Just hours before Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers notched an unbelievable comeback win on Sunday night football against one of their most historic rivals, another major rival was celebrating a victory of their own. Led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, who appeared in his first regular-season game in purple and gold after inking a record-breaking 3-year $84M deal last March, the Minnesota Vikings edged past a beat-up San Francisco 49ers team 24-16.
In the first game of the season, Cousins looked nearly flawless when he pushed his team to victory, going 20 of 36 for 244 yards and two touchdowns and running the ball four times for an additional 24 yards.
Although the Vikings’ offensive line struggled by giving up three sacks, when Cousins did receive good pass protection he was able to hit his targets in tight coverage, giving him the ability to spread the ball around. For his two touchdown passes, Cousins hit a 22-yard dime to WR Stefon Diggs and an 11-yard pass to TE Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone. Cousins also targeted veteran WR Adam Thielen twelve times, connecting on six catches for 102 yards.
Unlike his tenure in Washington, Cousins now has a slew of targets at his disposal in Minnesota. In addition to the Vikings having a top wide receiver cast, week one also saw the return of running back Dalvin Cook, who made his first appearance in a regular season game since suffering a torn ACL in October of last year. Cook, who carried the ball 16 times for 40 yards and averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, found more success in the air by catching six passes for 55 yards. With Cook healthy, Cousins has the ability to diversify his targets and take advantage of using a RB who has the ability to not only be a strong runner but also a pass catcher.
The Vikings had the benefit of playing against an injured 49ers team a week ago. But even if the Packers’ gunslinger takes the field, Green Bay still needs to find a way to contain Cousins on the other side of the ball.
Cousins has matched up with Green Bay twice in his career, including his lone playoff appearance as a starter in the 2015 NFC Wild Card game. The Redskins fell 35-18 in that game despite Cousins passing for 329 yards and scoring two touchdowns - one rushing, one passing. The X-factor in that game was the Packers’ defense, who put constant pressure on Cousins and stacked up six sacks in total.
His second appearance against Green Bay, in week 11 of the 2016 season, was met with a much different outcome. Cousins, who played one of the best games of his career to date, passed for 376 yards and three-touchdowns. However, one thing to note is that the Packers defense of the late 2016 season looks much different than the Packers defense of this season, especially in the secondary.
If the Packers hope to stop Cousins, they’re going to need to bring a lot of pressure. Cousins has clearly proven that he has the ability to make plays, but forcing him under pressure limits his timing and ability to find an open man. The Packers grabbed a victory in 2015 when they sacked Cousins six times and they defeated Chicago last week using the same strategy by containing Bears’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and sacking him four times.
Cousins knows that playing the Packers at Lambeau Field is no small task and it’s one he’s certainly going to have to get used to as long as he’s with Minnesota. Beating the Packers on the road would certainly help to solidify Cousins’ reputation in Minnesota as an elite quarterback.