Vikings

The Real Story Behind Kirk Cousins' Career on Monday Night Football

Photo Credit: Bob Donnan (USA TODAY Sports)

Have you heard that Kirk Cousins‘ record throughout his career on Monday Night Football is 1-9? Of course you have, because asking someone about Cousins’ shortcomings on football’s biggest stage is akin to asking if they’ve heard about that “COVID stuff” going around. While Minnesota’s starting quarterback notched the first Monday-night win of his career just last season, the football world and a land full of Kirky Non-Believers love beating you across the head with Cousins’ failures on the primetime stage.

Throughout his career, Cousins has compiled below-average average statistics — by his standards — in losing efforts on Monday nights.

So instead of dwelling on the combined 1-9 record for the Washington Football Team and Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football since 2014 — after all, “wins” still isn’t a quarterback stat — we’re going to look at the why behind this level of incompetence on the national stage.

2020:

Week 10 @ Chicago: 19-13, W

  • Cousins’ stats: 25/36, 292 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 100.7 passer rating
  • Vikings offense totaled 395 yards
  • Vikings defense allowed 149 yards

It wasn’t pretty, but Cousins was his typical, efficient self while leading his team to their first victory on Monday night in Chicago. The Vikings’ offense approached 400 yards and the defense was stout for four quarters. Keep this defensive performance in mind, because you won’t find many other Monday night games where Cousins’ defense even came close to the level of domination that Zimmer put forth last year in the Windy City.

2019:

Week 13 @ Seattle: 37-30, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 22/38, 276 yards, two touchdowns, ome interception, 87.2 passer rating
  • Vikings offense totaled 354 yards
  • Vikings defense allowed 444 yards (218 rushing yards)

Another fairly pedestrian statistical performance out of Cousins at Seattle. Despite Minnesota hanging 30 points on the Seattle Seahawks, Zimmer’s defense was absolutely torched for nearly 450 yards — including 218 rushing yards. Unfortunately for Cousins, a trend is starting to appear for his defensive counterparts on Monday nights when you look back on his games.

Week 16 vs Green Bay: 23-10, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 16/31, 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 58.8 passer rating
  • Vikings offense totaled 139 yards
  • Vikings defense allowed 383 yards (184 rushing yards)

The stinkiest of stinkers for Cousins and the Vikings offense. First-year Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur made his US Bank Stadium debut and routed his border-battle divisional rival. While the defense was gashed for over 180 rushing yards, Cousins and the Vikings’ offense have no excuse for this level of futility on football’s biggest stage.

2018:

Week 14 @ Seattle: 21-7, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 20/33, 208 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one lost fumble, 89.0 passer rating
  • Vikings offense totaled 276 yards
  • Vikings defense allowed 274 yards (214 rushing yards)

Even though Russell Wilson was rendered useless through the air, Seattle’s ground game dominated Zimmer’s defense for over 200 yards in the contest. Another less-than-stellar performance out of Cousins, but it’s impossible to point the finger at him when the side of the ball that he’s not responsible for has no answer for the Seahawks’ running game.

After looking back on the Cousins era, the Vikings haven’t exactly played complementary football on Monday Nights — outside of last season’s victory in Chicago. Before 2020’s win at Soldier Field, the Vikings’ defense gave up an average of 205.3 rushing yards per game on Monday night since 2018. And outside of 2019’s bummer at home against Green Bay, it’s a big ask to make Cousins shoulder the blame for Minnesota’s 1-3 record on Monday night since 2018 — especially when the defense is getting gashed with regularity.

Let’s dig deeper into Cousins’ career on the big stage by looking back on how the games transpired during his time in Washington.

2017 (Washington)

Week 4 @ Kansas City: 29-20, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 14/24, 220 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, seven carries for 38 yards, 116.7 passer rating
  • Washington offense totaled 331 yards
  • Washington defense allowed 429 yards (168 rushing yards)

An uber-efficient Cousins still was no match for the Kansas City Chiefs on the road inside Arrowhead Stadium back in early 2017. Led by Alex Smith, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, Andy Reid‘s offense dominated Washington for 429 yards — including 168 yards on the ground. Washington’s attempt to run the ball and keep Kanas City’s offense on the sidelines was largely unsuccessful, as the game plan ultimately failed to allow Cousins to keep up with the Chiefs’ offense.

