fumbles and the Vikings grade as the 31st ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus. Opponents are also using double teams in attempts to take away deep throws to Thielen and Diggs.

So while there is a case for Cousins taking a few more shots down field or into coverage toward Thielen and Diggs, the key may to be more continue to produce at a high rate when shots are taken and be more effective in the short passing game. Cook’s return has the potential to break things open if he remains healthy down the stretch.

The post Should Kirk Cousins be more aggressive? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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