Kirk Cousins Needs Far More Play Action

Kirk Cousins / Dalvin Cook
Sep 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hands the ball off to running back Dalvin Cook (33) in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I’m putting the blame for this one on the coaches. Why isn’t Klint Kubiak calling more play action passes for Kirk Cousins? Our Vikings, after all, are clearly a run-first offense. Aren’t we perfectly set up to capitalize on the play fake? One could certainly argue that Kubiak made many mistakes in our disappointing Week 5 win, and it’s very confusing to see Kirk’s play action numbers so modest.

Kirk Cousins and The Benefit of Play Action

It’s no secret that our 33-million-dollar-man thrives when using play action.

Take a peak at this Washington Post article from back in 2019: “On straight dropbacks, Cousins’s numbers resembled those of a mid-tier NFL starter. When he faked a running play before throwing, Cousins looked like a superstar on paper.” You can find similar pieces connecting Cousins to play action success on several different sites.

The basic theory behind play action is far from complicated. In essence, all the QB is doing is faking a handoff to the RB. In so doing, the LBs almost always step up to respect the run, thereby creating a little more room in the passing game. A moment’s delay or hesitation can make the difference between a catch and an incompletion, a TD and an interception. It’s a game of inches, folks.

The purple remedy, quite evidently, rests in putting more emphasis on the play fake.

Analytics experts will tell you that running success does little to change play action’s effectiveness. Even still, having Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison in the backfield (and a head coach who preaches about the importance of running) surely helps open things up. If defenses don’t respect the possibility of the run, they’ll likely be in some trouble when playing Minnesota.

So, here’s the point: Minnesota isn’t running play action nearly enough, a surprising reality given how good Kirk Cousins is when throwing off of PA. Take a look at what ESPN’s Bill Barnwell had to offer about our Week 5 offensive game plan:

Well, through five games, Cousins’ play-action rate isn’t 28 [percent]; it’s just over 18 [percent]. On Sunday, against one of the worst defenses in the league, Cousins was 1-of-4 on play-action for nine yards and a QBR of 3.8. Coaches sometimes claim that a team didn’t establish the run enough to get their play-action game going, but in addition to that trope not holding up under detailed analysis, the Vikings had plenty of success running the football.

Any coach at any level needs to begin their job by understanding what their players do well. Kirk throws the ball well when he gets to use that play fake. What should our coaches do? The answer is obvious, folks.

The Takeaway

We need far more consistency from our offense to turn our 2021 season around. The excuses – Darrisaw is still coming back, Dalvin is again hurt – can only go so far. We’re paying our QB top-tier money and have an elite pair of WRs. We finally have a WR3 (and maybe even a WR4) and Tyler Conklin is a fine TE1.

It’s time for Klint to start playing to his QB’s strengths more.