In his first game action infront of the Vikings faithful at US Bank Stadium Kirk Cousins failed to put up big numbers against the vaunted Jacksonville defense. Is there need to panic? Well, I decided to cut-up every throw Cousins made to see if there is the need for concern, or if it was just a typical vanilla preseason gameplan.
On the first play of the afternoon, the Vikings come out in 11 personnel with a 3×1 with three receivers to the field and a single receiver to the boundary. The Vikings get good initial protection which allows Cousins to move from his primary read (Rudolph) over to Latavius Murray as the checkdown vs the Jaguars cover 3 defense. Cousins delivers a good, accurate throw that allows Murray to pick up some additional yards after the catch.
The play was wiped out by a Jacksonville penalty but a good start for the Vikings QB to stay in front of the chains.
Cousins and the Vikings offense come out in 11 personnel again but this time with an empty set with Murray motioning behind Rudolph. Cousins initially looks for Murray in the flat but with Telvin Smith playing close to the line of scrimmage and closing on Murray shortly after the snap Cousins is forced to move to Diggs in the middle of the field. However, AJ Bouye does a good job staying with Diggs and Cousins is now forced to move to his third read.
Cousins delivers an accurate pass but the ball comes out late and by the time Cousins throws the ball, Tyler Patmon is already driving on the ball and gets the PBU.
Good decision by Cousins he just needs to speed up his process a little bit.
First third down pass of the game put the Vikings in a third and long situation. The Vikings come out in a trips bunch set to the field with Kyle Rudolph playing detached to the boundary. The Vikings have the right play call here with the Jaguars in a cover-1 with Myles Jack playing the “Rat” or “Robber” role underneath. However, due to Murray’s delayed release, it allows Telvin Smith to play kind of a hybrid robber role and he tries to get in the throwing lane.
Rudolph does a good job using his shoulder to get inside leverage and gets just enough separation to create a nice window for Cousins to deliver the ball. The throw was not perfect, but certainly not terrible by any means. The ball is slightly off the numbers and would have been an impressive reaching grab, but those are plays that you need your big tight end to make against tight coverage.
Another 11 personnel formation for the Vikings offense and they come out in essentially the same formation as the failed third-down play to Rudolph. The Vikings go with a trips bunch to the field, but instead of having Rudolph detached they have him playing as the traditional inline tight end.
On the field side of the formation, Diggs and Thielen are running a high-low combination route, while Treadwell is just running a little spot route to the soft spot of the zone coverage. Cousins does a very good job of getting the ball out on time which allows Treadwell to turn and attack the inside shoulder of the Jaguars defender and is able to gain some yards after the catch and pick up a fresh set of downs.
After a Danny Isidora chop block pushed the Vikings back to 1st and 25, Cousins and the Vikings offense are merely trying to get a chunk of yardage back to hopefully set up a shorter field goal.
The route concept is not anything that crazy, just a curl/flat combo and the Jaguars are in a soft cover 2 defense, the perfect call against a 1st and very long play like the Vikings are facing here.
With both corners sitting right on the curl routes and two guys sitting on Rudolph over the middle of the field Cousins is forced to check the ball down to CJ Ham in the flat. Cousins delivers a nice ball and Ham is able to gain some positive yards before drawing a personal foul on AJ Bouye for the new ridiculous helmet rule.
After five straight pass plays in 11 personnel the Vikings finally move to a 21 personnel grouping on this play. The Vikings come out with a strong-I formation into the boundary with twin WRs to the field.
Cousins does a great job of recognizing the off-coverage but delivers his worst ball of the afternoon as he shorthops Adam Thielen on a curl. While short-hopping the throw is not ideal, I do not put all of the blame on Cousins. If you watch Thielen closely when he gets to the top of his route, instead of breaking back to the ball, instead he drifts back creating an even longer throw than is required from the far-hash.
Yes, Cousins needs to drill this throw 10 times out of 10. This should be pitch and catch, but this is one of the few times that I think I’ve seen Thielen get lazy at the top of his route and not attack the ball.
Last year the “mesh” concept was one of the bread and butter plays for the Vikings offense and it appears we will be seeing that concept in DeFilippo’s offense as well. This is a great man-coverage beater as it provides a natural pick over the middle of the field to help gain separation.
The Jaguars rush 5 on this play leaving 6 in coverage in what appears to be a cover-1 defense. At the snap, it looks like this should be a good play call, but there is one little detail that holds this up and prevents Treadwell from getting separation and picking up more yards.
