Kirk Cousins: Vikings Were "Still Figuring It Out" Offensively in September

Will Ragatz

Kirk Cousins has been busy since the Vikings' season ended nearly three weeks ago.

First he went down to Orlando to experience Pro Bowl week with seven of his teammates, impressing in the skills competition and having an up-and-down day in Sunday's game (13-for-22 passing, 181 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, one fumble that was returned for a touchdown).

This week, he's spent some time in Miami, although not in the capacity he would prefer. Instead of getting ready to play in the Super Bowl, Cousins spent a few days doing interviews with various media outlets and promoting some of his sponsors. One particularly entertaining interview occurred on Wednesday, when Cousins sat down for nearly 15 minutes with Mike Florio and Chris Simms of ProFootballTalk.

Throughout the conversation, Cousins provided some interesting thoughts as he reflected on the past season and what the Vikings need to do to get better.

“I was happy to get 10 wins, get in the playoffs, win a playoff game," Cousins said when praised for his performance in 2019. "There’s a lot to be encouraged about. Certainly, when you’re not playing this weekend, you’re disappointed. Most teams are. Looking back, you feel like there’s a lot to be encouraged about now as we look to 2020. Got a lot of good players on that team.”

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Cousins was asked by PFT if Adam Thielen coming out and kind of calling him out publicly after the Bears loss in Week 4 was a turning point in the season.

“People like to look at that," Cousins said. "For me, I really played the same way all the way through, I just felt like things started to turn a little bit. I felt like we were running the ball well, we had a good football team, it was just a matter of time. We were 2-2, and then went 8-2 over the next ten games, and that certainly made a huge difference in the tenor of the season. But as far as just the way I approached it, the way I played, I never really adjusted or changed anything. I just think we were able to find some continuity as an offense, and it was another year of a new system. Once we kind of hit our stride, we were able to take off and not look back.”

The 2-2 start, in which Cousins played poorly against the Packers and Bears, led to a great deal of criticism being heaped on the Vikings and their veteran quarterback. Cousins admitted that the noise is impossible to avoid, and that to some degree it motivated him and led to the remarkable run in the middle of the season.

“I don’t go and read it, and yet it’s impossible to avoid," Cousins said of criticism. "You’re being asked about it at your press deal on Wednesday, so you understand that there’s something out there and all that – you can piece it together. I do think in some ways, even going back to the ‘you like that?’ game (with the Redskins in 2015), anytime I’ve kind of been doubted and attacked, for whatever reason, I’ve played better. Don’t really know why, I feel like I’m going about my business the same way, but the results would say that I’ve played better. Who knows, maybe it just helps me find that extra fire, I don’t really know.”

The Vikings, of course, made the playoffs and stunned the football world by beating the Saints before running into a buzzsaw against the 49ers, who will look to capture the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. PFT asked Cousins what can be taken from the Saints game as the team heads into 2020.

“When you can win a playoff game, especially on the road, it does something for your confidence, for your team’s belief," Cousins said. "Certainly, the next week against San Fran was tough, and we saw that ‘hey, there’s another mountain to climb here’ that we weren’t ready to climb yet. If anything, maybe that loss to San Fran is what galvanizes us going into OTAs and training camp, knowing that we got some work to do, we can’t rest on any laurels. We have a place to go that we’ve proven we weren’t ready to go yet. So we’ll take a lot from both, but there’s certainly an encouragement from winning a playoff game, saying ‘hey, we can do this.’”

The next question was about what the Vikings need to do to get over the hump next year.

“It’ll be key, because there’s so much turnover every year, to whoever comes in new ­– we have a new coordinator (Gary Kubiak), thankfully it’s someone who’s already been in our system so we’re not starting over – but as we draft, as new free agents come in, as other players have to move on, just making sure everybody gets on the same page as quickly as possible," Cousins said. "And that we build this thing through April, May, and June, so that we’re not still figuring it out in September and October like, to some degree, we may have been last year. We can’t afford to have that."

"Those two losses early, you end up looking back and you say ‘man, is that the difference between the six-seed and the two-seed?’ When you go on the road and get beat by San Fran, you start to realize the importance of a one or a two seed if you can get it. So just getting everybody on the same page, and then I’ll always look at my game in a loss like San Francisco, of what I can do better. Certainly I think playing off schedule and being able to make some plays when things aren’t there is something I’m gonna try to work on as we go through this offseason.”

The biggest problem for the Vikings offense against the 49ers was that once the run game was shut down, there was no backup plan. PFT asked Cousins, essentially, if the Vikings need to become more balanced.

“Sometimes it’s truly how your offensive team is built," Cousins said. "If you’re gonna commit to (the run), you’re gonna commit to that. I’ve played on teams that did not commit to the run and we were very effective throwing the ball. Threw for almost 5,000 yards in 2016, but at the same time we weren’t a running football team. So some of it is what’s your identity going to be, and if that’s what you’re going to lean on, it needs to be there. But we’ll go back this offseason and work with Gary and the staff and look at how we can be more effective, because there’s gonna come games where you’re just not going to be able to run it. And that was kind of what Adam’s comments were after Week 4, was the day’s gonna come when you can’t run it, and what now? And I think that’ll certainly be a challenge that we’re going to try to answer as we go through this offseason and next year.”

The interview finished with Cousins discussing the 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl and doing some promotion for his sponsor SleepNumber; Cousins said he wants to play as long as guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and that quality sleep is a key aspect of that.

Focusing on his Vikings-related answers, there are several interesting takeaways. Cousins mentioned multiple times that the Vikings were still getting used to a new offensive system last season, and said that they may have been affected by that in September. Even though Kevin Stefanski is gone, the hope is that moving Gary Kubiak to offensive coordinator in his second year with the team will provide some stability in 2020. He also was very candid about the Vikings not being ready to climb the mountain to be Super Bowl contenders just yet, and addressed one of his glaring weaknesses: making plays when the pocket breaks down.

You can watch the full interview here:

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