Lunchbreak: What 1st Preseason with Vikings Indicates About Kirk Cousins

Even though Minnesota has one more game for the 2018 preseason, Kirk Cousins’ first exhibition slate with the team is over.

The quarterback completed 24 of 40 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown for a passer rating of 85.0.

He downplayed successes like the Vikings eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the preseason at Denver and was dissatisfied by his showing at home against Jacksonville.

Last week, Cousins and the first-team offense bounced back by converting third downs and controlling the clock for almost all of the first quarter, but Cousins made himself a list of things he could do better.

With Cousins and most — if not all — starters not playing tonight at Tennessee, ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin took a look at what observing Cousins so far has revealed.

Cronin wrote that Cousins has displayed arm strength, accuracy and anticipation that “will carry him.”

The manipulation of the football is different with Cousins than it was with Case Keenum. Cousins has a faster release, throws the ball harder and can hit his receivers with accuracy. A great example from the preseason was a 28-yard sideline pass to [Stefon] Diggs during a scoring drive against the Broncos in which Cousins went 4-for-4.

Last season, Cousins had a passer rating of 106 on passes more than 20 yards compared with the league average of 86.2 on those throws, per Pro Football Focus. His connection with Diggs on those deep balls is evident and should be one of the more noticeable things that carries over into the regular season. In nine preseason series together, Cousins and Diggs have connected on seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, including two of three deep passes for 55 yards.

Preseason games are largely played without opponents fully scheming each other. Once the regular season comes around, an opponent will try to attack Minnesota’s offense. An effective plot by a defense could create the need to improvise. Cronin wrote:

Cousins is mobile, but he doesn't have the same ability to escape the pocket as Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater. Cousins had a 2-yard scramble against Seattle, which pleased coach Mike Zimmer, but he likely will rely on his anticipation and fast release if pass protection continues to be an issue.  

NFL.com Panel: Vikings, Packers should challenge for NFC North crown

The annual Border Battles between Minnesota and Green Bay usually make for great theater, especially when the teams are playing well.

That could be the case once again in 2018. A panel of 21 analysts for NFL.com recently released their picks for each division winner, plus the wild card teams.

Experts believe it could be a two-horse race at the top of the NFC North as the Vikings snagged 12 votes while the Packers garnered nine.

Brian Baldinger was one of the NFL.com analysts who chose the Vikings. Baldinger wrote:

Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have built a team that is poised to thrive for years to come. The NFC North is a tough division, but I like my chances with Minnesota.

Each team also received five votes by the experts to earn the first wild card spot. And Green Bay grabbed four votes to earn the second wild card spot, while three analysts picked the Vikings to get the second wild card position.

Add it all up, and all 21 experts from NFL.com believe the Vikings will be a playoff team in 2018. Green Bay received 17 of 21 votes to make it to the postseason.

Minnesota swept the Packers in 2018, and went 5-1 in NFC North play. The Vikings went 13-3 overall and won the NFC North while advancing to the NFC title game.

The Vikings will visit the Packers in Week 2 and host Green Bay in Week 12.

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