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Kirk Cousins & Vikings Offense Focused on Little Details vs. Packers Defense

EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins turned in the best season of his pro career in 2019, earning a Pro Bowl spot after recording a career-high passer rating of 107.4 and going 10-5 as a starter.

He didn't produce eye-popping stats, totaling 3,603 yards, but he was as efficient as ever. Cousins completed 69.1 percent of his passes and threw 26 touchdowns and six interceptions, a career low since becoming a starter with Washington in 2015.

A trio of those interceptions, however, came against the Packers, who come to town for a Week 1 matchup Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Cousins threw two picks in a Week 2 road loss and another in a Week 16 home loss that allowed Green Bay to clinch the division.

Despite his fantastic season as a whole, Cousins' two worst statistical games in 2019, at least according to passer ratings, were the pair of Border Battles. He had a rating of 52.9 in Week 2 and a rating of 58.8 in Week 16.

And as the 2020 season gets underway, Cousins and his offensive teammates have a chance for a fresh start Sunday against their biggest division rival.

"I think you're just aware of where we came up short. You're aware of how you need to be better," Cousins said Wednesday in a video conference with Twin Cities media members. "I think they did a great job defensively, and we've got to have a great plan, and then we have to go execute that plan and understand that they're a very good defense. We can't afford to waste plays or make mistakes or turn the ball over.

"If you do that, you're kind of allowing a really good defense and a good team to play with the wind at their back. So, it's about many of the same things it's always about — protecting the football, running the football, time of possession. I could go on and on," Cousins added. "But if you do those things or most of those things, you'll give yourself a great chance even against a really good defense."

Minnesota's offense will feature plenty of familiar faces Sunday, as all 11 projected starters were on the roster a season ago.

Up front, Cousins will be protected by a veteran group of linemen. Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and Brian O'Neill were all primary starters a season ago, but Elfein is now at right guard instead of left. Dakota Dozier is the starting left guard.

That group will be tasked with stopping a three-headed monster of pass rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith (no relation), plus defensive tackle Kenny Clark. That trio combined for 31.5 sacks in 2019, including all five in the Week 16 game in 2019.

Dozier said Minnesota's linemen are up to the challenge against Green Bay's front seven.

"That is a good defensive front, and they really take advantage of teams when they get in passing situation, and so obviously we're going to have to be able to throw," Dozier said. "But I think one thing we can really do [on Za'Darius Smith] is focus on being physical up front.

"[Just] really helping our team stay in good situations, good down-and-distance, running the ball and just being physical and aggressive with them," Dozier added.

Those five linemen will not only be protecting Cousins, but opening up holes in the run game, too.

The Vikings had a pair of up-and-down rushing performances against the Packers in 2019. In Week 2, Minnesota rushed for 198 total yards, including a 75-yard score by Dalvin Cook.

But with Cook and Alexander Mattison inactive in Week 16, the Vikings managed just 57 yards on 16 attempts.

Cousins will have plenty of options in the passing game, too, as Adam Thielen, Bisi Johnson, rookie Justin Jefferson, Tajaé Sharpe, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith. Jr, all had productive camps.

Cook, who had 53 catches for 519 yards in 2019, is also a factor in the passing game.

"I think, offensively, we're in a good spot," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday. "Obviously, we'll find out come Sunday.

"But I feel good about the guys we have, feel good about Kirk taking a leadership role and the things he's doing that way in preparing for this football game," Zimmer added. "I think we've got some weapons, and hopefully we can get them in some space."

Getting mismatches against a stout Packers defense will be the job of Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, who is in his first season in that role with the Vikings and second in Minnesota.

With no preseason games, Cousins said he's gotten a feel during game-like situations in recent weeks for how Kubiak likes to call a game.

"I just have a lot of confidence in him. He's been around the block," Cousins said. "He's seen what great offenses look like. He's been around world champions and won a couple himself.

"So just knowing the experience, knowing that he's been around some of the best and knows what it should look like, I just trust him and do what he tells me, and that's about all I can do," Cousins added.

Sunday's game between the Vikings and Packers is just one of 16 for Minnesota this season, and won't decide their playoff fate or the division race by any means.

But it's a chance for Cousins and his offensive teammates to remove the bad taste of getting swept in 2019 and start the 2020 season off on the right foot.

"Just looking forward now to Week 1, getting started at the real thing," Cousins said. "It's been a long time coming, and you can feel the energy around the building and the excitement of real football."