The Indianapolis Colts allowed Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew to complete 95% of his passes and coast to an easy win in Week 1. They were giving up pass after pass, especially underneath, and looked helpless anytime Minshew didn’t hand the ball off. Kirk Cousins, on the other hand, couldn’t complete 50% of his passes against a worse version of that same defense on Sunday — starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin missed the game. The Colts put up 2013 Legion of Boom numbers on him.
At least through the lens of adjusted yards per attempt, which awards “yards” for touchdowns (+20) and penalties for interceptions (-45), this was literally the worst start of Cousins’ nine-year career (89 starts). Cousins’ adjusted yards per attempt came out to -0.85 on the day, marking not only the worst performance of his career, but the only starting performance in which he has dipped below zero. Additionally, there have only been six other sub-0.0 AY/A games since 2018, including Sam Darnold’s Monday Night meltdown against the Patriots last season. Whatever degree of anger you felt towards Cousins during the Colts game, it was warranted.
What’s worse is there isn’t much of an explanation for Cousins’ disaster aside from poor accuracy. It’s not as though he played particularly bad under pressure or was having issues versus specific coverages. The Colts run a ton of Cover 2, anyway, so it’s not like they present a daunting blend of coverage shells. Cousins simply couldn’t hit his targets for most of the day, while his small handful of excellent passes were all squandered by the intended receivers.
Let’s start with those few good throws and at least set a good base for Cousins. He was horrific on Sunday, but the stat line looks worse than his efforts should have produced. The Vikings’ pass-catchers left a couple of critical chunk plays on the field.
Right up until the moment the ball touches Kyle Rudolph’s hands, it’s hard to ask for anything more from the Vikings offense. The heavy-personnel play-action call is exactly what the Vikings scheme is supposed to be. Rudolph got open with room to run and Cousins put a well-placed, well-timed ball on him.
Due in part to some sneaky defensive back play, though, Rudolph was never able to get his right hand up for this pass. Colts cornerback Kenny Moore (their only cover guy right now) pulled down on Rudolph’s right arm as it was coming up while fitting his own arm in to contest the catch point. Rudolph couldn’t reel in the catch — a tough catch, admittedly — and the Vikings failed to dig themselves out of their own territory on this drive as a result. At least we can say Cousins handled his end of the bargain on this play.
Another deep target to a tight end, another drop. On this play, the Vikings No. 3 (the innermost receiver to trips) runs what the Eagles call a “copper” route. Though it can be a straight-up designed route, “copper” (corner-post) is usually an adjustment based on middle-of-field open coverages like in this clip. This is a great complement/adjustment to Double China-7, which is the two outside five-and-in routes paired with a corner route from the No. 3.
Like in the first play, Cousins does his job here, too. The ball is out on time and hits Irv Smith Jr. in the chest well before a defender can arrive. Not that it’s easy to secure a pass and get hit by a safety moments later, but there was a long enough window between pass connection and the safety delivering the hit where Smith should have been able to hang on.
Two plays later, Cousins chucked a desperation pass down the field and was intercepted. There was only a minute left before the half and the Vikings had a lone timeout, but a well-managed series could have still netted a field goal. The deep heave into double-coverage was questionable at best and a clear sign that something was off with Cousins on Sunday.
All throughout the game, both before and after the desperation interception, Cousins regularly put the ball in harm’s way. Even on the play between Smith’s drop and the interception just mentioned, Cousins tried throwing a speed out that was nearly picked off. It seemed no matter what angle Cousins was throwing to or from, the ball ended up lagging behind the target area.
Take this deep corner throw, for example. The defensive back makes a wonderful play, yes, but Cousins made it far too easy for him to catch up to it. Not only does Cousins leave this ball on Adam Thielen’s back shoulder, but the ball takes forever to even get there. Despite a clean pocket, Cousins didn’t really drive on this throw and try to fit it into the tight window on the sideline. The ball hangs and wobbles in the air for far too long and misses its ideal landing spot, giving the defensive back all the right conditions to make this play from behind. This isn’t an easy throw by any means, but we’ve seen Cousins hit this with some oomph before. There was room further up the sideline and he failed to use it and nearly paid for his sins with an interception.
At best, this is a slight miscommunication wherein Cousins believed the wide receiver would “settle” between zones rather than continue the slant. At worst, Cousins egregiously misfired on the wide receiver’s back shoulder, forced a catch attempt against the receiver’s momentum, and put the ball in a position where it could be tipped up for the interception. If it’s the former, then the offense may need more time to gel than expected.
Cousins missed on a number of other less-notable throws, too. One hitch route to Thielen took a bit too long to arrive and was swatted down. Another ball thrown too low for Bisi Johnson while Cousins was moving out of the pocket also hit the dirt when it shouldn’t have. The 3rd-and-7 go ball to Thielen in the fourth quarter wasn’t even remotely catchable. And the list goes on, and on, and on.
On the bright side, it would be incredibly difficult to ever be worse than he was on Sunday. Cousins has rarely ever posted sub-3.0 AY/A games in his career, let alone a sub-0.0 like he did on Sunday. Cousins can only go up from here.
Maybe that’s depressing to read after an 0-2 start during Cousins’ third season in Minnesota, but it’s all the Vikings have right now. They’re not a good team and Cousins isn’t performing up to the standard he needs to in order to solve that. At least there is a seventh playoff spot to fight for and half the NFC North is bad, right?