EAGAN, Minn. -- Kirk Cousins began last season on pace to break the NFL record for passing attempts in a season. Now, he’s coming off a game in which he threw his fewest times ever as a pro starter.
The Minnesota Vikings quarterback attempted just 10 passes in Sunday’s 28-12 victory over Atlanta in the opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. It was just one game, and Cousins threw just three passes in the second half as the Vikings cruised to a big early lead, but could it at least be somewhat of a sign of things to come?
With an improved offensive line and a healthy Dalvin Cook, the Vikings want to run the ball a lot more than they did last season. That’s what they did in the opener, manhandling the Falcons with 38 rushing attempts for 172 yards.
“I have no interest in dropping back 50 times if we don’t need to,” Cousins said Wednesday. “I’d like to win the way we did last week if that’s the way it can happen.”
Next up for the Vikings: at Green Bay on Sunday. Last season, Minnesota played in Week 2 at Lambeau Field, as well, and Cousins threw 48 passes in 29-29 tie.
With John DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator, it was an aerial circus to begin last season. Cousins averaged 47.3 attempts in the first four games, putting him on pace to break Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford’s 2012 record of 727 throws in a season.
Cousins threw a lot early in the 2018 season because Minnesota fell behind in games, and he did reduce his number of throws over time. Still, he averaged 37.9 attempts per game for the year, and the Vikings want that number to go way down in 2019 under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and adviser Gary Kubiak.
If the defense and the running game look like they did last week, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s going to be important that that becomes an identity that we can sustain week in and week out and it wasn’t just a one-week thing,” said Cousins, who completed eight passes against the Falcons for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Cook, who rushed for 111 yards on 21 carries against Atlanta, must play a key role to keep the ground game churning. A primary aim is to stay healthy.
As a rookie in 2017, Cook missed the final 12 games with a torn ACL. Last season, he suffered a hamstring injury in overtime at Green Bay and missed five of the next six games.
“Different team, different mindset, different coaches,” Cook said. “Everything’s different around here (this year), so you’ve got to expect different things.”
That means the Vikings hope Cousins doesn’t need to throw 48 times against the Packers. He did complete 35 for 425 yards and four touchdowns. But Minnesota, which trailed 20-7 in the third quarter, had just 68 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
“There’s no doubt, knowing that offense, having Gary Kubiak there as well, and I know Stefanski is calling (the plays), but having worked for Kub and with some of those guys on that staff, they want to be balanced and have the pass game complement the run game,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, a Houston assistant in 2008-09 when Kubiak was head coach.
Realistically, the Vikings don’t expect to win at Green Bay by throwing just 10 times. That was the product of Minnesota’s increasing leads against the Falcons — 14-0 in the first quarter, 21-0 in the second and 28-0 in the third.
Cousins at least has had fun talking about the fewest passes he has thrown in a game “since literally Pop Warner.” His low at Michigan State as a starter was 17 and his previous NFL low was 15.
Cousins joked Wednesday that perhaps he threw fewer than 10 times when he was in the fourth and fifth grade in suburban Chicago, back when one of his coaches was Bears hall of fame linebacker Mike Singletary.
“We didn’t really even keep stats back then, so I don’t know,’”Cousins said. “Mike was our defensive coordinator. … We had a pretty good defense on account of the coaching.”
For now, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer isn’t about to tip his hand on how much Cousins might throw Sunday.
“We didn’t go into last week’s game saying we’re going to throw it 10 times, but maybe we’ll throw it 48 again,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re going to do whatever we need to do to win.”