Kirk Cousins — and the Vikings offense — have hit a nice stride out of their Week 7 bye.
The quarterback has posted three consecutive games with a passer rating of 100 or higher, giving him 44 such games since 2015. Only Drew Brees (52) and Russell Wilson (47) have more in that time span.
Cousins' trifecta is tied for the third-longest streak of his career, matching Weeks 9-11 of the 2016 season when he was in Washington. His longest was six games to close 2015. He recorded four-game stretches in 2017 (Weeks 3-7) and in 2019 (Weeks 5-8) when he earned NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors in his second Vikings season.
More important to Cousins, the Vikings have claimed wins at Green Bay, against Detroit and at Chicago. Minnesota (4-5) has the opportunity to continue its winning streak against the Dallas Cowboys (2-7) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
"While it's great to win three in a row, we're 4-5," Cousins said Wednesday. "You know, we're not 7-2 and we're not leading our division. I don't feel a sense that our season has 'turned around.' I feel we've done some good things the last few weeks, but we have a lot of work up ahead to get to where we really want to go."
Progress has occurred over increased time with Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, whose voice is in Cousins' helmet, relaying plays on game days. It's the fifth different voice in as many seasons for the quarterback, but the Vikings have built on Kubiak's role as an assistant last season.
"Last year was sort of an ease-in, getting to know him and getting back into this system. This year has been even more so leaning on him and picking his brain and learning from him," Cousins said. "Right now, I'm in a different comfort level and understanding of what he wants the offense to look like than I was in the beginning of the season or training camp or this offseason. You love that constant growth and the continuity you can build, and I'm excited about continuing to build that on the field and what that can hopefully lead to."
Cousins described watching cut-ups of Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco and others in Kubiak's system at previous stops, including victories in Super Bowls.
"It says a lot about his background and where this offense has been. And that goes back to the day he was hired, just having total trust in him and just basically saying, 'Teach me what you taught those other quarterbacks, and I want to play like they did.' And just being coachable and listening and then trying to put it into action on the field.
"We certainly have parts of this season that we want back and plays that I wish we could take back, but there also are a lot of positives you can point to offensively, and I think a large part of that goes back to Gary as a play-caller and the system that he's built," Cousins added.
Like all teams, the Vikings underwent a virtual offseason program, abbreviated camp and missed the lab work that gets accomplished in preseason games.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer mentioned the way Cousins heated up as the 2019 season progressed and said he is seeing increased comfort between the QB and OC.
"I think it's a credit to the way he works, the way he continues to study, trying to understand what the defense is going to give him this particular week, understand what the game plan is and how he has to perform in that particular game," Zimmer said. "I think that's a little bit like our football team, trying to figure out what we are and who we are and how we have to go about playing each game.
"I think they're more comfortable talking about the different plays and formations and things like that," Zimmer added. "I think they've always had a good relationship. I know Gary is a terrific coach. I think he's done a great job not only with him but the offense ever since he's been here. I love having him here. I wouldn't want to have anybody else."
Efficient passing has been a hallmark of Cousins' third season with Minnesota. He's leading the NFL with 8.8 yards per attempt, 13.3 yards per completion and 7.86 net yards per attempt (includes yards lost on sacks). Those are all on pace to be career bests for Cousins by a wide margin.
The Vikings offense has built off its commitment and success in the running game with play-action passes, a component of the game in which Cousins has thrived. He invests time heavily in the details that are required to sell the fake handoffs to Dalvin Cook, the NFL's leading rusher through Week 10.
Cook's demand of focus by defenses can then free up receiving targets. Throw in more stable pass protection, and Cousins has time to survey the defense and pick the optimal place to put the football. If the defense has it covered, he's improved at taking an incompletion or a check-down instead of pressing.
It's aggressiveness with an adjustable throttle.
Adam Thielen and Cook said the team never wavered on Cousins when the team opened 1-5.
"No one loses confidence in him, that's for sure, because we know the type of guy he is, the way he prepares, the way that he leads this team throughout the week and on game days," Thielen said. "So, yeah, we have a lot of faith and trust in him, and it's our job to look ourselves in the mirror and continue to try to help him, to help this team win games."
Cook, whose work ethic has been praised mightily, said Cousins also has an exemplary work ethic.
"I think I wouldn't want nobody else to show us a better example than what he's being doing lately," Cook said. "That's turning things around and blocking the outside noise out and just going to work. That just shows a true definition of Kirk's character."
Cousins enters Week 11 ranked 68th all-time with 172 career touchdown passes. He overtook former Cowboy Troy Aikman (165) earlier this season and can pass two more Pro Football Hall of Famers (Joe Namath and original Vikings Head Coach Norm Van Brocklin with two more scores. Charlie Conerly, Namath and Van Brocklin are tied for 65th overall with 173 career touchdown passes.
Last week, in his 40th regular-season game as the Vikings starter, Cousins became the seventh player in franchise history to throw for at least 10,000 yards for Minnesota. He needs 55 to pass Warren Moon (10,102 in 39 games) for the sixth-most passing yards by a Vikings QB.