The Skol Debate: Does Kirk Cousins Need to Play Better?

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

One can’t venture too far through Vikings Land before coming across a Kirk Cousins debate. Frankly, we should be proud we made it so far without arguing about whether Minnesota’s QB1 ought to be Minnesota’s QB1.

Alas, we have finally caved to an inevitable topic: Kirk Cousins and his level of play. Part of being the team’s franchise QB rests in getting all kinds of attention from folks who write about the team. We join the masses by adding our voices to the conversation, asking, “does Kirk Cousins need to play better?”

As per usual, we begin with a PSA. When you find yourself in a debate in your own life, try to represent the other side in an accurate, charitable manner. Doing so leads to more productive conversations.

With that out of the way, take a look at where the debaters stand:

The Purple Corner: Josh Frey (Yes, he needs to play better).
The Gold Corner: K. Joudry (Nah, he’s playing just fine).

Let us know if you think either side is better by letting us know on Twitter (Josh Frey and K. Joudry each have accounts!).

Does Kirk Cousins Need to Play Better?

KJ: At 6-1, it’d be misguided to be too concerned about how things have gone for our friends in purple. Nevertheless, it’d be similarly misguided to assume that things have been perfect, that there are no ways for this squad to improve. 

In fact, we seemed to see an acknowledgement from the team that there’s still room for improvement when they decided to pull off a surprise trade for T.J. Hockenson. He’s yet another weapon for Kevin O’Connell’s offense. In theory, the talented TE ought to allow Kirk Cousins to further elevate as the season proceeds. 

That brings us around to the topic of this debate: does Kirk Cousins need to play better? As a supporter of the “wins are indeed a QB stat,” I’m going to respond with a “no, not really.” In many ways, I’m quite pleased with how #8 has done even if I’ll acknowledge that the stats have been quite modest. 

Josh, hit me with what you’re thinking when it comes to Minnesota’s QB1. Does Cousins need to play better?

JF: Here’s where I’m at when it comes to Captain Kirk. Of course, the most important thing is that they are 6-1 as they head into Week 9. If you told any fan prior to the season that they’d start this hot, that person would be ecstatic. 

If the Vikings continue to win games with this version of Cousins, then I agree that he’s playing fine. He’s on pace to pass for 4200 yards again as well as 26-27 TDs, and his 66.3 completion percentage equals last year’s clip. However, my holdup with the Vikings QB remains the competition that he’s gone up against. 

Minnesota is yet to play a divisional opponent on the road. They played against the Teddy Bridgewater/Skylar Thompson duo in Miami. Arizona had an injury report that was the size of a CVS receipt last week. 

You have to beat the team that’s put in front of you, and so far, Minnesota has done a great job of that. However, I suspect that upcoming games against the Bills, Cowboys, Patriots, and even the New York teams, will be difficult. If the Vikings want to win these games, and make a run for the playoffs, they’ll need a better version of Kirk Cousins.

Would you agree with that, or am I being a negative Nancy on a Friday?

KJ: It’s possible you’re being a bit of a negative Nancy, but I do see where you’re coming from. 

Minnesota’s schedule hasn’t been the most formidable, so it’s fair to wonder what will occur when the team faces two sensational defenses in the Bills and Cowboys. 

Plus, I’ll note that I’m certainly not against seeing more production from Cousins. Coming into the year, one of my bold predictions was that he’d clear 5,000 passing yards, so I’d be very happy if he starts piling up some better stats

Nevertheless, my mind goes to other areas of the team when it comes to improving. The defense, for instance, has the capacity to be much better than what we’ve seen. Thankfully, Ed Donatell’s group did a nice job this past Sunday, pressuring Kyler Murray consistently while also being able to shut down their run game. Moving forward, we’ll need to see the defense continue with these trends. 

The special teams, moreover, need to be far better. The kickoff and punt returns have been poor. The kicking – for both field goals and extra points – has also been very bad. What that means is that the team isn’t always getting tremendous field position and that they’re leaving points behind due to missing kicks. 

