Eagles focus on run game, not quarterback; Zach Brown says Vikings paid Kirk Cousins a lot to hand off ball
The former Washington quarterback certainly has had his moments against the Eagles, but he is in a different offense this year.
Outside of Eli Manning, it’s hard to think of a current NFL quarterback with a more extensive history against the Eagles than Kirk Cousins. The Vikings’ quarterback, formerly of the Redskins, is 5-3 against the team he will face Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
It should be noted that four of those five victories came in a row, from the 2015 dying gasps of the Chip Kelly era, through 2016, Doug Pederson’s first year.
Cousins threw the longest touchdown pass of his eight-year career in a 37-34 loss to the Eagles the first time he faced them, Sept. 21, 2014, an 81-yard bomb to somebody named DeSean Jackson.
Last season, his first with the Vikings, Cousins completed 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards in a 23-21 Minnesota victory at the Linc.
So it was interesting this past week that Cousins wasn’t a big discussion topic with the Eagles defense. Several players interviewed about him responded with what amounted to verbal shrugs, and then started talking about the Vikings’ third-ranked run game, fueled by Dalvin Cook (92 carries, 542 yards) and 21-year-old Boise State rookie Alexander Mattison (34 carries, 189 yards).
Linebacker Zach Brown, Cousins’ Washington teammate in 2017, was downright dismissive, especially of Minnesota’s decision to give Cousins a three-year, $84 million free-agent contract in 2018, then switch this year to a run-first offense.
“Kirk, it’s kind of hard to say. I don’t know what to say about Kirk. … They’re a run-first team. … When you got a running attack like that, why throw it? Run it,” Brown said. “But Kirk, they paid him a whole lot of money, you know, to hand off the ball.
“He did his thing when [the Washington offense was] under Sean McVay. It kind of switched up once they went under Jay Gruden. … Careless with the ball. Quarterbacks get held to a higher standard, but they’re the worst ball-security people on the team.”
Later, asked by ESPN about Cousins, Brown said that “the weakest part of their offense is him,” and that opposing defenses want the Vikings to throw the ball.
Brown, by the way, did not like any of his entire two-year Washington experience. Like many people across the league, he wondered how the Redskins could fire Gruden this past week yet keep team president Bruce Allen.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham, asked what came to mind when he thought about Cousins, said: “Right now they’re running the ball. Obviously, he’s got some good threats in [wide receivers Adam] Thielen and [Stefon] Diggs, [tight end Kyle] Rudolph in there, and you still got the running backs coming out of the backfield.”
Pressed for more on Cousins, Bradham thought some more, then said: “He’s a good quarterback in this league.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was more complimentary.
“I think he’s a good quarterback. I don’t think Minnesota paid him for no reason,” Cox said. “He’s been around for a while, he’s seen a lot. … Pretty sure he’s familiar with the way we do things on defense.”
Cox has played in each of the eight encounters with Cousins, in which the QB has completed 207 of 312 passes (66.35%), for 2,423 yards, 17 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Cousins matched his career high with four touchdown passes in a Dec. 26, 2015 victory over the Eagles – Kelly’s last game in charge. But in 2017, he was sacked eight times in the two Redskins-Eagles encounters, losing both games.
“The biggest thing for us is, he’s a guy that we know if he gets hot, he stays hot. We got to come out fast … make him feel us early. … But I think the main thing for us is, we have to stop the run,” Cox said.
“Timing quarterback,” said defensive end Brandon Graham. “He’s beaten us before with his arm. We’ve got to make sure we rally to him, get him uncomfortable. And make sure we stop the run.”
Safety Rodney McLeod said the impression of Cousins as someone who might fumble or throw a pick isn’t accurate this season, in the current Minnesota offense. Cousins is 86-for-121 (68.3%) through five games for the 3-2 Vikings, with just five touchdown passes and two picks. Both interceptions came in the 21-16 loss at Green Bay in Week 2.
“Efficient, doesn’t make many mistakes. Run the ball, get it into the playmakers’ hands when he can,” McLeod said. “For us, you’ve got to limit the run game, control the play-action pass. If there’s no run game, there’s no play-action game. On tape, he’s not making many mistakes. So we’ve got to find some ways for him to do that, create some indecision and make some plays on the ball.”
The Vikings are coming off a 28-10 victory over the Giants that seemed to quiet some grumbling about Cousins and their offense. The win netted Cousins a congratulatory phone call from President Trump, a onetime golf partner.
The previous week ended with a 16-6 loss at Chicago in which Cousins missed Thielen with a bomb.
“He made a great read of finding me open and just didn’t complete the pass. It’s as simple as that,” Thielen said afterward. "At some point, you’re not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL. That’s when you have to be able to throw the ball. ... You have to be able to hit the deep balls.”
Thielen and Cousins argued on the sideline during their season-ending loss to those same Bears, last Dec. 30. Before the Giants game last week, Cousins apologized to Thielen for missing him. Thielen has just 20 catches for 309 yards this season, after catching 204 passes for 2,640 yards during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Cousins said he played with an edge against the Giants, and alluded to the criticism he’s faced.
“Sometimes when I get frustrated and ticked off, there’s a little more fire there. It can also get you in trouble if you’re not careful, but I think within reason it can help you,” Cousins told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “You play this position and things happen inside the building and outside the building that motivate you. You find motivation anywhere you can, really.”
Maybe in the opposing team focusing elsewhere?