Each week I’m going to be charting all of Kirk Cousins’ dropbacks via the NFL coaches’ film. This film allows me to see all 22 players on the field and better evaluate the quarterback’s performance. I’m tracking a variety of important statistics, including accuracy, “turnover-worthy throws”, and elite throws. For more information, please check out Charting Cousins in his week one game against the 49ers.
In week three, the Vikings played one of their worst games in recent memory. For Cousins specifically, it was one of the worst starts to a game in his career. He began the game overthrowing open receivers, fumbling twice while being sacked, and consistently missing reads where a receiver was open.
Box Score Statistics
Cousins completed 40 of his 55 attempts for 296 yards and one touchdown. He threw one interception, was sacked four times, and fumbled three times, with the Bills recovering two of those. He rushed twice for negative two yards. Cousins was responsible for 16 first downs, and he converted six of 14 third downs through the air. The 73 percent completion percentage looks stellar, but 5.4 yards per attempt is mediocre to say the least.
The film reveals some of the flaws in Cousins’ game that hadn’t yet shown themselves in Minnesota. Loose ball security, as Cousins led the NFL in fumbles over the last three seasons. A tendency to sometimes check the ball down too early while not seeing open receivers downfield, as Cousins did early and often this week. And finally, questionable accuracy on throws outside the hashes.
Cousins missed a wide-open Stefon Diggs on an out route and a wide-open Adam Thielen on a crossing route in the first quarter. There was no pressure on either of these throws. Completing the out to Diggs would’ve avoided the first fumble, which happened on the next play. Completing the crossing route to Thielen would’ve put the Vikings on the Bills side of the field and threatening field goal range. Cousins finished the first quarter accurate only three of his six attempts. He was sacked twice, one of which was his fault, and fumbled on both sacks.
In the second quarter, neither the performance of Cousins nor his supporting cast improved. Cousins didn’t attempt a throw further than ten yards downfield. He was accurate on six of his eight attempts. The crucial play was on 3rd and seven at the 4:57 mark. Cousins didn’t see an open receiver on a corner route. Instead, he stepped up in the pocket and tried to hit Thielen on a tight window throw over the middle. His pass was accurate, but the defender’s tight coverage meant Thielen couldn’t convert the play. While this goes down as an accurate pass for Cousins, the decision to throw to Thielen was a bad one. It was this kind of play that plagued Cousins throughout the day, including on his only interception of the day, which came later in the third quarter.
In the third quarter, and with the Vikings trailing by multiple scores, they were forced to shift to almost exclusively passing attack. The Bills knew this, and their defensive line shifted to a pass-first mentality. This exacerbated the Vikings’ offensive line’s already shaky play. Cousins faced pressure on seven of his fifteen dropbacks, a 47 percent pressure rate that was nearly twice his season average. However, there was no pressure on two key, back-to-back plays in the quarter.
The first play was Cousins best of the day. With the ball on the Bills 42, the Bills show cover four before the snap. Generally, this means a short pass will be thrown, as the defense has four guys deep to protect against a long touchdown. Cousins instead uses his eyes to look off the safety, before launching a deep ball to Diggs on a post route. The ball is perfectly placed, leading Diggs into the end zone and away from the two Bills defenders. Diggs dropped the pass. It was Cousins only elite throw of the day.
Diggs catches this ball I think the Vikings could have made this game interesting pic.twitter.com/kHNpVZWibG
— Josh Mensch 👿 (@JoshMenschNFL) September 25, 2018
The next play, Cousins reverted to his passive mindset. On this play, Cousins tried to hit Latavius Murray on an angle route, where Murray starts by running outside before breaking back inside at a 45-degree angle. Cousins throws an accurate ball to Murray, but two defenders collide on Murray as he tries to secure the catch. The ball ends up deflecting up in the air, and another Bills defender grabs it for the interception.
Because of course the next play was the interception pic.twitter.com/Yq6fNniiza
— Josh Mensch 👿 (@JoshMenschNFL) September 25, 2018
After that play, the Vikings didn’t get the ball back until near the end of the third quarter. Up by 27, the Bills shifted their defensive gameplan to allow short catches, forcing the Vikings to slowly work their way down the field. Cousins dutifully threw short passes, peppering Thielen with targets, and generally being accurate with the football. While it might be easy to criticize Cousins for the passive approach, the coverage dictated he make these throws. The more valid criticism is the lack of aggressiveness and accuracy earlier in the game – before the Bills shifted to their conservative gameplan.
On the day, Cousins was accurate on 38 of his 55 attempts for an accuracy percentage of 69%, ranking as his second-best (of three) on the year. However, his accurate percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. He was much less accurate than normal to start the game, with the short garbage-time throws boosting his accuracy percentage. Cousins finished with one touchdown, 16 first downs, and for the second week in a row, three “turnover-worthy throws”. He saw pressure on 38% of his dropbacks. That is up 11% from his season average – though he was responsible for some of these pressures by not seeing open receivers.
Likely due to his passive early-game mindset and conservative late-game gameplan by the Bills, Cousins was limited to 123 yards through the air. His receivers gained 173 yards after the catch, accounting for 58% of his total yardage. Thielen was again his target leader, this time racking up 19 targets. Ultimately, this was Cousins worst game of the season, coupled with a below-average performance from his supporting cast. Though I don’t expect Cousins or the supporting cast to have many games like this, the Bills are one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Vikings next two opponents, the Rams and Eagles, are two of the best. Cousins and the Vikings will need to respond quickly, or they risk falling into an early-season hole.
Week 3 – Film Breakdown Statistics
|Accuracy %||69%||Pressure %||38%|
|Touchdowns||1||Play Action %||3%|
|Completed Air Yards||123||First Downs||15|
|Yards After Catch||173||Target Leader||Thielen – 19|
|Yards After Catch %||58%||3rd Down Conversion %||43%|
|Accuracy %||70||Pressure %||30%|
|Touchdowns||7||Play Action %||16%|
|Completed Air Yards||450||First Downs||43|
|Yards After Catch||515||Target Leader||Thielen – 44|
|Yards After Catch %||53%||3rd Down Conversion %||39%|