Cousins, Vikings provide Cardinals glimpse of what could have been
TEMPE, Ariz. — Only Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and the Arizona front office know how interested the team was in pursuing free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins this summer. Arizona was the first team to make contact with Cousins’ agent, according to Peter King, but the reality of Cousins heading to the Minnesota Vikings quickly made the Cardinals alter their sights to target free agent Sam Bradford.
That story appears all but written.
Bradford started the first three games of the year and struggled before tallying an inactive status the last two games after losing his gig to rookie Josh Rosen.
“From the day that we decided to go in the game with Josh, he has been 100 percent behind Josh,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said of Bradford. “It’s been that way since we drafted Josh. Sam is a great person, and we can’t give him enough credit and thank him enough for everything he’s done helping these guys.
“I can’t thank him enough for the way he’s handled it, you know, in a tough situation,” McCoy added. “Josh is going to look back one day — and he knows this now — but in a couple years down the road if he’s played a little bit, he’s going to look back and say, ‘Man, I was fortunate to be around that guy.'”
Meanwhile, Cousins has kept the 2-2-1 Vikings afloat with steady play.
He’s thrown for the second biggest total of yards through Week 5 (1,688) and is fourth in attempts (226) and completion percentage (71.2 percent). Cousins has been working under less-than-ideal circumstances in the offense of first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo (who by the way was the former Eagles quarterbacks coach who the Cardinals reportedly spoke to in their coaching search).
The Vikings offensive line has allowed Cousins to be sacked 14 times, and ESPN Stats & Info said the quarterback is being pressured on 28.8 percent of his dropbacks, 13th-highest in the NFL.
Nonetheless, Cousins is thriving, getting rid of the ball at an average of 2.03 seconds, fourth-fastest in the league. He’s completing 64.7 percent of his passes under pressure, according to ESPN, second-best in the NFL.
And yes, Cousins is throwing for touchdowns. He has 11 to just two interceptions, though he’s fumbled the ball three times so far.
“He’s playing at a high level right now, Kirk is,” Arizona defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence, he’s getting the ball out quick, he’s commanding the offense. And then you talk about the two receivers, (Adam) Thielen and (Stephon) Diggs, those guys make plays. They make plays. The ball’s not perfect every time but they find a way to come down with it.”
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson called the Vikings’ personnel “unique” with two deep threat wideouts who also have the physicality to make plays on balls that aren’t exactly on-line. Throw in tight end Kyle Rudolph, and it’s no wonder Minnesota’s offense has kept churning out yards despite offensive line and running back issues.
Thielen is second in the NFL with 589 receiver yards, first with 31 first downs and has eight catches of 20 or more yards.
“He does everything right,” Peterson said. “If the route calls for him to run 20 yards, he’s going to run 20 yards. He does a very good job of manipulating the defender’s leverage. He also has great body control, very strong with his hands.”
For the Cardinals, it helps that defensive end Chandler Jones comes off his best game of the year and won’t have starting Minnesota left tackle Riley Reiff across from him due to a foot injury. But the pressure’s on the defensive backs and linebackers too.
“We got to complement one another, we got to have tight coverage on the backend, we got to do a great job getting to the quarterback,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “Tight coverage is going to make him hold the ball, and getting to the quarterback sometimes is going to make him release it a little bit quicker.”
And as Arizona attempts to put together more consistency from its linebacker group with Haason Reddick expected to make his second start in a row, the communication and gap integrity must hold up at the intermediate level.
Minnesota (65.8 yards per game) ranks just ahead of Arizona (64.6) at the bottom of the NFL’s rushing average per game so far this season. The Vikings are potentially getting back running back Dalvin Cook, who is listed as questionable after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury.
The numbers say otherwise, but if the Cardinals had to choose, they hope that the trend continues with Minnesota remaining one-dimensional.
“We think we have a pretty good opportunity of winning if the Vikings throw the ball 40 to 50 times,” Peterson said. “Most quarterbacks don’t want to throw the ball that many times.”