The Vital Offensive Stat that Must Change for the Vikings in 2023

Reaction to Vikings Loss vs. Cowboys
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse (27) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

Last season, Kirk Cousins was sacked 46 times. Previously, his career highs were 41 (2017) and 40 (2018). Recent years in Minnesota have feature more modest totals, such as the 28 sacks he took while playing under Klint Kubiak in 2021.

Getting the sack numbers lower is ultra important, folks. At the risk of being hyperbolic, the vital offensive stat speaks to Minnesota’s ability to legitimately push for the Super Bowl. Can we really expect the team’s offense to get to an elite level if the QB1 if constantly being suplexed? Can the team really expect to make an actual playoff run – not just win a game, but seriously make a run – if the offense isn’t elite?

That’s the issue, Vikings fans. The team needs the offense to be top-tier but it’s questionable whether they can get to that level without better protection. A comfortable Cousins is a competent Cousins. Keeping him on his feet is crucial.

The Vital Offensive Stat for the Vikings

People who are into analytics will tell you that sacks can be an overrated statistic. After all, there are plenty of other plays (i.e. the majority) that don’t result in sacks. Pressures, hurries, and QB hits all need to be factored into the equation.

While there’s a ton of wisdom in what the analytics nerds tell us, we mustn’t go too far in minimizing sacks. They truly are monstrous plays, ones that reverberate through that particular drive and, indeed, the game. More troublingly, sacks – in sufficient quantities – also can be felt across an entire season. Eventually, even the toughest QB will get worn down.

Minnesota’s fans are fortunate to have an unusually healthy QB. Kirk Cousins never gets hurt. Some combination of toughness, great preparation, and good fortune have kept the oft-criticized, always-polarising signal caller on the field with great consistency.

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Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates the win after the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

He’ll turn 35 in August, though. His time in the NFL is unlikely to last beyond 3-5 more years. True, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, but QBs can get old in a hurry (Manning, Brees, Roethlisberger). Having humongous defenders consistently walloping him will only exacerbate the effects of age.

Some analysts began sounding the alarm during the season. The Athletic‘s Alec Lewis drew attention to Cousins’ record-setting hit totals: “Kirk Cousins has been hit 125 times this year through 15 games. Not once in any season since 2000 (which is as far back as @TruMediaSports goes) has a QB been hit more through 15 games. This guy is an absolute warrior.”

Is Cousins a tough-as-a-Minnesota-winter warrior? Don’t let the frick-saying, khaki-pants wearing persona fool you: he’s insanely tough. Should the Vikings therefore be complacent about improving the protection? Frick no.

Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) yells out before the snap during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports.

Under Kevin O’Connell in 2022, Kirk Cousins had reasonably robust numbers. He finished his season with 4547 yards to go alongside 29 touchdowns. The 14 interceptions aren’t ideal, but the 8 game-winning drives certainly are. Improving on those numbers may be dependent on getting cleaner protection.

Having a full season of Christian Darrisaw + Brian O’Neill, a large dose of Ed Ingram improvement, and continued growth from Ezra Cleveland alongside Garrett Bradbury will do wonders. And, of course, sacks aren’t all on the o-linemen. Great play calling, decisive throwing, and separating receivers all have a role to play in ensuring there aren’t too many grass stains on Cousins’ jersey.

Cousins, 35 in August, carries a $20,250,000 cap charge in 2023. Across a 17-game season, 46 sacks works out to an average of 2.7 sacks per game. Let’s hope for plenty of weeks coming in at 2 sacks or less.

The first test comes when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrive in Week 1.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.