Vikings

Third-Down Misses Among Kirk Cousins' Many Mistakes in Loss to Packers

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch (USA Today Sports)

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The Vikings lost 21-16 to their biggest rival, and there are many culprits: the slow start, the special teams miscues, the litany of penalties.

But Kirk Cousins’ day deserves its own itemization. His fumbling issues returned with two balls put on the ground and one lost. He threw two interceptions, including a back-breaking off-balance pick in the back of the end zone with 5:10 remaining that Cousins called “uncharacteristic.”

What was truly uncharacteristic, however, was Cousins’ lack of accuracy. He totaled 230 yards on 14 of 32 passing, a 43.8 percent completion rate that is the second-lowest in his career as a starter and least accurate percentage since 2013.

“Every NFL game seems like a rollercoaster, seems like it’s all over the map,” Cousins said after the game. “I had a feeling in the second half that there were plays to be made. I think we all kind of saw in the first half that there were plays to be made and we didn’t make them.”

The quarterback went 5 of 12 with a fumble and an interception on 13 third-down dropbacks. He was put on the spot repeatedly as the Vikings got behind the chains, averaging an untenable 3rd and 8.7 yards to go, but Cousins had opportunities to make plays he didn’t capitalize upon. Considering he was asked to throw on all 13 of Minnesota’s third-down attempts (they finished 4 of 13), it goes without saying Cousins needed to have a more accurate day than he did.

“He was up and down,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “He had some good throws and he had some misses.”

A couple of the “misses” weren’t necessarily Cousins’ fault. His first third-down attempt of the day to Stefon Diggs was a good back-shoulder toss that hit Diggs where it should’ve, but Diggs got his right hand caught up in cornerback Jaire Alexander and couldn’t reel it in. Diggs later dropped a slant over the middle that would’ve converted a 3rd and 2.

But numerous other incompletions stand out.

Adam Thielen broke open on a corner route on a 3rd and 8 in the second quarter — a route he’s typically had great success running. Cousins missed him high, then crouched over with his hands on his knees in exasperation. He brought this up after the game as one of his most frustrating misses.

Later in the second quarter, Cousins forced a throw toward Diggs that never reached its target. Rookie Darnell Savage tipped it into the hands of Preston Smith for Cousins’ second turnover and first interception. Linebacker Blake Martinez appeared to have committed to Diggs on the play, leaving tight end Kyle Rudolph open near the right hash mark.

“Can’t throw that one in there,” Cousins said. “Too much traffic. I understand Rudy was open on the other side. With the way my read is, if I’d gotten off of Diggsy earlier, certainly could have worked backside. By the time I made the decision to say no to Diggsy, I needed to check it down to my Z [receiver] on my left.”

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu (USA Today Sports)

Rudolph did get targeted toward the end of the first half on 3rd and goal from the 13-yard line, but Cousins overthrew him and appeared to gesture that he wanted Rudolph to run his route deeper into the end zone. Most of Cousins’ accuracy issues on Sunday were due to overthrows, which Cousins didn’t have an explanation for in his postgame press conference, saying he’d have to evaluate the film.

Cousins did have some big third-quarter moments, dropping a beautiful deep ball to Diggs for a touchdown on 3rd and 13 and a 30-yard strike to Thielen on 3rd and 4 to keep a drive alive. But Cousins was running another deep attempt to Diggs that didn’t connect in the fourth quarter. Trying to duplicate his fourth-quarter bomb to Diggs in Week 2 at Lambeau from the season prior, Cousins let it fly on 3rd and 7 from his own 39, throwing it over Diggs’ outstretched hands.

“That’s tough,” Cousins said, “because you feel like if you hit that maybe he scores, maybe we’re first and goal from the five, or whatever it is. It changes the flow of the game. Those are ones you are really frustrated about when you’re walking to the sideline.”

Fans will be dissecting Cousins’ ill-advised interception on 1st and goal, and deservedly so. In reality, though, if Cousins had connected on several more passes earlier in the game, the Vikings might’ve avoided that situation entirely.

Fumbles and silly interceptions were both knocks on Cousins in 2018, but not his accuracy. That’s the most concerning part of Sunday’s loss.

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