In week 13, the Vikings fell on the road to the Patriots. Kirk Cousins struggled all day, checking down despite receivers being open down the field. Much of this was due to a great gameplan by the Patriots. They confused Cousins before the snap on nearly every play.
Box Score Statistics
Cousins completed 32 of his 44 attempts for 201 yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions and took two sacks. Cousins was responsible for 10 first downs, and he converted three of ten third downs through the air. His completion percentage of 73 percent was solid this week, but his 4.6 yards per attempt was awful, reflecting his lack of aggressiveness.
Cousins struggled all day. He was pressured on 16 of his 49 dropbacks, for a pressure rate of 33 percent. But pressure wasn’t the main cause of his struggles. With the Patriots using defense alignments designed to muddle Cousins’ pre-snap read, he was forced to diagnose coverages after the snap. This has always been a weakness for Cousins, and Bill Belichick aggressively attacked it with schemes like the play below.
When Cousins can identify what the coverage is pre-snap, he is a good quarterback. He might even be one of the best in the league with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as his weapons. However, one of the things that separates the truly great quarterbacks in the league is the ability to read the coverage during the play, even after their initial pre-snap read is wrong. Cousins is simply not that guy. By hiding his safeties near the line of scrimmage, Bill Belichick forced Cousins to try to read the defense pre-snap. This is a gamble by Belichick. If Cousins reads the defense properly after the snap, it’s likely that either Diggs or Thielen is going to be open deep down the field. However, if Cousins doesn’t read the defense properly, he is prone to take simple checkdowns to covered options. The play below is a prime example.
On this play, the Patriots are showing only one deep safety, located in the middle of the field. The other safety is at the top of thes creen, only seven yards off the ball. His alignment is designed to prevent Cousins from hitting Diggs on an inside route. he recognizes this and decides before the snap that he will look to his left, where he has the better matchup. Either Thielen or the outside receiver should come open, as they are both one-on-one with a defender. Thielen does win his matchup, and the Vikings gain six yards, setting them up for a short third down. However, Cousins didn’t see the option that would’ve resulted in an easy first down and potentially a huge gain.
At the snap, the safety aligned to prevent Diggs from being open on an inside route, runs deep. Diggs comes wide open, but Cousins never sees him. In his mind, there is no chance that Diggs will be open. The safety was aligned inside taking him away. An elite quarterback, like a Drew Brees, will usually not be confused by this. At the snap, they will quickly glance at that safety, to make sure he isn’t dropping deep. If the safety stays shallow and inside, they shift their read to the left side of the field. But if the safety runs deep, they know that their outside receiver should be open on an inside route, and they can hit him on a quick throw.
Cousins simply does not do that. He decided pre-snap that he will throw to the left. Recognizing his process, Belichick has successfully forced Cousins to throw where he wants him to, which is a short throw that would likely result in a third down. That is exactly what happens.
This type of pre-snap confusion was Belichick’s strategy for nearly the entire game. His gamble that Cousins would simply take the easy checkdown instead of attempting to read the coverage after the snap worked perfectly, as Cousins’ 4.6 yards per attempt can attest to. Fortunately for the Vikings, not many coaches are as good as Belichick at diagnosing the mental process of opposing quarterbacks and implementing a game plan to stop them.
Tonight, the Vikings will face an entirely different scheme. The Seahawks generally sit in the same alignment before the snap on almost every play. While they mix up variations of coverages to confuse quarterbacks after the snap, this is much better suited to how Kirk Cousins reads defenses. While he may make risker throws tonight, the Vikings should at least get to see their elite wide receivers have chances to make plays down the field. At 6-5-1 in an almost must-win game, Thielen and Diggs deserve the chance to decide the Vikings’ fate. Cousins should give them those chances tonight.
On the day, Cousins was accurate on 31 of his 45 qualifying attempts for an accuracy percentage of 69 percent. That accuracy percentage is near his season average, but accuracy wasn’t the issue. His mental process that led to covered checkdowns was. There is some reason for optimism tonight, as mentioned above, but his game against the Patriots was a stark reminder that Cousins still has his limitations.
Week 13 – Film Breakdown Statistics
|Accuracy %||69%||Pressure %||33%|
|Touchdowns||1||Play Action %||10%|
|Completed Air Yards||88||First Downs||10|
|Yards After Catch||113||Target Leader||Thielen – 11|
|Yards After Catch %||56%||3rd Down Conversion %||30%|
Year-to-Date Film Breakdown Statistics
|Accuracy %||67%||Pressure %||39%|
|Touchdowns||23||Play Action %||20%|
|Completed Air Yards||1893||First Downs||166|
|Yards After Catch||1616||Target Leader||Thielen – 142|
|Yards After Catch %||46%||3rd Down %||43%|
For more information on the “Charting Cousins” series, please check out Charting Cousins in his week one game against the 49ers.