Over the past two months, NFL pundits have repeatedly stated that the Minnesota Vikings made the right decision in signing Kirk Cousins to a three-year, 84 million dollar contract. In fact, former Vikings wide receiver and the co-host of First Things First, Cris Carter stated that the team made the right decision because “Kirk Cousins is the final piece to propel the Vikings to a Super Bowl.” However, this is not the case as Cousins should be the catalyst for the Vikings to fall short of their super bowl expectations.
When an organization decides to invest a large sum of money into the quarterback position, the quarterback will immediately become the focal point of the offense. This is because the organization wants to give the quarterback as many opportunities as possible to prove that their investment in him was the right decision. Due to this, the team would call a lot of passing plays to give him a chance to demonstrate that he is a franchise quarterback and is capable of making all the necessary throws to lead the team to victory. While it is reasonable to expect an organization to give their new investment many opportunities to prove themselves at a certain point, it will affect the performance of the rest of the team. For instance, if Allen gets the chance to throw a lot, the offense will spend less time on the field because of incompletions, interceptions or sacks that result in short drives. As a result, the defense would have to go back on the field without the proper amount of rest which leads to the unit being more susceptible to giving up yards and points. Since they would be unable regain some energy between possessions to be able to stop the opposing offense.
Kirk Cousins in Washington
A perfect example of this is how the role of Kirk Cousins within the offense changed after the Washington Redskins applied the franchise tag in 2016. Throughout the 2015 season, the Washington Redskins decided to implement an offensive system that was centered around the running game and the play-action passing game. For instance, during the first two downs of a series, Kirk Cousins would hand the ball off to Alfred Morris or Matt Jones in an attempt to force the opposing team to stack the box and set up a manageable third down. If the strategy was successful, the Redskins called a play action pass where Kirk would fake the handoff and go in the opposite direction to throw the ball to the flat or the crossing route fifteen yards downfield. However, on occasion, Kirk would fake the handoff to freeze the defense momentarily that allowed the receivers to get some separation as they try to complete a slant, in or out route. As a result of this, the Redskins offense was able to stay on the field for a more extended period, which means that the opposing team had less time to feast on their defense. In fact, according to teamrankings.com, the Redskins offense was on the field for an average of “31:29” thus the defense was only on the field for 28:31. Due to this philosophy, the Washington Redskins won the NFC East with a 9-7 record.
However, it was an entirely different story over the next two seasons because the team made wholesale changes to the offensive system. This is because the organization wanted to see if he could lead the team to victory while being the focal point of the offense before giving him a big contract. As a result, the Redskins went from a run-heavy offense to more of a passing offense to evaluate his decision making; and ability to make all the throws without having the running game to preoccupy the defense. For instance, the Redskins dialed back on the play action bootlegs where he would fake the handoff to the running backs and roll out in the opposite direction to hit the wide open receiver. In place of the conservative offense, they decided to call the traditional three to five step drop passing plays to gauge whether Cousins can make the right decision with the football when the defense is ready for a pass. For instance, Kirk would take a 3 to 5 step drop from under center and proceed to throw the ball to a receiver on a curl, crossing and corner routes as well as screens.
Although it is reasonable to expect a team to give their potential investment many opportunities to prove that he deserves a long-term commitment at a certain point, it will affect the performance of the rest of the team. Since the team had Kirk Cousins throw the ball a lot, the offense spent less time on the field because of incompletions, interceptions, sacks or big plays that result in short drives. As a result, the defense went back on the field without the proper amount of rest which led the defense to be more susceptible to giving up yards and points. Since they would be unable regain some energy between possessions to be able to stop the opposing offense. In fact, according to teamrankings.com, the Redskins offense was on the field for an average of “29:36” thus the defense was on the field for 31:24. Unfortunately, over these two years, the team compiled a record of 15-16 with one tie, and they failed to make the playoffs.
As a result of this, the Minnesota Vikings should experience a significant change to the offensive system. During the 2017 season, the team implemented an offensive system centered around the running and short passing game. For example, Case Keenum would give the football to the running backs on first and second down in an attempt to get the defense to stack the box. If the strategy were successful, Case would line up in shotgun formation to throw the ball to receivers on a crossing, corner, curl or out route. The game plan allowed Minnesota to consistently move the chains and stay on the field for long periods of time. According to teamrankings.com, the unit was on the field for 32:07 which meant the defense was able to get plenty of rest between defensive possessions. Unfortunately, the Vikings are going to feature more of the passing game in 2018 because of the substantial commitment to Kirk Cousins. The expected change in the offensive system should increase the likelihood that the defensive unit spends more time on the field. The extra wear and tear should cost the team a game or two during the regular season which should alter the race for home-field advantage.