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Kirk Cousins, Vikings

Can Vikings be serious contenders with Kirk Cousins at quarterback?

The Minnesota Vikings have one of the more talented rosters in the NFL. The Vikings bolster talented pass catchers on offense in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, and they have a bell cow running back in Dalvin Cook.

Much to the dismay of all these talents, the man throwing the ball has not exactly been lights out over the past two weeks to start the season. Michigan State alum Kirk Cousins helped the squad earn a win in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, but he did so while only throwing 10 passes.

While any win is a good win in the National Football League, it’s not encouraging for Vikings fans that the team seems the most successful when Cousins is less involved.

Cousins was bad when asked to do more in the Vikings’ Week 2 loss against Green Bay, as he only completed 14 of his 32 pass attempts. While he threw for 230 yards and a touchdown, he also threw two interceptions (including a truly terrible one in the end zone late in the fourth quarter) and fumbled the ball twice, quite literally giving the game away to their NFC North rival.

Over the veteran quarterback’s career, his teams have succeeded more when he is less involved in the offense. Cousins’ teams have posted an impressive 17-3 record when he throws fewer than 30 passes, including a 4-0 record with Minnesota.

On the other hand, when Cousins throws 30 passes or more, his teams have been on the losing end more often than not, as teams have posted a pitiful 18-35-2 record when he is more prevalently involved in the offense. He has also consistently struggled against quality opponents.

Common knowledge along with a grade-school understanding of math would suggest that the Vikings should consider moving on from Cousins since the team is more successful when he is less involved. It’s not that simple, of course, given last offseason the Vikings signed Cousins to a massive three-year, $84 million deal. This was a landmark contract at the time, as while it was not the most expensive contract in league history, every penny of it was guaranteed.

Whether Vikings fans like it or not, they are essentially stuck with Cousins for the rest of this season and the entirety of next season. While this offense is chock-full of talented players who are all over fantasy football rosters, their performance ceiling is much lower as long as Cousins is throwing them the ball.

Being that Cousins has been fervently critiqued by the Minnesota faithful, it’s safe to say that a bounce-back performance against the Oakland Raiders is much-needed. As Chip Scoggins of the StarTribune eloquently worded it, that last performance in Week 2 coming against Minnesota’s greatest rival didn’t help the veteran quarterback’s case:

“Can you imagine the mood inside U.S. Bank Stadium if Cousins struggles or makes poor decisions that result in interceptions? No amount of house music will be able to drown out the boos. Cousins had a chance to alter the narrative attached to his short tenure in purple, that he wilts in big games. Instead, he reinforced that line of thinking in the most gruesome way possible against the one opponent that gets circled on the calendar every season.”

Cousins’ struggles are so frustrating because of the Vikings’ talent all across the roster. In addition to the talented skill position players in place, Minnesota’s defense features a talented defensive line with Linval Joseph eating space in the middle along with Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter providing pressure off the edge. Anthony Barr leads a deep linebacking core, and Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith bolster a secondary that has statistically been one of the better ones in the league over the last few seasons.

As the old adage goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link. While the Vikings have a talented roster, the struggles of their veteran quarterback when it matters most could continue to hold them back this season after a disappointing 2018 campaign.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Vikings fans. Many not-so-talented quarterbacks, including Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Joe Flacco, have won Super Bowls surrounded by solid squads. If the Vikings can get Cousins to be a game manager and let their skill players and defenders carry the weight, this team’s Super Bowl aspirations are still a potential reality.

However, the track record is troublesome, and Kirk Cousins is going to have to buck previous trends to prove he can be a real winner and not just an empty stats quarterback.