EAGAN, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said last week a goal of his for 2019 is getting quarterback Kirk Cousins to the “next level.”
Spielman said one way to do that is using Cousins more in play action. Whatever the Vikings do, Cousins knows what the end result must be.
“The next level really is all about winning,” Cousins said Wednesday after the second practice of a three-day minicamp. “I’m pretty much a .500 quarterback in my career so far, and I don’t think that’s where you want to be, and that’s not why you are brought in or people are excited about you. If I don’t play well, if I don’t have gaudy statistics, but we win multiple playoffs games, the narrative will be I went to the next level.”
Cousins, who played six seasons with Washington before joining the Vikings last year, has a career record of 34-37-1 as a starter. Minnesota finished 8-7-1 in 2018 with Cousins playing every offensive snap in the first year of a three-year, $84 million contract.
“If I have my best year yet (statistically) in 2019, but we’re 8-8, I didn’t go to the next level,” he said. “So that’s the reality of it.”
As far as play action is concerned, that has been one of Cousins’ strengths. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked fourth in the NFL last season in that category.
“Our analytics department sent me a really good summary a couple of weeks ago … that just showed that play action is just effective, period,” Cousins said. “You’ve got to call it more, and so I don’t know that it’s me. I think any quarterback should be getting a lot of play-action opportunities just because the nature of what it does for your slowing down the pass rush and creating explosive plays and giving you outlets in the flat that are good easy throws for productive gains.”
The Vikings have worked quite a bit on play action during the spring. However, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski admitted Wednesday the results have been uneven.
“It’s definitely a work in progress,” he said. “At times, it’s good; at times, it’s bad. And the best thing you can do is watch our defense, and if they believe it and the sell is legit, you’ll get a reaction from our linebackers and our front seven, so I think it’s been OK. Certainly a ton of room for improvement, and it’s going to be a constant point of emphasis.”
After 10 sessions of organized team activities and two minicamp practices, the Vikings will conclude spring drills Thursday. After that, they are off until training camp starts in late July.
The Vikings have spent the spring installing a new offense under Stefanski, the interim offensive coordinator for the final three games last season before being promoted, and Gary Kubiak, hired in January as assistant head coach/offensive adviser.
Cousins said there has been the adjustment to learning a new system but that having a year under his belt with the Vikings has “helped to understand my teammates.” Stefanski agrees.
“(That’s) a big deal,” said Stefanski, who previously was Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach. “There’s so much that goes into understanding the nuances of each one of your receivers and your tight ends, and knowing how they come out of routes. That was something that we definitely tried to speed up the process last year. There’s only so much you can do that.”
Cousins threw for 4,298 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. However, he had 10 interceptions and tied for the NFL lead with seven lost fumbles.
Cousins recently reached out to the Vikings analytics department for information regarding his fumbles.
“What came out they said was what you had was fumbles lost,” he said. “They said your actual fumbles were pretty on par, which again, you want to be on the lower half of the league, so to be on par still isn’t good enough.”