Kirk Cousins: Will Minnesota Vikings QB end torrid MNF record?
Watch Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks on 365beat体育 Action on Monday night/Tuesday morning; kick-off is at 1.15am
By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 03/12/19 1:38pm
Kirk Cousins is enjoying arguably his best season in the NFL but there is one individual feat he'll be keen to tick off when the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) face the Seattle Seahawks (9-2) on Monday.
The former Washington Redskins man enters the contest 0-7 as a starter in Monday Night Football - the worst record for a quarterback in NFL history.
Battling against the odds is a theme Cousins has familiarised himself with long before now, though. Doubts over his ability to lead a playoff charge have proven immovable in recent years, as have questions over the Vikings' decision to offer him a three-year deal worth $84m.
- Brady frustrated as Texans beat Patriots
- Chiefs dominate Raiders in division bout
- Ravens beat 49ers for eighth straight win
Signing what was then the biggest contract in NFL history always promised a sub-clause of added pressure and scrutiny, which Cousins has dealt with relatively well in 2019.
Season so far
The 31-year-old heads into Week 13 with the best passer rating in the league at 114.8 having completed 226 of 320 passes for 2,756 yards and 21 touchdowns. Steady figures reflect an impressive response to a testing first month in which he threw for just 98 yards in a win over the Atlanta Falcons, was intercepted twice in a defeat to the Green Bay Packers and sacked six times in a loss to the Chicago Bears.
It was really the Week Four defeat to the Bears that emerged as a turning point for Cousins and the Vikings. He completed 75 per cent of his passes in that game at an average of 6.4 yards, with the Vikings recording 15 first downs but failing to score until the last three minutes.
That performance warranted some post-match criticism from wide receiver Adam Thielen, who had been unhappy with Cousins missing him on a deep pass. The fallout in Chicago also generated reports that fellow wideout Stefon Diggs had been left unhappy with his quarterback, fuelling suggestions he wanted out in Minnesota.
Cousins reacted positively the following week, albeit against the struggling New York Giants, as he went 22 of 27 for 306 yards and two touchdowns, despite being sacked three times. He has since thrown for a combined 1,714 yards, 16 touchdowns and one interception through six games.
That haul included four touchdowns and 338 passing yards in a 42-30 win over the Detroit Lions, as well as 267 of 319 total yards for two of three touchdowns in the second half to help the Vikings come from 20-0 down at the break to beat the Denver Broncos 27-23. His game-winning statistics have displayed both an admirable resilience and an ability to defuse the critics.
Cousins could not take the Vikings to postseason football in 2018, but seeing off the Seahawks would give him a glorious opportunity of making amends. Minnesota occupy the second NFC Wild Card spot behind Seattle coming into Week 13 and are hot on the tails of NFC North leaders the Green Bay Packers.
There is no better time for Cousins to snap his winless MNF record.
Running game help
After 11 games in 2018, Cousins had already been intercepted seven times. That figure stands at just three total and none in his last 14 touchdowns heading into the Vikings' 12th game, with a switch in personnel evidently having an impact on his composure and decision-making in the pocket.
John DeFilippo was fired as offensive coordinator in Minnesota in the aftermath of last year's 21-7 defeat to the Seahawks. He was subsequently replaced by Kevin Stefanski who has since been accompanied by former Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach/offensive advisor.
Between them and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison they have found a way to get the best out of Cousins, cushioning him with a capable running game and ultimately evolving what had previously looked a one-dimensional offense.
The execution of running back Dalvin Cook has been a key factor in making that happen after being underused by DeFilippo in 2018 (615 rushing yards and two touchdowns off 133 carries through 11 games). He has since catapulted himself to become a top-five back with 1,017 yards rushing from 214 carries (fifth) and 11 touchdowns (tied-second).
He has also offered Cousins another weapon to make use of in the open field, particularly on screen plays, with 45 catches from 54 targets for 455 yards. That dual-threat could again come to the fore in light of the news that Thielen will again be absent through injury on Monday.
An MVP-shaped obstacle?
There are easier opportunities to end a poor individual record than against a Seahawks side led by MVP candidate Russell Wilson. In case Cousins needed any added motivation, he also comes into the game 7-28 against teams with a winning record.
Cousins and Wilson first went head to head on October 22, 2011 when the former's Michigan State Spartans scored a dramatic fourth-quarter touchdown to beat the latter's Wisconsin Badgers. They met again later in the season, the time Wilson coming out on top in the Big Ten championship game for a place at the Rose Bowl.
Wilson was off to Seattle in April the following year as a third round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Cousins meanwhile heading to the Redskins in the fourth round having also met with the Seahawks.
"You couldn't expect to be more impressed by two back-to-back guys coming out and talking about the game, their future, their awareness, their resolve, their commitment and competitiveness," said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
Amid their most productive seasons yet, the pair are now gearing up for the sixth meeting of their careers.
For Cousins to prevail in his battle with Wilson would not only be a major stride towards the playoffs for the Vikings but the most striking indicator yet of his progress in Mike Zimmer's side.