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Cousins Focused on Balancing Cautious & Aggressive Play

EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins is in his sixth full season as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

But when the 32-year-old attended Holland Christian High School in Michigan, he was a three-sport star with a focus on football, basketball and baseball.

And with the Vikings quarterback off to perhaps the worst start of his NFL career — at least in terms of turnovers — he likened his approach going forward to the approach of a hitter on the diamond who is looking to boost his batting average.

"We've had a lot of big plays. The problem has been when we're not having those explosive plays, we aren't getting the singles," said Cousins, whose 10 interceptions are tied for the most in the league. "We're hitting home runs, we're hitting triples, but we're not hitting as many singles. In my background, I've been a guy that's hit a lot of singles, if you will.

"So maybe just trying to get back to hitting singles, even if it means we miss a home run, even if it means we don't get the big play, being consistent, staying ahead of the chains, staying out of third-and-long," Cousins added. "I'd like to think that will help our offense and potentially protect the football more, but it's always a balance, right, because the minute you're not aggressive, the minute you're not taking a shot or forcing it in a good way, you're going to regret those, too. You just have to play through it and keep learning off each rep and continue to always find that balance, which is never perfect, but you always find it."

In other words, there's nothing wrong with taking a short pass and making it second-and-5, rather than attempting a risky pass 20-plus yards downfield into tight coverage.

While circumstances of interceptions can be quite different, picks are usually the gridiron equivalent of an inning-ending double play, thwarting momentum.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Cousins ranks third among all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts with an aggressive-throw percentage of 20.6.

And Cousins is correct in that the Vikings have connected on big plays in the passing game.

The Vikings currently rank third in the NFL with an average of 8.06 yards per pass attempt. Minnesota is also tied for the seventh-most passing plays of 20-plus yards with 22.

But as Cousins said Wednesday in his weekly videoconference with the Twin Cities media: "If there was a theme, it would just be, 'Hey, maybe less aggressive, less trying to make the big play.' "

As for the turnovers, Cousins has at least one interception in five of six games to start the season, and he already has three multi-interception games in 2020. The quarterback had just one such game in 2019, when he threw just six picks in 15 games.

The quarterback was asked Wednesday how he would assess his 10 interceptions thrown in 2020.

Some turnovers, Cousins said, were solely on him. Others — such as the last-gasp pass to Adam Thielen at the end of the Week 3 loss to the Titans, or his arm being hit on his third interception against the Falcons — are just unfortunate plays.

"Every interception's a little different," Cousins said. "So, you go back and look at each one and say, 'Why was that the case on this one?' And certainly the first one against Atlanta [on the first play of the game], I would say, I got too locked in on Justin [Jefferson] and didn't need to force it.

"I wouldn't say many of the others were pre-determining, and a lot of them you shrug your shoulders, too," Cousins added. "Hail Mary's are unfortunate, tipped passes are unfortunate. You have to look at each one as its own entity and some of them, there's not a lot you can control, and some of them you can control entirely. You just study each one very critically and take what you can from each of them as individual plays."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer also chimed in on getting that area fixed over the final 10 games of the 2020 season.

"Well, there's lots of points of emphasis," Zimmer said. "It starts with his feet, with making sure that he doesn't predetermine routes. There are so many things that we talk about.

"We can't turn the ball over. We're minus-7, I believe, in turnovers, so we've got to possess the ball. That's the only way we can win football games here, by possessing the ball. We can't turn the ball over. We've got to be smart with the football," Zimmer added. "We've got to protect it, whether it's in the pocket or the running back or wide receivers, we just can't turn the ball over. We don't have enough firepower to overcome that right now."

Cousins compiled an 88.2 passer rating before the bye. He completed 113 of 175 passes (64.6 percent) for 1,475 yards with 11 touchdowns.

And with the week off, Cousins noted he and Vikings offensive coaches were able to comb through the offense and look for ways to improve.

"One of the differences, among several, [during a bye week] is that the coaches aren't cramming to game plan for your next opponent," Cousins said. "So you have time to visit with them, talk through things, get an understanding of what we've done well, what's the film and the analytics and the data showing, as far as behind the scenes, why we're doing well when we are, what we're not doing well and the why behind it.

Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.

"Having those conversations was really helpful," Cousins added. "And it gives you the chance now as you go forward, I think, to course correct a little bit as an offense and really try to hone in on what we're doing well and what's been good for us this year with our personnel."

The Vikings quarterback will get his first chance to turn his season around Sunday at Lambeau Field, a place where Cousins is 0-1-1 in his Vikings career.

Minnesota will look to snap a three-game skid to Green Bay, while its quarterback will look to reduce his interceptions rate.

"You've got to go back to work and, just as a professional, you want to get it corrected," Cousins said. "You want to finish the year in a much different place. I look forward to this stretch up ahead of trying to play at such a level that it's a much different story as we finish the season than how we started."