Vikings Moribund Passing Game

Photo: Adam Thielen vs Detroit Lions
Adam Thielen. Photo courtesy Minnesota Vik

Zimmer Says: Chill

I think we can go back, and I know everybody jumped off the bandwagon this week, two years ago we were 2-2 and we won 13. Three years ago we were 5-0 and we won eight. This isn’t going to define us where we are right now. What’s going to define us is how we prepare for this game and the next and the next game.

Vikings Head Coach, Mike Zimmer
Photo: Mike Zimmer
Vikings Head Coach, Mike Zimmer. Photo courtesy Minnesota Vikings

So basically, Mike Zimmer is saying “chill.”

Point taken.

And yeah, 2-2 is not the end of the world. But those two losses were division games. And while it is a team game, the common demoninator in both games was a poor pass by Kirk Cousins, one for an interview and the other for a missed touchdown.

And it is not insignificant that the team’s top two receivers are not happy. Adam Thielen made his opinion known about Cousins’ performance when he said the long balls need to be made.

Thielen subsequently soften his stance but it is apparent that the frustration with Cousins does not strictly reside with fans.

The Stefon Diggs Situation

Photo: Stefon Diggs press conference
Stefon Diggs addresses the media

Stefon Diggs returned to practice today but not before answering reporters’ questions for six minutes. The Star Tribune has the video.

Diggs missed Wednesday’s practices and was absent on Monday as well, while giving the media the silent treatment during the past two weeks. He allegedly missed time while recovering from a cold, and it did sound like that could’ve been the case.

At least in part.

Because he would not be nailed down on whether or not he asked for a trade nor if he wanted one. All he would say in response to questions about the rumors that he wanted out was: “But there is truth to all rumors, I guess.”

So, if you have plenty of opportunity to say clearly, no, you don’t want to be traded, then the answer is yes.

The Kirk Cousins Situation

Photo: Kirk Cousins
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Photo courtesy Minnesota Vikings

At this point, I think we all know what we have in quarterback Kirk Cousins.

And maybe he does, too.

Vikings Offensive Line

It is true that the Vikings offensive line is not helping him much at all with pass protection.

Left tackle Riley Rieff was an upgrade when we obtained him but not by a lot. (And who thought it was a good idea not to give him help against the Bears, considering how he fared against them last year?!?)

Left guard Pat Elflein looked like a hidden gem in his rookie year but has since turned into a human turnstile.

Rookie center Garrett Bradbury routinely gets blow up. He probably needs to get stronger, so there’s nothing you can do about that. Coach Zimmer has noted he needs to clean up his technique and as a rookie, you expect there to be a learning curve over the course of the season. So, when are we going to see that improvement?

Right guard Josh Kline and right tackle Brian O’Neill have been solid.

SKOR North’s Matthew Coller takes a deep dive into the line’s performance. Suffice to say that the line has not been all that great as protectors of their quarterback.

All Kinds Of Time

Still, even when Cousins has enough time, he often fails to come through. That was illustrated most dramatically last week on the Vikings’ first drive when he failed to connect with an open Adam Thielen for what would’ve been a sure touchdown.

The missed deep balls have been glaring during Cousins’ tenure with the Vikings. To quote Adam Thielen, “You have to be able to hit the deep balls.”

ESPN’s Courtney Cronin shared an NFL NextGen Stats visualization that highlights how Cousins has open receivers that he is not seeing.

Watch the animation closely and you’ll see that Stefon Diggs is wide open on the mid-route and if Cousins rolls out a little away from the pressure, he’s got Diggs for a big gain. Instead, he dumps off to C.J. Ham.

Cousins will bail from the pocket too early, as well, if he senses pressure. And that’s the thing, if you pressure him enough, he’ll feel pressure even when there is none.

The most troubling aspect of Cousins game that I’ve observed during his time here is his propensity to hold on to the ball for sooooooo loooooonnnng. Cousins creates his own pressure.

SKOR North’s Matthew Coller has the deets:

On five of his six sacks against the Bears, he held the ball for more than 2.5 seconds. Overall he ranks dead last for time from snap to throw at 2.90 seconds on average and is 24th in percentage of drop backs that feature quick throws. When holding the ball for more than 2.5 seconds, he’s 20th in QB rating thus far.

This issue does not appear to be fixable. Even when John DeFilippo was ordering up quick throws last year, Cousins still finished 17th in time in pocket per throw.

The case for and against a Cousins bounce back

What those stats illustrate is that Cousins is thinking too much; he’s waiting to confirm what he’s seeing.

Cousins has started 77 games thus far in his career. He has played four seasons in which he’s started all 16 games.

Given that body of experience, he should have enough reps by now that his brain is registering patterns and open spaces as he surveys the field rather than thinking about how a play will develop.

The fact that he holds onto the ball for so long suggests that his neurons haven’t rewired themselves yet to give him the instant recognition of where to go with the ball.

The Little Stage

Cousins’ is good enough to beat average and below-average teams but, as we’ve seen, wilts in the face of the better teams in the league and under the glare of prime time lights.

The Vikings have a brutal schedule the rest of the year.

The Giants game should be a win but who knows with a new quarterback at the helm and Pat Shurmer calling the plays?

The Vikings play the Eagles, the Cowboys, the Chiefs, the Seahawks, the Chargers, the Packers and Bears again, and they’ve yet to play the Lions, who went blow-for-blow in a close loss to the Chiefs.

The only below-average teams on the schedule are Washington and Denver.

So, yeah, I get it, Zim. We’re only 2-2 and a lot can happen during a season but forgive me for having little faith in Cousins’ ability to get us to the promised land.

We’re Stuck With Him

Gif: Minnion Shrugging

Vikings fans on Twitter want to see Cousins benched and have a looksee at Sean Mannion. And then there’s the complaints that they let Kyle Sloter go.

Like it or not, we’re stuck with Cousins.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out, the Vikings don’t have much choice:

There are no good options, short of someone willing to trade for the privilege of paying him $29.5 million in 2020. And that’s not happening. At best, the Vikings would have to do a Jadeveon Clowney-type deal, trading Cousins to a team and paying a large chunk of his salary. Or maybe they’ll have to do a Brock Osweiler-type deal, trading Cousins and his contract to a new team and sending a first-round pick to the team that assumes the responsibility to pay Cousins.

At worst, the Vikings would bite the bullet, cutting Cousins, paying him the difference between $29.5 million and whatever he gets elsewhere, and moving on.

What will the Vikings do with Kirk Cousins?

Mannion has attempted 53 passes during his entire five-year career, so asking him to carry the team or just manage the team, is probably too much.

And for all the Sloter fans out there (and I was one of them while he was a Viking), it is telling that the only gig he could land was a spot on the practice squad of a team, the Arizona Cardinals, that had just chosen it’s new franchise signal-caller with the first overall pick in the draft, in Kyler Murray.

This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received: Lower your expecations.

That’s just what I’m going to do so I can enjoy this season. I think we’ll have a few games where the Vikings will dominate like they did against Atlanta and Oakland and a whole lot of games that will be close.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to enjoy a full season of Dalvin Cook.

And if we somehow, some way manage to make it to the playoffs, enjoy every minute of it.

As Kelly Campbell used to say, “It is what it is.”

Hey, at least we got the Twins!

Gif: Nelson Cruz