EAGAN, Minn. – Kirk Cousins is in his second season with the Vikings but first under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak.
And the quarterback has been clicking on all cylinders.
Heading into the final five games of the season, Cousins is 226-of-320 passing for 2,756 yards, 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions with a career-high passer rating of 114.8.
Kubiak was asked during his session with Twin Cities media members last week about Cousins' recent performance. He pointed out that Cousins' overall career numbers have been solid, so it isn't the stats by themselves that impress – but his approach to the game might have differed slightly. Kubiak explained:
"I think he's really bought into what we're trying to be as a football team and as a group. I think Kirk knows he's on a really good football team. We can win a lot of ways when we show up on Sunday."
The longtime coach pointed to Minnesota's come-from-behind win over Denver in Week 11 as an example.
"We didn't play the way we wanted to [in the first half], yet we turned him loose in the second half. He put it on his back and led us to a big win," Kubiak said. "I just think that he continues to understand himself better, his relationship with Kevin … and the job that [quarterback coach Klint Kubiak is] doing with him on a day-to-day basis.
"All those things are coming together, and he's feeling more and more comfortable each week that he goes out there," Kubiak added.
Kubiak credited Stefanski with making play calls that help Cousins "play faster" and emphasized the number of experienced coaches who are working with the Vikings quarterback.
Kubiak and Stefanski, along with Klint Kubiak and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison, have collaborated to best support Cousins and put him in the most ideal situations for his skill set. The evidence has shown up throughout the season.
He's been able to make quicker decisions and get rid of the ball faster, which has helped lead to fewer sacks and turnovers. Through the first 11 games of 2018, Cousins threw seven interceptions and was sacked 28 times, compared to three picks and 22 sacks thus far in 2019.
"You can't talk about that enough because it's a game where, if you hold the ball, bad things happen. We just try to put a big point of emphasis on that," Kubiak said. "And the way Kevin has called games, I think, has been the most important thing with how Kirk has been able to translate that to Sundays.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman also spent time with media members last week and spoke highly of the way Cousins and the coaching staff have worked together.
"I know what the coaches are doing with him. And you have to give him credit, too, with some of the plays he's making," Spielman said. "It's giving him the best chance to have success. That goes hand-in-hand with his abilities and the system we're running on offense now."
Spielman acknowledged the ups and downs of Cousins' career and time in Minnesota but reminded reporters that "sometimes the quarterback gets blamed for some things that aren't his fault" in a team game.
"But I know the way he's played over this last six to eight weeks," Spielman said. "He's played as good as any of the quarterbacks in the league right now for what we're asking him to do."
Minnesota has just one loss to its name after starting the season 2-2.
If one could point to a "turning point," it seems to have occurred after the Vikings fell 16-6 at Chicago in Week 4. Since then, Cousins – and the offense as a whole – has operated consistently at a much higher level.
Asked if Cousins "changed" after the game against the Bears, Kubiak thought for a moment.
"I don't know how much he changed. I just think he stayed on the grind," Kubiak said. "He and I have had some great conversations. I know early in the season, I made a comment to him after one of the disappointing games, whether it was Green Bay or Chicago, I said, 'You know, Kirk, we just have to keep going right back to those situations and we'll get over the hump. We'll improve those situations.'
"I think it's his commitment to do that, his confidence in what we're doing, his confidence in his team to help him get over the hump on some of those situations, [that's been] really important," Kubiak added.