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Rewind and Reflect: Cousins Studies Every Game of Career to Self-Scout

EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins spent his offseason with the clicker in his hand.

No, the Vikings starting quarterback wasn't plopped on the couch with Cheetos fingers while channel surfing.

Instead, Cousins went through and reviewed film from every game of his career, a task that included 100-plus contests over nine seasons with a pair of teams.

The 32-year-old said Wednesday in a chat with the Twin Cities media that it was the first time he had looked at the entirety of his career rather than just the previous season.

"I wanted to go back and really just study, create cut-ups and really build up some volume that I can pull from as we go forward," Cousins said. "I regret I hadn't done it earlier in my career but I did get the film set up in my house to basically have access to all of that … so that all offseason — even if I'm not in the facility — I'd have access to tape.

"I do think it's been a very valuable resource to have, and I'm kicking myself I didn't do it sooner in my career," Cousins added. "It was just a piece that hopefully can help me improve this coming year."

Cousins' career journey has certainly changed since he was a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2012 after a star career at Michigan State.

He started nine games over his first three seasons before becoming a full-time starter in 2015. He spent three seasons as Washington's starter before joining the Vikings in March of 2018.

In the three seasons since, Cousins is 25-21-1 as a starter in regular-season games and has made a Pro Bowl while being among the league's most accurate passers. He has thrown for 12,166 total yards with 91 touchdowns in Purple and has led Minnesota to one postseason appearance, going 1-1 in playoff games.

When asked what he learned from the film sessions of himself, Cousins noted that while he is certainly a better quarterback now than he was then, he isn't satisfied with the progress that he has made.

"I've watched myself in '12 and '13-14 and think, 'Man, I'm such a better quarterback now. I can't believe that the coaches didn't just cut me when I did that and made that mistake. I can't believe they were patient with me,' " Cousins said. "Because nowadays looking back, it would just be unacceptable to myself, allowing myself to play that way or make that read or make that throw or that decision.

"That was one thing that kind of jumped out to me," Cousins added.

Another thing that was clear as day on the film? How important it is to have a trust and rapport with your skills players, whether that was DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon in Washington, or Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson in Minnesota.

View photos of the Vikings organized team activity on June 8 at the TCO Performance Center.

"You realize that the way Pierre Garçon ran a route or DeSean Jackson ran a route, that affects you in the way you play and the way you think," Cousins said. "Then you come to a new team and you're trying to tell Adam Thielen to run a route that way, and he's saying, 'No, I don't do it that way.'

"So just the process of learning those players and saying, 'OK,' and understanding that you always have to be aware of what your teammates do well and try to put them in those positions to be successful," Cousins added. "I could probably go on for a while about different pieces I've learned – I've certainly taken a lot of notes and created some fun cut-ups that I'll have now for as long as I'm around football. It's been a good exercise."

Cousins also revealed that he heard Tom Brady's voice in his head in reference to a documentary feature about the seven-time Super Bowl winner. In the lengthy documentary, Brady notes that he never thinks he's that great when watching film of himself, a criticism Cousins also took to heart in his own self scouting.

"I really felt that sentiment. When he said it, I was in college, but I understood what he meant," Cousins said. "And now going back and watching my career, I would echo that sentiment."

The hope is that Cousins' self-assessment helps the Vikings get back to the postseason after missing out with a disappointing 7-9 season in 2020.

Cousins was partially at fault for a slow 1-5 start as he had 11 total turnovers (including 10 interceptions) through the first six games. In the final 10, however, he took it up a notch with 24 touchdowns and just three picks, but Minnesota's playoff hopes fell short.

Cousins is now entering his fourth season in Minnesota, which is his sixth in a row with a different offensive play caller.

Klint Kubiak is now the Vikings offensive coordinator after being Cousins' quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. That familiarity, Cousins said, should help speed up the adjustment period heading into training camp.

"I've spent so much time with him in the quarterback room, and I'd like to think he really knows how I'm wired and what I like," Cousins said. "He's heard so much feedback the past couple years, and I think that certainly helps.

"It's been unique to look back six years and have six different play callers … I never would've thought that would've happened," Cousins added. "But I've been fortunate to have been in pretty similar systems for the most part over those six years and I think that's a blessing."

As he enters his 10th season in the NFL, Cousins said he'll be a mentor of sorts to the young quarterbacks on Minnesota's roster, a group that includes Jake Browning, Nate Stanley and 2021 third-rounder Kellen Mond.

"You're an open book, you're helpful and you're there and make yourself available," Cousins explained.

But for the first time in his career, Cousins really put the spotlight on himself this offseason, dissecting all 3,662 pass attempts, 190 touchdown throws and 84 interceptions through 109 games (104 starts).

If he can glean anything valuable out of those film sessions, the Vikings quarterback could be at his very best during a 2021 season that hopefully includes a postseason berth for the Vikings.

"I watched my whole career, plus a couple other offenses to see what they did the years they had a lot of success," Cousins said. "I do think that time looking at tape through the winter and the spring and even now … I do think it's helpful to see what has worked in the past and what I want to make as a staple for myself as I move forward. But then also, where do I need to improve?

"Evaluation certainly comes from your coaches day-in and day-out, but there also has to be an ability to self-evaluate," Cousins added. "You say, 'I like what I'm doing there, keep doing that.' Or, 'That's not good enough, I want to improve that.' Being self-led and being hard on yourself can really help as you watch the tape that you have put out there."