So, Is Kirk Cousins Back?
This 2022 season has been very uncharacteristic for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, especially compared to the last couple of seasons.
In both 2020 and 2021, Kirk Cousins was stellar, with an elite level PFF grade and efficiency stats, but the team’s success was not there as Minnesota missed the playoffs in both seasons.
But in 2022, the script has flipped completely, with Cousins notching his worst season, both in terms of PFF grade, efficiency stats, and volume stats — in years. But that hasn’t stopped this Vikings team from winning, with Minnesota sporting a 10-3 record going into their showdown with Indianapolis on Saturday.
So, Is Kirk Cousins Back?
The question this whole season has been how good this Vikings team could be if Cousins regained his 2019-2021 level of play.
Well, Cousins was incredible by every measure in his last game, so while Minnesota’s overall performance against the Lions left something to be desired, it gives reason for optimism regarding Cousins and his performance going forward.
So, is Cousins back? Did he ever really leave? What can we expect from him to finish the season and enter the playoffs?
Did Cousins Ever leave?
There has been quite a debate regarding Cousins’ play in 2022, with many fans viewing his play in 2022 as an improvement over previous years due to an improved pocket presence and more clutch play in the 4th quarter. These fans point at Minnesota’s vastly improved W-L record as evidence that Cousins’ play has improved significantly.
Other fans and analysts surrounding the team believe that while Cousins has improved in several areas of his game, his overall play has regressed and that Minnesota has been winning in spite of Cousins’ play — not because of him — and that he has been around a league-average QB this season, whereas he was around the 8-10 range in years previous.
So, who is right? Is he better? Worse? Or is he just a different QB, in a different system, with a different coach?
It’s probably a combination of all three ideas. He has undoubtedly improved in some areas of his game:
In the image above, Cousins ranks 3rd in EPA/CPOA composite and Adj EPA/play in the 4th quarter of games. This is a significant improvement over years past, and the eye test supports this evaluation.
Cousins has also flashed improved scrambling skills, making plays that even the biggest Cousins supporters would have been hard-pressed to believe he was capable of, with some consistency this season.
But on the whole, Cousins’ play appears to have dipped this season. His PFF grade ranks 11th, and before the Jets and Lions games, it was hovering closer to the 14 to 16 range.
|2019||2020||2021||2022 (to date)|
|PFF Grade rank||6th||11th||6th||11th|
Cousins’ overall efficiency metrics on the season paint an even worse picture, ranking average at best in EPA/play.
Here, we can see Cousins has been basically average by both statistical analysis and film evaluation measures of play on the season.
Now, Minnesota has had a horrendous screen game, which is partly responsible for some of Cousins’ poor efficiency production, which perhaps explains the discrepancy between his PFF grade and his EPA/play rankings.
Is Cousins Back?
On Sunday against Detroit, Cousins was awesome.
He melded the best of his 2019-to-2021 play, elite accuracy, arm strength, and taking what the defense gives him, with his improved 2022 play, elite pocket awareness, pre-snap audibles and adjustments, and a penchant for aggression on 3rd and long.
Combine it all, and we had an incredible QB performance, a performance that was overshadowed by the end-of-game result but incredible nonetheless.
Cousins notched a PFF grade of 91.5, the highest he has had in a game since the 2020 season. His efficiency numbers were off the charts, and overall he just looked good, both live on TV and when you rewatch via All-22.
This is the type of Cousins that everyone was hoping for when O’Connell was hired — an iteration of Cousins that took risks, took full advantage of his somewhat underrated mobility, and made all the throws he could produce.
‘Just One Game’
Sunday was the first time all season that we’ve seen Cousins put it all together, so we should be hesitant to predict that he’s just going to continue performing at that level going forward.
But there is reason for optimism, as we had seen bits and pieces of Cousins’ play this season that led us to believe all year that a performance like he had last week was possible, if not due.
Cousins won’t perform like a super QB and unleash all of his best traits with no mistakes in every game going forward. But we can be reasonably confident that he will perform much closer to his 2019-2021 self while keeping the parts of his 2022 game that have led to many fans lauding his improved play.
Overall, I expect these final four games of the regular season from Cousins — and the games Minnesota plays in the playoffs — to be the best stretch of play Cousins has ever had.
If Cousins can put together a stretch of play similar to how he played on Sunday and in the playoffs. Minnesota will be a very dangerous team to put away and could find themselves playing very deep into January.