Cousins Has Been Lethal In The Short and Intermediate Areas of The Field

Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates during the second quarter against Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The old football saying is that “it’s about the Jimmies and the Joes, not the Xs and the Os.” Pat Shurmur used to say something similar when he’d talk about how “it’s about the players and not the plays.” The basic idea is that the players are the ones who matter the most; a strong scheme can only take a team so far.

That being said, a good scheme is one that specifically adjusts to what players do well (as the above sayings hint at). Through three weeks, Klint Kubiak has shown that he understands this saying.

Rather than have his offensive line protect Cousins on seven-step drop backs as his receivers sprint down the field, Lil’Kub is asking his QB to get the ball out quickly. Doing so allows the receivers to get yards after the catch while also making it easier for the OL to hold up. Here is how the recent article puts it:

Cousins didn’t attempt a pass more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage against Seattle, but he feasted on all other depths. He was 7-for-9 with 133 yards and a score on passes 10-20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and 16-for-20 with 135 yards and two touchdowns on passes between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards beyond it. The Vikings completed seven of nine passes behind the line of scrimmage for an additional 55 yards.

The article elsewhere notes that Cousins got the ball out on Sunday in a mere 2.61 seconds (on average), a number that is actually a small increase over Week 1 and 2: “It was 2.59 in Week 1 and 2.53 in Week 2.” That must be incredibly frustrating for the defense.

As I’ve noted, Kirk is now a legit MVP candidate. It’s early, of course, so things will inevitably change. The key is for Lil’Kub to keep playing to his players’ strengths.

We’ve always known that Cousins has a great arm. He is supremely accurate and his passes are almost always really crisp. His top three receivers – Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, and K.J. Osborn – all thrive in the short and intermediate. We’ve seen Osborn emerge as a legit option, someone who can get open on quick slants and out routes. Jefferson can make the catch anywhere on the field; ditto for Thielen. Letting these guys use their quick release and strong hands is perfect for the Vikings offense.

One thing to watch for is how defenses start to come up with solutions. I’d expect the Browns to do their utmost to take away these quick passes. If they do, what will Lil’Kub do to respond? The obvious answer is to target the deeper areas of the field. Doing so will require more from the offensive line, especially if it comes in predictable passing scenarios. To avoid this fate, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Vikings target the deeper portions of the field relatively early in the game. Don’t be surprised to see a bootleg or play action pass that threatens Cleveland deep. In so doing, Minnesota can work toward undermining the defense’s focus on the short and intermediate portions of the field.

Much has been made of Sunday’s performance, and for good reason. The offense was fantastic, so good that they made life considerably easier for the defense. The challenge that comes with success rests in finding ways to sustain that high level of play as the rest of the league adjusts.

Against the Browns, we’ll get a good sense of how Lil’Kub and Kirk can respond to defenses that start adjusting to the trends.