It would be easy to give a game ball to Kirk Cousins for his four-touchdown performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a great game for Cousins and he deserves recognition for it.
But the primary reason that enabled Cousins to provide such a standout performance was the play of his offensive line.
Mike Zimmer acknowledged that fact today:
It was really good yesterday, so we just got to keep continuing to get better at it. We’re working every day on trying to keep a firm pocket, and I think when we have a clean, firm pocket then the quarterback usually plays pretty good.Minnesota Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer
If your running back is among the top five in the league carrying the ball, you’re doing something right as an offensive line. You can chalk that up to Dalvin Cook‘s amazingness (which is undeniable) but when the second-, third-, and fourth-string backs have the kind of succes we’ve seen Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone have this season, it’s obvious the holes are there for everyone.
It’s been the pass protection we’ve been wringing our hands over during this (and last) season. Pass protection was good last week but that was the New York Giants, so it was easy to dismiss that as against an inferior competition.
This week, the Vikings faced a tough front four that lead the league in rushing defense and were coming off a 10-sack game.
Yesterday, while the Vikings only averaged 3.5 yards per rush, they did gain 122 yards on the ground that produced a Cook touchdown and a 35 yard gain by Mattison. This was against an Eagles defense that was giving up a paltry 63 yards per game.
But it was the pass protection that really passed the test.
Kirk Cousins passed for 333 yards on 22 completions, throwing three touchdowns to Stefon Diggs and one to Adam Thielen. He took one sack and his only interception was the fault of Diggs, not Cousins or pressure from the line.
The difference between the past two weeks and the begining of the season (and last year) is that Cousins had all kinds of time to throw. The Star Tribune‘s Ben Goessling provided some telling stats:
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Cousins had an average of 2.59 seconds to throw on Sunday, allowing him to attempt 14 passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. His longest throw of the day, which traveled 60.5 yards in the air before Stefon Diggs caught it for a touchdown, was the longest in the NFL so far through Week 6. And Cousins talked after the game about how the offensive line facilitated the Vikings’ big-play attempts.Vikings’ protection set Kirk Cousins up for big plays in win over Eagles
Yesterday’s performance was all the more impressive when you consider that the line was playing without guard Josh Kline, who may be the best lineman the Vikings have, and had backup Rashod Hill subbing in for a hobbled Riley Reiff.
Plus, no fumbled exchanges between Cousins and center Garrett Bradbury! So that’s nice.