Did Philadelphia Just Lay Out the Blueprint on Kirk Cousins?

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings fell in embarrassing fashion, 24-7, on Monday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Ed Donatell’s defensive gameplan treated Jalen Hurts — a quarterback with serious questions about his capabilities as a competent NFL passer — and the Eagles as if they were the 2007 New England Patriots or the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs. Minnesota’s defense lived in two-high with off-coverage for basically the entire night. When safeties like Cam Bynum weren’t giving up the big play after biting on underneath routes, the Vikings quite honestly gave free yardage to Hurts through the air all night. Hurts completed 26/31 for 333 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 57 yards and a pair of TDs on the ground.

But despite Minnesota’s defense surrendering nearly 486 yards and 7.1 yards per play, the age-old excuse of the defense letting Cousins down no longer holds up after last night.

Did Kevin O’Connell‘s irrational display of confidence in his defense by burning a timeout on third-and-six in the final seconds of the second quarter help? Of course not. Instead of running out the clock as they intended, the Eagles drove down the field and picked up three additional points before the half.

How about Minnesota’s nonexistent running game? Philadelphia’s front dominated both lines of scrimmage last night, and Minnesota’s offense could only muster 62 yards on the ground. Granted, the three-score deficit forced Minnesota’s hand in abandoning the run. But anytime Kirk Cousins is your leading rusher in the game, it’s usually a recipe for a nationally televised flop.

For a vast majority of the night, it was dealer’s choice in regards to Kanye West and John Legend’s “Blame Game.” The Vikings were going nowhere fast — until the final minutes of the third quarter when Patrick Peterson blocked Jake Elliott‘s 41-yard field goal attempt. Put aside the fact that Kris Boyd got caught from behind by a kicker after the recovery. Minnesota had an opportunity to get right back into it from Philadelphia’s 30-yard line. But on third-and-seven, Cousins crumbled under the pressure that Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon dialed up. Avonte Maddox picked off the intended pass for Adam Thielen, and the Vikings squandered their second opportunity deep into enemy territory.

Following yet another stop by the Vikings defense, the offense failed to get anything going after Cousins took another sack on third-and-10.

The theme continued. Minnesota’s defense forced an interception from Hurts deep into enemy territory, giving the ball back to the offense with goal-to-go from Philadelphia’s nine-yard line and a little more than seven minutes remaining. Speaking of themes: As we saw throughout the league on Sunday, offenses with the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals had little problem mounting a three-score comeback in their respective fourth quarters.

Shoot, even the New York Jets came back on the Cleveland Browns after trailing by 13 with less than two minutes to go. Could this be Minnesota putting the cherry on top of an exciting NFL weekend filled with crazy comebacks? The result of the short field was another interception caused by Gannon’s blitz packages, Cousins’ third completion to the wrong-colored jerseys of the night. Cousins was forced to get rid of it before he wanted to and Darius Slay came down with his second turnover of the game.

Gannon and his defense cultivated constant chaos for Cousins. And if you’ve watched Cousins play football at any point over the past decade, you probably have a fairly decent understanding that a chaotic world is a place where Minnesota’s quarterback has a propensity for shrinkage.

In total, Gannon blitzed 12 times last night. And aside from a goal line touchdown pass to a wide-open Irv Smith Jr. — I’ll let someone else discuss his drop down the sideline that likely would’ve resulted in his second touchdown on the night — Cousins crumbled under pressure. Against the blitz, Cousins went 4/12 for 22 yards, the touchdown to Smith, and two interceptions. Cousins recorded a laughable 30.6 passer rating against the blitz last night.

This is cause for serious concern, long-term. Philosophically, if Minnesota is going to live in 11-personnel with O’Connell, that means heavier personnel packages with additional tight ends or C.J. Ham won’t be able to help out in pass protection — leaving Cousins to not only recognize the blitz pre-snap but to also get rid of it effectively before the defense gets home.

And if last night was any indication, opposing defensive coordinators throughout the league will continue to dare Cousins to beat them with additional pass rushers.

Before we go further, it’s important to note that every single quarterback in the league has the occasional stinker(s). Just last season, these elite quarterbacks had the following:

  • Patrick Mahomes — Week 7 at Tennessee: 62.3 passer rating in a 27-3 blowout loss
  • Tom Brady — Week 15 vs New Orleans: 57.1 passer rating in the 9-0 loss
  • Josh Allen — Week 9 at Jacksonville: 62.7 passer rating in the 9-6 loss to the eventual worst team in the league
  • Aaron Rodgers — Week 1 at New Orleans: 36.8 passer rating in the 38-3 shellacking to the start the season

It also needs to be mentioned that last night’s performance from Cousins was the worst game he’s had throughout the Justin Jefferson era. His 51.1 passer rating on Monday night was the stingiest output he’s had since his 15.9 passer rating back in Week 2 of 2020 at Indianapolis — with Jefferson out of the starting lineup.

The National Football League clearly likes throwing the football world a bone by sending Cousins and the Vikings on the road for Monday night. After all, Minnesota has hosted just one game on Monday night since Cousins signed as a free agent in 2018 — compared to five Monday night matchups on the road. Would the outcome of last night’s game have gone differently had the Vikings hosted the Eagles at US Bank Stadium? Maybe. But that’s neither here nor there.

Adversity in football is inevitable. Every single team goes through it, aside from the 1972 Miami Dolphins. After the game, O’Connell shouldered the blame for Monday night’s embarrassment — which was quite refreshing after watching Mike Zimmer point the finger and not the thumb for several years.

Ultimately, it comes down to both O’Connell and Cousins learning from Gannon’s pressure packages and ensuring that a stinker of this magnitude doesn’t happen again. Because, despite O’Connell’s best efforts in the postgame press conference, this loss falls entirely on Cousins and his career-long inability to be effective as an improviser. For example, even though a screen was called for the backside, elite quarterbacks are able to ad-lib and recognize that The Best Wide Receiver on the Planet is wide open on the front side wheel route out of the backfield. And on top of that, too many times last night Cousins didn’t trust his ability to maneuver the pocket and find the necessary time in order to hit a wide-open Jefferson. Instead, he opted for the easy check-downs.

Make no mistake about it, last night Cousins earned every bit of the “Captain Checkdown” moniker that has followed him throughout his career.

Rest assured, opponents going forward will turn on the tape from Monday night and try to replicate the chaos that Gannon and Philadelphia’s defense put on Cousins. And unless O’Connell and Cousins can make the necessary adjustments by recognizing pressure pre-snap and effectively throwing into the blitz, this has the potential to be a serious roadblock for Minnesota’s chances as a contender in the NFC this season.

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Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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