Kirk Cousins is infamous for choking in prime-time games. He has a lifetime record of 8-15-1 in prime-time games and is 0-9 on Monday night games. He finally won his first playoff game this past year, but he is still the target of much disrespect. The notoriety of his failure to perform when the lights are brightest has spread to create a bad image for him as a player. Recently, the Vikings started a Tik Tok challenge for fans to duet themselves catching a pass from Cousins. Instead, fans made videos of themselves getting severely overthrown. Does Cousins genuinely deserve all of the criticism he receives?
Career (as a Starter) in Washington (2015-2017)
It takes more than a good quarterback to win football games. It may be the most crucial position on the field, but receivers and a good offensive line matter too. While the offensive line and receivers were good for Cousins’ first two years starting in Washington, they fell apart in 2017. Cousins lost the most yards on sacks in 2017, and his top receivers were Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson. And, there are two sides to a team – defense is crucial to a team’s performance. In his three years as the predominant starter for Washington, Cousins had a below-average defense in two out of three seasons.
Cousins’ career in Washington may not have been illustrious, but his solid play went overlooked due to a lack of playoff success. If we look at his stats themselves, he actually had great years in Washington. He had a yards per attempt of 7.7, 8.1 and 7.6 in his three seasons starting for the team. He ranked eighth, 10th and third in Y/A during this time. Furthermore, the Washington team was far from bad from 2015-2017. They went 9-7 in ’15, earning a wild card, 8-7-1 in ’16, and 7-9 in ’17. Cousins failing to lead a team to an outstanding record is why he was so heavily criticized when he became a free agent in the offseason before the 2018 season. Fans were surprised when he signed a three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings because quarterback wins are overvalued. Looking at Cousins’ individual performance, he was borderline elite in Washington.
Career in Minnesota (2018-Present)
Things did not get better for Cousins after his first year with the Vikings. After missing the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record, fans further lambasted Cousins for not leading Minnesota to the postseason. Though his offensive line wasn’t great, the weapons he had in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs meant fans would not take any more excuses. Especially after seeing a Case Keenum-led Vikings make the NFC championship the year prior, fans quickly grew restless with Cousins. To be fair, his first year in Minnesota was his worst year as a starter, with his lowest career Y/A, at 7.1. But, Cousins arguably had his best year yet in 2019. He matched his career-high with an 8.1 Y/A, seventh in the NFL. Cousins was also third in completion percentage above expected, and sixth in EPA/play. The only reason he didn’t reach 4,000 yards was because of a lack of attempts. With such an exceptional year, during which he was unarguably an elite quarterback, why is Cousins’ success going unrecognized?
Prime-time Performance and Quarterback Record
The narrative that Kirk Cousins cannot step up to the challenge of prime-time games is what makes fans hesitant to declare him even an above-average quarterback. Quarterback record is often far over-weighted when grading a quarterback’s performance. It is an unfair metric because the quarterback is not the only player on the team, as discussed.
By diving deeper into these prime-time losses, it becomes clear that not only does Cousins not fail to perform, he actually excels in these games. His EPA/play and success rate are far higher. Meanwhile, his defenses allow a much higher EPA/play in prime-time matchups. So, the criticism faced by Cousins is a tragic tale of a player surrounded by players who drag him down. Though he plays incredibly well under the spotlight, it is difficult to distinguish among the other players who fail to execute. Kirk Cousins will remain a talented quarterback as the 2020 season looms ahead. Although the Vikings lost Stefon Diggs to the Bills, they are still a playoff threat as long as Cousins is under center. Don’t let a false narrative make that unclear.
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