Week 7 @ Philadelphia: 34-24, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 30/40, 303 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 110.7 passer rating
  • Washington offense totaled 344 yards
  • Washington defense allowed 371 yards (127 rushing yards)

Yet another performance where you can’t ask for much more out of Cousins in the Washington defeat. Washington’s running game was nonexistent in this particular contest, meanwhile Doug Pederson‘s unit ran for 127 yards en route to 34 points at Lincoln Financial Stadium.

2016 (Washington)

Week 1 vs Pittsburgh: 38-16, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 30/43, 329 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions, 72.7 passer rating
  • Washington offense totaled 384 yards
  • Washington defense allowed 437 yards (137 rushing yards)

The 2016 season opener was the last time Cousins turned the ball over multiple times on Monday night, with two interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both the offense and defense were dominated for Washington in the contest and Pittsburgh walked out with an easy 22-point road victory.

Week 15 vs Carolina: 26-15, L

  • Cousins’ stats:32/47, 315 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception, one lost fumble, 77.9 passer rating
  • Washington offense totaled 335 yards
  • Washington defense allowed 438 yards (148 rushing yards)

Another game where Washington’s offense lived and died with Kirk Cousins — with no semblance of a running game to be found whatsoever. Fresh off their Super Bowl appearance from the previous year in 2015, Carolina reverted to their dominant ways with over 400 yards of offense and nearly 150 rushing yards against Washington.

2015 (Washington)

Week 13 vs Dallas: 19-16, L

  • Cousins’ stats: 22/31, 219 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions, 101.4 passer rating
  • Washington offense totaled 266 yards
  • Washington defense allowed 318 yards (97 rushing yards)

A low-scoring affair. Cousins didn’t wow anybody with this performance, but he also didn’t lose Washington the game by not turning the ball over and accumulating an efficient 100-plus passer rating against the Dallas Cowboys. While the Washington defense wasn’t necessarily to blame either, Washington’s inability to run the ball effectively was a consistent theme throughout Cousins’ tenure in Washington.

2014 (Washington)

Week 5 vs Seattle: 27-17, L

  • 21/36, 283 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, 102.0 passer rating
  • Washington offense totaled 307 yards
  • Washington defense allowed 403 yards (225 rushing yards)

Even though Cousins had another mistake-free performance with two touchdowns and a 100-plus passer rating, Washington’s defense had no answer for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks gashed Washington for 400-plus yards and 225 rushing yards. Furthermore, Washington’s inability to find any sort of running game made Washington that much easier to defend with Cousins through the air.

Prior to last season’s victory in Chicago on Monday night, Kirk Cousins’ defensive counterparts in Minnesota and Washington allowed an average of 388.6 yards and 169.8 rushing yards per game across Cousins’ first nine career starts on football’s biggest stage. To reiterate, wins are not a quarterback stat, and having an unreliable defense throughout your career makes it extremely difficult to win ball games.

Can Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes overcome their team’s defensive shortcomings? Absolutely. But if Rodgers and Mahomes — two of the best quarterbacks of all time — are the benchmark for Cousins, that’s a whole different discussion.

In 2021 alone, NFL teams are a combined 43-15-1 (.729 winning percentage) when they rush for 170 or more yards. Expand that sample size to include all games since 2014, and NFL teams are a combined 413-108-4 (.787 winning percentage) when they reach 170 rushing yards.

Could Cousins play better on Mondays? Absolutely. But he’s certainly not putting up stinkers on Mondays with a passer rating of 87.2 or more in seven of 10 performances — including five performances with a passer rating of 100-plus throughout his career.

At the end of the day, football is the still the ultimate team game. Competent quarterback play can only take you so far before your team’s defensive warts are exposed. Unfortunately for Cousins, he’s had to take the blame for a career’s worth of subpar defensive performances on Monday nights for both Washington and Minnesota.

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