When I stand back and look at the most pressing areas to improve, I look at defense and specials. If those two things take steps forward, then games against the Bills and Cowboys become a lot more winnable. 

Does that make any sense at all? Should we still be demanding more from the QB1? 

JF: These are certainly fair points. The Vikings would be winning games by larger margins if Greg Joseph could hit his kicks consistently, and the defense consistently stopped opposing offenses.

Perhaps the argument should be that the Vikings must improve across the board rather than simply focusing on the QB. It’s promising to see guys like Patrick Peterson and Za’Darius Smith continue making big plays on the defensive side of the field, too. 

That being said, there’s still an area that absolutely must be improved with this offense. In road games, the Vikings have the fifth-worst conversion rate on third downs at just 28.95%. In Miami, the Vikings converted just 2-of-12 third down attempts. I put much of this on Kirk due to the fact that the Vikings ran passing plays on 10 of these third downs. 

A big 6’5 target in T.J. Hockenson could help improve that as the season wears on. Unless the Vikings secure the No. 1 seed, they’ll likely have to go on the road at some point in the playoffs.

We probably won’t see the full version of Hockenson in the Vikings offense this week against the Commanders. However, that Buffalo game should be a great litmus test for what this team can do with their new acquisition. 

Do you think Hockenson fixes most of these third down passing problems?

KJ: Hockenson ought to help but I don’t think he’s going to magically make all the issues disappear. He will likely be leaned on in critical situations, which is fine by me. 

While I acknowledge that the offense can – and really must – do better in several areas, my overall concern is still quite low. The main reason for this relative lack of concern rests in the mere reality of Cousins delivering 3 game-winning drives after only 7 games. 

Now, before getting too far down the praise path, I’ll acknowledge that playing better throughout the game might allow Minnesota to avoid these high-stakes situations. Be that as it may, the point remains: Cousins has delivered several times. 

In the past, many people’s main concern has been that Cousins has had excellent numbers but also had thoroughly average teams. The stats haven’t always corresponded to wins. That’s a concern I’ve shared on numerous occasions. Who cares if the QB piles up remarkable numbers in a game that has already been won or in a game that has already been lost? What I – like many others – want to see is a QB who can go onto the field when the game is on the line and lead his team to a victory. 

3 of the Vikings’ 6 wins have come as a result of the QB1 putting together game-winning drives. What we’ve seen, then, is the QB getting the important stats and not the most stats. It’s a crucial distinction. 

Throwing a late touchdown pass when Minnesota is trailing by a single score will always be far more important than throwing multiple touchdown passes when Minnesota is ahead by multiple scores. While the multiple touchdowns will lead to better stats at the season’s end, they won’t actually do anything to improve the team’s record. Getting the touchdown pass at precisely the right moment, in contrast, makes all the difference in whether a game is won or lost. 

So far, Cousins has given his team the right stats, the plays the team needed to win the game. Am I wrong on this one? 

JF: That absolutely makes sense. Cousins has been spectacular in clutch scenarios in recent weeks, and he certainly has won the Vikings a number of games this year down the stretch. There’s no denying any of that. 

At the end of the day, I think we land fairly close on this topic. If the Vikings continue winning games, and Cousins plays well in clutch scenarios, then we can’t really ask for more. My only real concern lies in the schedule ahead, and I believe the Vikings will need more from him in these games. 

Over the years, Cousins has shown he’s capable of such performances, so we’ll see what happens. Perhaps Hockenson adds another wrinkle to this offense that we haven’t seen over the early part of the year as well.

Does that make sense? Is it good common ground to land on?

KJ: Yes, I can make my peace with this middle ground, so there will be no need for fisticuffs. Cousins has been playing well in the games’ most important moments, so I can’t quibble too much with how things have gone. 

The schedule certainly does get more challenging, so some elevated play from the QB is fine by me (alongside, ideally, better efforts on defense and specials). My only request is that elevated QB play coincides with high-level QB play at the end of games. 

At the end of the day, Minnesota is paying Cousins all that money because they’re looking to: 1) make the playoffs and 2) make some noise once there. Currently, the team is well on its way to fulfilling Step #1.

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