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Lunchbreak: Cousins & Vikings Have Room for Improvement in Red Zone

Much has been made of Kirk Cousins’ fourth-quarter interception in the end zone in Minnesota’s Week 2 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Vikings quarterback addressed the throw Wednesday at his weekly podium session, with Cousins saying that he’ll just throw the ball away the next time he’s in a similar situation.

While there has been plenty of focus on that particular throw, ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin recently opined that Cousins could use an uptick in performance in the red zone in general, and not just because of the interception.

Cronin wrote:

Ranking just 14th in passing grade on throws inside the opponent's 20-yard line, Cousins has struggled with his red zone play over the past two seasons. His five turnover-worthy passes on throws inside the red zone doesn't sound like a high number, but consider that it ranks as the 11th most among all quarterbacks since the start of the 2017 season, while his four interceptions are the sixth most.

Through two games in 2019, Cousins has yet to complete a pass on four attempts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

He had one incompletion against Atlanta on a play that was initially ruled a fumble, but Minnesota challenged the play, and it was reversed to an incompletion.

Cousins completed his first red-zone attempt against Green Bay, but the 3-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs was nullified due to an offensive pass interference call on the Vikings.

With Minnesota moved back to the Green Bay 13-yard line, Cousins missed on passes to Diggs and Kyle Rudolph in the end zone.

Cousins’ fourth (and most recent) attempt was the interception with just over five minutes remaining in Green Bay.

The Vikings quarterback thrived in the red zone in 2018, his first season in Minnesota, as he completed 45 of 68 passes (66.2 percent) for 279 yards with 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Zimmer welcomes pressure to win in Minnesota

Believe it or not, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is already in his sixth season in charge in Minnesota.

Hired by the Vikings in January of 2014, Zimmer has compiled a 48-33-1 record since arriving in town, and has led Minnesota to a pair of NFC North titles.

Tom Pelissero of NFL Network visited Zimmer at his Kentucky ranch this offseason for a profile story that ran this week, with Pelissero getting the vibe that Zimmer is ready to handle any challenge that comes his way in 2019 and beyond.

Pelissero wrote:

After a 1-1 start to the season, Zimmer enters Sunday's home game against the Raiders five wins shy of surpassing Jerry Burns for third place among head coaches in Vikings history; the other two are Bud Grant and Dennis Green, whose names are conspicuous on the walls of U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings had the NFC's best record (40-23-1) from 2015 to 2018, despite starting four different quarterbacks in Week 1. Zimmer has spoken many times about what it'd mean to bring Minnesota its first championship (and Zimmer his second, having won one as an assistant with the 1995 Dallas Cowboys) and says he knows they still have a good team.

But the Super Bowl hype of a year ago is gone now, swept away with an uneven offense in quarterback Kirk Cousins' first season with the team, an uninspired Week 17 loss to the rival Bears that cost Minnesota a playoff spot and an 8-7-1 finish with which Zimmer admits he never really came to terms. They dominated the Falcons in all three phases to win this season's opener, then lost 21-16 last week against Green Bay — a game in which Zimmer's defense gave up touchdowns on the Packers' first three possessions and Cousins had three turnovers, renewing cries from fans and the media about the same old problems.

View exclusive black-and-white images from the Vikings game against the Green Bay Packers.

Zimmer said he likes the role of an underdog and wants his team to exceed outside expectations.

“My whole life I've been the underdog. I didn't get a head-coaching job until I was (57). ... I love being doubted. ... I love to prove people wrong. That's the No. 1 thing for me: prove people wrong.

“They say there’s two kind of coaches: ones that have been fired and ones that are gonna get fired. So, hopefully I make it through without either one of those,” Zimmer told Pelissero.

Burns ranks third in franchise history with 52 wins, while Green is second with 97. Grant, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, sits atop the list with a whopping 158 victories.

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