Kirk Cousins Explains How to Pull Off a Successful Play-Action Pass

Photo Credit: Brad Mills (USA Today Sports)

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey made headlines recently in a GQ article where he ripped several of the league’s quarterbacks. One quarterback he was complimentary about, though, was Vikings passer Kirk Cousins.

“I think he’s good,” Ramsey told GQ. “I think he’s a winner. He’s a hell of a competitor. Coming off the play action, he’s the best quarterback in the league.”

Cousins was fifth last year in play-action yards per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus: 74 of 112, 1,054 yards, 10 TDs and two INTs. In 2016 he was third in yards per attempt, and in 2015 he was second, giving him three straight years in the top five and lending plenty of credence to Ramsey’s claim.

The former Washington Redskins quarterback took a deep dive into play-action technique during his Thursday press conference.

“The gameplan, it has to be good plays,” Cousins said. “You can run play actions, but if they’re bad route concepts, poorly designed protections, you could have a great fake and have all the intentions of having the right throw, but it’s not gonna work. If the plays are designed correctly and then your protection is loose, guys aren’t holding up, the running back doesn’t have a good mesh, then even as a quarterback you can do all you want to do, it’s not going to work.

“So when the line can protect, the concept is good, the running back has a great mesh, receivers can run with speed and create separation, that’s when a play-action offense can really be effective, and so it takes all 11 plus the scheme to really come together and make it work.”

Cousins’ biggest pass play in Minnesota’s preseason opener came on a play-action pass to Stefon Diggs that went for 28 yards. Diggs fits the criteria of a receiver that can ‘create separation,’ as does Adam Thielen, giving the Vikings the right type of skill players to make play-action work.

The Vikings used play-action to their advantage plenty in 2017 with Case Keenum attempting more than all quarterbacks besides Blake Bortles and Tom Brady. Keenum posted the ninth-highest yards per attempt in the NFL out of play-action.

Although there’s a new offensive coordinator calling the shots in John DeFilippo, there’s reason to believe the Vikings will lean heavily on the play with Cousins at quarterback.

Cousins explained further on Thursday the minutiae of mastering the play-action fake.

“You want to watch tape of yourself from the camera angle being at linebacker level, so you want to see, ‘What does [my action] look like from a linebacker’s point of view,’ and then what does my run game look like from that point of view and how dissimilar or similar are they? If the right guard on a run play is firing off the ball and then on a play-action pass is setting, I can fake as hard as I want, the linebacker’s gonna feel that difference in the o-lineman’s demeanor, so making sure your lineman are firing off with low pad level even if they’re not going down the field to make a block to still give that illusion initially really helps.

“Then we’ve got to have a good mesh with the running back. Although he’s looking in protection and has to have his eyes on the pass game, to be able to really sell that mesh like he’s trying to run the football makes a big difference. Then you obviously want to show the ball, snap that ball back and then get your eyes up.”

Vikings fans may see a few more play-action attempts Saturday as the first-team offense looks to see an increase in reps in their second preseason outing.

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