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Lunchbreak: Behind Support of Teammates, Cousins Focused on Playing, Not Pressure

Kirk Cousins is aware of the expectations surrounding a team that made it to the NFC Championship Game last season, but he's learned to quiet the outside noise.

Cousins recently spoke to *USA TODAY’*s Mike Jones, who attended the Vikings minicamp practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Tuesday.

"I feel like pressure has been thrown out there for so long, that I just laugh," Cousins told Jones. "This is the NFL. The 90th guy on the team is under pressure because he knows he could get cut. Everybody is under pressure, but it's just different.

"I've felt pressure, every day, all six, seven years in the NFL. This year is no different. I've just gotten to the point where it's — that's life," Cousins added. "So, I don't think of pressure now. I just go play."

According to Jones, Cousins did at one point "uncharacteristically let his guard down" with Kyle Rudolph after inking his deal with Minnesota, acknowledging the pressure of joining a team that had so much success last season.

"I explained to him, 'Yeah, but we didn't achieve our ultimate goal. We want to win championships, and you're going to be a big part of that,' " Rudolph told Jones.

What means the most to Cousins is the support he has from teammates who have spent less than three months with him. Jones wrote that Cousins "never enjoyed a full embrace" in Washington and that the Vikings, in contrast, are "all in" on the quarterback.

Cousins reminded Jones, however, that "whether you get a pat on the back or told how great you are or not, you've got to win." Jones wrote:

That requires a firm foundation. So, Cousins has spent these months and weeks getting to know his teammates and an offense now directed by new [Offensive Coordinator] John DeFilippo.

In April, Cousins hosted receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen in Atlanta, where he spends his offseason, for throwing sessions, golf and to watch the NCAA basketball championship. Cousins and Rudolph have attended playoff hockey games, concerts and also hit the links. Cousins takes his offensive linemen to dinner. Earlier this month, he got on the grill at the extended-stay hotel that had housed him and numerous teammates and cooked for them on his last day there before moving into his new home.

"He's a chill guy, but he's a teamer. He's for his team," cornerback Xavier Rhodes told Jones.

Cousins "fits in effortlessly," and "the locker room gravitates to him," as Rudolph described it, because he hasn't tried to force his way into a leading role.

Cousins emphasized the importance of self-awareness fitting in with peers who "know how to win and have won for several years now."

"[Head Coach Mike Zimmer] has done a very good job of leading, so I look to him first and foremost," Cousins told Jones. "I'm just excited to contribute when I can and do my part."

Vikings led league in contested catch rate in 2017

There's no denying that Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs put up some highlight-reel plays for the Vikings during the 2017 season, and the numbers back it up.

According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, the trio helped the Vikings haul in "a whopping 53.5 percent of the passes thrown to them in contested catch situations," which led the NFL. A graphic tweeted by PFF showed that Diggs had the highest rate of 64 percent.

The next closest rate of contested catches came at the hands of the NFC North-rival Lions, who caught 51.6 percent of contested catches and were led by Eric Ebron (60 percent).

Following were the Steelers (51.2), Rams (50.9) and Cowboys (49.5).

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