Why Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins is playing ‘like the wind is at his back’

DETROIT — With Dalvin Cook routinely running with authority, the Minnesota Vikings are more than content to be a run-first team in the pass-happy NFL.

But the results of the past three weeks suggest the Vikings will find more team success when quarterback Kirk Cousins’ arm is the star of the show. Cousins threw for 300 or more yards for the third consecutive week and the Vikings (5-2) downed the Lions 42-30 Sunday for their third consecutive win.

 “He’s playing very free right now,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s letting the ball loose. Even on some incompletions, he’s putting the ball in the right places.”

Cousins was 24-for-34 for 337 yards and four touchdowns against the Lions (2-3-1). He did that with key receiver Adam Thielen leaving the game in the first quarter after injuring his hamstring on a touchdown catch.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins next faces his former team, the Redskins on Thursday. (Photo: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

 Cousins’ surge comes at an opportune time because the Vikings have to play again Thursday against the Washington Redskins, his former team.

“It like the (offense) couldn’t be stopped,” Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said about the win. “They were spreading the ball around. I saw multiple players get the ball, everybody got the ball, fullbacks, tight ends, receivers, deep balls, intermediate …”

 Over the past three weeks, Cousins had thrown for 976 yards with 10 touchdowns and no turnovers. He has eight touchdowns in the past two weeks.

On Sunday, he spread his passes among nine players.

 “He’s playing the best I’ve seen since he’s been here,” Zimmer said.

Coming into this game, the Vikings had run 52.96% of the time. San Francisco and Baltimore are the only other teams running more than they pass. Against the Lions, Cook ran 25 times for 142 yards and the Vikings had 37 rushing attempts.

The Vikings were daring as well as dynamic. Instead of trying to run down the clock with three minutes remaining and the ball on their own 25, Cousins connected on a 64-yard pass to Stefon Diggs. 

At the time, the Vikings led by five, and the Lions had two timeouts left and the two minute warning.

“We just thought we don’t want to punt to them, “ Cousins said. “We said let’s take advantage of the fact they loading up the box.”

Cousins said the Lions’ stacked defense to stop the run meant “there would be no safety help” covering Diggs.

Two plays after that completion, Cook scored on a short run to eliminate the Lions’ comeback hope.

The Vikings say they are simply taking what defenses give them, and that has led to a balanced attack. With Cook averaging 103 yards, the Vikings are still going to rely heavily on the run even if Cousins continues to be on fire. No NFL team has broken off more runs of 20 or more yards this season than the Vikings’ 10. 

 “We were running the ball proficiently,” Cousins said. “And when you do that it helps the play calling and helps a quarterback feel like the wind is at his back.”

 He said the coaches’ management of the game was crucial to the big offensive days. He said most of his team’s third down situations were manageable. The Vikings didn’t have many third and longs. “I thought when the plays were coming in, I was in agreement so many times,” Cousins said.

 Asked why he is so hot, Cousins said: “It’s not that simple. … The game plans have put me in position to be successful."

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