Vikings

"Throw the Ball!" Was the Story of Cousins' Day Against Chicago

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

If nothing else, Sunday gave us yet another memeable Kirk Cousins moment. After a scramble and incompletion in the red zone just before the half, star rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson snapped at the Minnesota Vikings quarterback. It sounded as if he said, “F***, Kirk! Come on! Throw the ball!” Every single Vikings fan felt that level of frustration towards Cousins at that moment.

In reality, this kind of thing happens between wide receivers and quarterbacks all the time. If you really want to dig for ‘em, there are surely clips of Randy Moss snapping at Tom Brady, Jerry Rice screaming at Joe Montana, Antonio Brown being pissed off with Ben Roethlisberger, etc. Football is an emotional game and these dudes want to win. That doesn’t mean the clip isn’t funny and somewhat cathartic, though.

What’s funnier about the clip than anything is that it more or less tells the story of Cousins’ day as a whole. Either due to excellent coverage, questionable offensive line play, or conservative decision making (or all three), Cousins seemed to hold onto the ball for too long on just about every pass attempt against the Chicago Bears. Chicago’s defense played quite well in its own right, but there were a few too many instances where Cousins refused to test them when needed, leaving him to either take a sack or throw a ball late.

This 3rd and 4 was one of the most frustrating instances. To the field (right) side, the Vikings have a two-receiver set and are prepared to run an “Ohio” concept. The outside receiver clears vertical, while the inside receiver runs five-and-out. As a stand-alone concept, this should put the flat player in Cover 2 in a bind. The cornerback eventually needs to fly down to handle the out-route but has to squeeze the vertical route up the sideline long enough to give the safety time to get over. From the other side of the concept, however, the No. 3 (innermost) receiver from the trips set is running a juke/shake route across the middle into the area the out-route runner left. This should be an easy read for Cousins to come back to.

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Cousins knows this is two-deep. He knows it pre-snap but also confirms the boundary safety turning and bailing off the hash at the snap. By the end of his drop, Cousins also sees the boundary cornerback sitting low in a flat assignment, giving him all the signs he needs to know this is Cover 2. Cousins should be able to try and rip this into the hole between the low corner and the deep-half safety, but being who he is, he shies away.

The first concept is now dead and Cousins has to come back side. More often than not, when the initial concept dies, a quarterback has to know the pocket is near collapse. NFL pockets do not hold for very long, and quarterbacks have to be able to either get the ball out immediately or make a play once the first concept is dead. That’s not what Cousins does. He hesitates to throw the crosser right across the first down marker, which he shouldn’t do because he can throw this low and away to give the tight end a chance, and tries to find Jefferson underneath. By this point, he’s held the ball for an eternity, which makes it no surprise he ends up sacked.

Cousins had two chances to make a throw on this play — the vertical and the crosser. Neither throw would have necessarily been easy, but on 3rd and 4, a quarterback needs to pull the trigger to keep things moving. Cousins didn’t, and it cost him.

Later in the game, Cousins had a red zone incompletion because he wasted, at most, a half of a second. It sounds like such an insignificant amount of time, but football, in general, is a game of inches and milliseconds, and that is especially true down in the red zone.

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To be clear, this would be a difficult throw even if Cousins was on time. But because he wasn’t, the throw became nearly impossible. At the moment Cousins makes his first little slide and begins to draw his arm back, Jefferson is breaking to the far side of the “Vikings” paint and Chicago’s cornerback to that side of the field is beginning to drive down for the flat route. If Cousins actually lets this go when he first draws, he can try to put this ball between the two defenders and leave it a bit high. The throw would need to be around the inside portion of the left side of the “Vikings” V. Tough, but doable with some heat on the ball.

Instead, Cousins pumps, which gives the cornerback more time to work back. Jefferson also ends up further out on his route because Cousins waits. Cousins still tries to fit this ball over the inside part of the left side of the V, but the window vanishes between Cousins’ initial draw and the actual throw.

Again, that is a tough throw. Expecting Cousins to make it is probably optimistic. The bigger issue is that Cousins did not even really give himself a chance to complete it because of how he held onto the ball. Perhaps a perfect process from Cousins on this play still has the same result, but it’s frustrating to see this kind of process regardless.

Cousins and the gang also struggled to push the ball down the field. Again. It’s not that the Vikings were trying and failing to hit on shot plays, either. Cousins did not attempt a single pass beyond 20 yards, aside from the Hail Mary. He hit one deep stop route at about 18 or 19 yards, but that was it. There was no vertical threat. Some of that was on Cousins (as shown in the first clip), some of that was on Gary Kubiak not calling well-timed shot plays, but all of it was frustrating.

If the team is going to dink and dunk like that, they have to convert on critical downs. They didn’t. The Vikings went 4-of-13 on third and fourth down conversions. To Minnesota’s credit, part of the dink-and-dunk equation is also avoiding penalties and turnovers, which they mostly did. The Vikings committed just one penalty, and their only turnover was the Hail Mary interception. Still, it’s clear to see the fragility of an offense when there is no threat of the home run ball.

And with that, the Vikings are effectively out of the playoff race. Heading into Week 15, the squad had a 15% chance to make it through, which is unlikely but not impossible. Per Football Outsiders’ playoff odds, the Vikings now sit at a 1% chance following the loss to Chicago. With the playoffs off the table and the team now being too far away from “tanking” for a meaningfully better pick, the Vikings are right where many feared Cousins would always bring them: purgatory.

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