NFL: Is Kirk Cousins Really to Blame for the Vikings’ Lackluster Passing Game?

The Minnesota Vikings have had a disappointing offense during the 2019 season that their record does not properly reflect. Despite most of the NFL moving on from a run-first offense, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is doubling down on it, and Kirk Cousins‘ individual numbers are suffering because of it. Could Cousins be to blame from the Vikings’ regression, or will Zimmer’s refusal to allow him to use his gifts come back to bite the team in the future?

The offense under Kirk Cousins is lackluster

The Vikings are 4-2 through their first six games, but they are not doing so on the arm of their quarterback. Cousins is not so much struggling as he is getting underutilized. Cousins’ completion is just about where it was last year, but his attempts are way down. He has nine touchdowns and three interceptions, neither of them far off from the previous season.

So why are the numbers way down? Mike Zimmer’s offense has been described as old school. Cousins isn’t being given the same opportunity he was given last year to throw the ball, and as such, his production is not where it should be. The Vikings do have a good record, but relying on such an outdated offense is likely to be exposed when the team is facing the league’s top defenses in the playoffs. 

Is Kirk Cousins to blame?

Cousins has historically struggled to get his teams out of the .500 range, but he has also historically played for teams that do not help his cause. The Washington Redskins are notoriously one of the worst-run franchises in professional sports, and the Vikings can be hit or miss, themselves. Cousins isn’t absolved of the blame of his team’s poor showings, but blaming him will often fail to paint the whole picture. 

Quarterbacks are the easiest target of a fan’s ire when a team is struggling, but a quarterback who is given little opportunity to use his arm and win the game won’t ever be able to live up to expectations. Last year, Cousins passed 606 times, and if this year’s numbers keep up, he will be nearly 200 throws below this by the year’s end. 

By giving the 30-year-old quarterback a contract that was worth over $80M, the Vikings were presumably giving Cousins their faith. By underutilizing his passing game and letting his numbers suffer, one must question if Zimmer has less faith in the quarterback than the organization does. Cousins has been good for many more touchdowns than he has thrown this year, and his lack of drop-off in completion rate shows that there is more to this. 

Is Mike Zimmer starting to come around? 

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins takes a lot of heat for the team's passing game struggles, but is he really to blame?
Kirk Cousins passes the ball. | Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Cousins had his best game of the season during Week 6, throwing the ball 29 times and completing 22 of the passes. That was good for four touchdowns and just one interception. The game was the third in a row where Cousins was allowed to throw after such plays were rare during the first half of the season. 

It could, perhaps, be a wake-up call, as it gave the Vikings a decisive 38-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The team has a pair of winnable games coming up against the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, but by week 9, the team will have a big game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that runs on the strength of its quarterback’s arm. 

If the Vikings try to match the Chiefs and similarly talented teams, they could grow to regret it when the teams they face can match their offense beat for beat. The Vikings invested a lot of money in Kirk Cousins, and it would be a shame to see them continue to waste it with their dated play.