If you look Murray is matched up against Telvin Smith in man-coverage. However, instead of going out into a route, Murray stays in to help protect which allows Smith to stay in coverage as an extra defender. Doing so allows Smith to blow up Treadwell’s initial route and allows Patmon to get over the pick by Rudolph and get back in time to tackle Treadwell for a minimal gain.
Maybe Cousins could have waited for a half-second later and got Thielen over the middle, but this is the proper read and was the safe play to keep the Vikings in field goal range.
For only the second time on the afternoon, the Vikings offense dialed up a pass play out of 21 personnel, but instead of the strong-I the Vikings flip the fullback away from the tight end, turning it into a weak-I formation. On the front-side of the read Cousins is reading a corner/flat high-low concept while the backside has another high-low drive concept with Diggs and Morgan.
While the Vikings have enough lineman to match up with the five pass rushers the Jags deploy on this play, the Vikings put Murray into a route so this puts a lot of stress on the offensive line to give Cousins adequate time. On this play, the Vikings are unable to hold up as Aviante Collins is beat with speed move by the Jaguars 7th-round pick, Leon Jacobs.
The pressure forces Cousins to get rid of the ball a bit sooner than he would have liked and with a defender playing in the flat it forces Cousins to throw the ball high. Although this is a play I think Cousins can, and will, make during the regular season it would have taken an impressive touch pass to fit this ball to the sideline.
Cousins final attempt of the day came on a managable third-and-6. Cousins and the Vikings offense come out in 11 personnel again and appear to be running curls on both sides of the field with a drag underneath.
The offensive line does a great job of giving Cousins a pocket, however, Diggs is being held all the way through his route and at his break which disrupts Cousins’ timing.
If there is one negative on Cousins on this play it is that I feel he could have stayed in the pocket, or tried to scramble to the field side to try and give his receivers some time to get open. This has been one of my biggest gripes with Cousins throughout his career. He is a quarterback that excels at throwing in rhythm and getting the ball out on time but struggles when he is asked to scan the field for an extended time. He showed some improvement last season with his scrambling and ability to make plays outside the pocket so hopefully, this is just a preseason thing where they want to limit Cousins exposure to unnecessary hits.
Cousins Pass Breakdown
While the raw totals are not impressive (3/8 12 yards, 0 TDs/0 INT) I thought that for the most part Cousins delivered the ball on time, and with good placement, specifically on timing routes. Of Cousins’ 9 pass attempts I registered 6 of them as “accurate”. The hardest one to gauge was the first third-down pass to Rudolph but after watching it back numerous times I think that Rudolph could have made the grab even though it wasn’t thrown right between the numbers. There were still issues with timing once Cousins had to move off of his initial read, but with more practice Flip and Cousins should be able to quicken up 8’s process which should lead to getting to the backside of the progressions even quicker.
When the Vikings signed Cousins the thought was that he would open up the deep passing game for the Vikings. Although we have not really seen the explosive concepts during the preseason I do not think we need be concerned. While I would like to see the Vikings try and get a little more explosive with the passing game on Friday (5.6 ADOT vs Jacksonville) there has been such a limited sample size that I am not worried that this is going to be the dink-and-dunk offense that we saw back in 2016.
If there is one area that Flip needs to mix up it would be the personnel groupings the Vikings pass out of. Of Cousins 9 pass attempts (8 registered) 7 of them came out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) while 2 came out of 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WRs). Flip could have easily been just trying to test his young offensive line with minimal help against one of the best defensive lines in football, but if these tendencies continue they could give some serious tells about the Vikings offense.
The other thing I found interesting is just how much Flip spread the ball around today. In the Vikings first preseason game Cousins threw four passes and targeted Diggs three times and Ham once. In this game Cousins targeted 6 different receivers and did not target Diggs until his last pass of the afternoon, which should have been flagged for holding at the very least. Diggs and Cousins have developed a nice rapport during training camp so maybe the emphasis was to try and build that timing with some of the other Vikings receivers.
All-in-all despite the sub-par raw totals, I do not think we need to be concerned about Cousins and the Vikings passing offense. The passing schemes the Vikings used during the Jacksonville game were very basic and designed for Cousins to get rid of the ball quickly, as to avoid hits behind the Vikings make-shift offensive line. Yes there were a couple of errant throws from Cousins and the curl to Thielen needs to be pitch and catch, but I thought the veteran QB was able to diagnose coverage quickly and made some good throws.
Despite some mistakes that need to be cleaned up I believe we will see a better Cousins during Friday’s preseason game against the Seahawks and throughout the regular season.