Kirk Cousins has everything you want in a franchise quarterback. His highlight reel will show off the arm strength and accuracy, leading him to throw a career-high 35 touchdowns last season. But the game of football is more than just being able to throw the deep ball on a rope.
There’s a mental side of the game that allows great quarterbacks to shrug off pressure and perform when the stakes are at their highest. With a new season approaching, Cousins showed that part of his game has not improved.
When sitting down with the media earlier this week, Cousins was asked if he’s watched any film to see what he needs to improve upon this season. He revealed that not only did he watch his 2020 season, but he went back and re-watched his entire career.
“I do think that time looking at tape through the winter and spring…it’s helpful to see what has worked in the past and make it a staple as I move forward,” Cousins explained. “I think being self-led and tough on yourself can really help too as you watch tape that you put out there.”
This can be seen as a good thing. Peyton Manning lived in the film room during his NFL career, and other quarterbacks have made a living off “grinding the tape.” But Cousins’ decision to watch his entire career from Day 1 shows who he is as a quarterback.
While other quarterbacks play loose on the field, Cousins is described as high-strung by commentators and tends to let things snowball and get out of control. Last year is a perfect example of that. He seemed to have something going late against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, but he threw three interceptions against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2. When public criticism grew, Cousins played more uptight and threw an NFL-leading 10 interceptions in the first two weeks.
Such play isn’t acceptable for a competitive team that has doled out $150 million for a quarterback. It’s part of the reason why they drafted Kellen Mond as a succession plan this year.
Think of the best quarterbacks in the league. Patrick Mahomes hits the field every Sunday with the demeanor of a kid at recess. He overcame a 10-point deficit to win his first Super Bowl at 24 two years ago, and he is one of the most popular players in the league.
When Aaron Rodgers was faced with a reeling Packers team in 2014, he stepped to the podium and said, “R-E-L-A-X.” Faced with a 92-yard drive to win the Super Bowl, Joe Montana stopped and spotted John Candy in the stands. Brett Favre played football like it was a game of “500” and owned every two-minute drill.
Even quarterbacks who haven’t claimed a championship, like Lamar Jackson, play with a swagger that not only attracts fans but helps their team win games.
It’s not as though Cousins has never been calm under pressure. He’s been part of 11 comebacks and led 16 game-winning drives in his career. When Cousins led the Vikings to an upset victory over the New Orleans Saints in 2019, his response included an awkward “YOU LIKE THAT??” in the locker room.
During a meaningless Week 17 game last season, Cousins scored a late touchdown and proceeded to break out a very, ahem, unique version of “The Griddy.” These things could be considered cool, but they usually look forced.
Going back and watching your entire career is a good thing, but there’s not much a random spot start from 2012 is going to do to help you evade pressure in 2021. If Cousins is overanalyzing every part of his game, it will be the main thing that will continue to hold him back during his time in the Twin Cities.