Week 3 showed what the Vikings organization is missing
The end of the Minnesota Vikings’ 28-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was a complete disaster for the home team. And, spoiler alert, this isn’t to completely shred Kirk Cousins, but it’s not uplifting him to the heights of what some of the fanbase thinks of him.
After miraculously getting the football back due to the questionable decisions of Brandon Staley, the Vikings, with 41 seconds to, faced a 4th and five at the Charger six-yard line. Cousins found his $66 million tight end T.J Hockenson over the middle for a first down, breathing life again back into the team.
But the clock was ticking, and ticking.
Rather than spiking the ball, Cousins awaited the instruction of Kevin O’Connell. By the time the Vikings eventually got set, 13 seconds remained. Cousins fitted the ball into a tight window to Hockenson, but it deflected off of him and finally landed into the hands of Kenneth Murray, sending the Vikes to 0-3.
— NFL (@NFL) September 24, 2023
Now, there are many moving parts and talking points here. If the ball had fallen to the turf, there would have again been new life for the Vikings. If Hockenson secured the catch, we would be looking at the Vikings as geniuses, but we aren’t sitting in that universe today.
Instead, here’s another viewpoint of that sequence. Why does Cousins, one of the oldest and richest current quarterbacks, need to wait for someone to tell him what to do in a do-or-die situation? As an established veteran QB, why didn’t his instincts kick in to clock the ball to talk things over because the Vikings would have realistically had three more quick shots to come out victorious?
Will Ragatz on Twitter.com: “Kevin O’Connell on the final play: “Looking back, I wish I would’ve clocked it and not tried to steal one there.” Kirk Cousins had some trouble hearing O’Connell in his headset and the play resulted in a game-ending interception. https://t.co/dUkYI1CEU2″ / Twitter (twitter.com)
An occurring issue for six years
This isn’t the first time something like this has occurred for the Vikings. Flashback to Halloween of 2021, where the Minnesota Vikings fell to the Cooper Rush-led Dallas Cowboys 13-10. Before halftime, the Vikings mismanaged the clock going into the half, not setting them up for a chance to attempt a field goal or a hail-mary attempt. Instead of Cousins using the team’s final timeout, here’s what he said (From Will Ragatz, 2021):
“I just let Zim handle the timeout, because I never know quite what the coaches want to do with what they’re thinking, a play ahead or what that may be,” Cousins said. “So, I was just gonna let them handle that and call the next play if we’re not getting it.”
In the final up-tight days of Mike Zimmer’s tenure, we ripped the coach who took the Vikings to an NFC Championship Game for not leaning into Cousins and giving him more freedom in the offense. Two years later, we see the same thing happen once again.
It’s becoming clear that this wasn’t an issue that fell directly on Zimmer, nor should it be entirely put on the shoulders of O’Connell. The problem relies on the quarterback with over a decade of experience and was brought in as the missing piece of a Super Bowl run.
Glancing at the previous opponent
Now, let’s look at who the other sideline had on Sunday. At 25 years old, Justin Herbert, in his fourth season in the NFL, looked more like the savvy veteran than Cousins did on Sunday afternoon. He finished with an 85 percent completion percentage on 47 attempts. His pocket awareness and decision-making appeared outstanding from couch-GM’s point of view. And this was all despite facing some of the most intense pressure in the last 15-plus years.
(1) Kevin Seifert on Twitter.com: “We’ve mostly covered the Vikings’ final offensive play today. It failed. But at some point we need to cover the state of the Vikings’ defense. DC Brian Flores blitzed 82% of Chargers dropbacks, 2nd-highest since ESPN began tracking in 2006. League average is ~21%.” / Twitter (twitter.com)
And he wasn’t rattled on bit. Credit to ESPN’s Khris Rhim:
“Today we had their number on every play,” [Keenan] Allen said. [Herbert was in there; he was settled down, not getting rattled at all. Every time he came to the sideline, we had more answers and more answers.”
Time to do something that is rarely done in its history
The Vikings played its first regular season game over 22,500 days ago. In that time, the organization has only drafted a quarterback four times in the first round of the NFL Draft. The first was Tommy Kramer, arguably one of the most clutch quarterbacks this team has seen, coining his nickname “Two-Minute Tommy.”
The other instance came when Dennis Green drafted Daunte Culpepper, even with Jeff George and Randall Cunningham still on the roster. Culpepper led the Vikings, with a poor defense, to the NFC Championship Game in his first entire season as a starter. Despite the team’s inability to spend money on defense and build up a competent coaching staff, Culpepper was one of the most accurate and mobile quarterbacks with a laser arm.
Lastly, the third and fourth QBs were Christian Ponder and then Teddy Bridgewater, who fit Zimmer’s game manager style and was on an upward trajectory until his knee gave out. Depending on the viewpoint, the Vikings have had a 75% success rate in drafting a first-round QB.
While Kweis Adofo-Mensah has some question marks as a first-time general manager, he’s aware of this, even saying (Credit to Patrik Walker at CBS): “We don’t have Tom Brady. We don’t have Pat [rick] Mahomes. [The Super Bowl] is more likely to win if you have that quarterback. It’s very unlikely to have that quarterback,” and the Vikings did do their homework on multiple quarterbacks during the 2023 draft cycle.
End of an era on the horizon
Cousins is a good quarterback, there’s no doubt about that, but due to his limitations in his game both physically and mentally make him not among the NFL’s elite, and observing recent Super Bowl champions, the teams that win it are quarterbacks that take command in a way that Cousins did not in yesterday’s game.
When his time is done in Minnesota, he will be one of the most accomplished passers in franchise history. He already leads the league in passing yards, and touchdown pass to Josh Oliver moved him in front of Kramer for second on the all-time passing touchdown list. But, like his 13 seasons in the NFL and very reminisce of the franchise he plays for, he hasn’t won what every team aspires to do in the league.
The 2024 NFL Draft quarterback class is filled with names, and the difference between Cousins and Herbert on Sunday should be an inspiration on why this team needs to aim for a player i.e Drake Maye.