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Clark Kent vs. Superman: On-Schedule QB Play as Vital as Off-Schedule Heroics

There's two types of offensive football plays, right?

Runs or passes.

On the surface, yes, but there are a couple other ways to categorize them.

Beyond ones that worked and ones that fell short, there are plays made on-schedule and the ones that are converted off-schedule with the cape coming out of the quarterback's jersey.

The media sessions (appearances at podiums and talks with Twin Cities media members) with Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell this week provided insightful opportunities for the newcomers.

They shed some light on how they view the process of keeping a play on-schedule, how to win it before the odds tip to the defense, or the right amount of improvisation a quarterback can make and when the reward outweighs the risk.

Adofo-Mensah referenced a lesson he learned from former Lions and Eagles linebacker Garry Cobb: "quarterbacks needing to know when to be Superman and when to be Clark Kent."

"So a lot of times, you can actually be that – being too much Superman. It's not just what happens when the play breaks down but your ability to get us to the next down," Adofo-Mensah said. "As a quarterback, you hold all of our hopes, our dreams, our livelihoods with the ball. So we want somebody to take that risk but also understand the importance of taking smart decisions. So it's just combining all that together and figuring out what gets you the best way forward."

O'Connell, a former QB who was drafted out of San Diego State by New England in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft but played sparingly in the NFL explained the value of being able to create plays off-schedule.

"Everybody wants that," O'Connell said. "You're in search of that as part of your offense sometimes because it's the off-schedule things that you didn't plan for that can be game-changing plays."

But, brace yourselves for some nuance beyond crazy highlight plays.

" 'Off-schedule' doesn't always mean athletic ability to outrun an opponent, get on the edge, and launch a ball 60 yards," O'Connell said. "Maybe it's a second-window throw or a second-reaction throw."

The first-time head coach also noted making an off-schedule play doesn't rest solely on the quarterback.

"The receivers' ability to go make those plays, the tight ends, the running backs, off-schedule becomes a huge option because a lot of times who they're matched up against and the ability for that defender to stay attached to those guys," O'Connell said.

Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell have used multiple settings to say they are excited to work with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

In four seasons, Cousins has put together some of the most prolific stats by a Vikings quarterback.

Cousins has totaled 16,387 passing yards and 124 touchdown passes against 36 interceptions for a passer rating of 103.5 since joining Minnesota in 2018. His completion percentage of 68.3 is also the second highest among Vikings who have attempted at least three passes (trails Sam Bradford's 71.8 from 2016-17).

In 2021, Cousins' 103.1 passer rating ranked fourth, his 33 touchdown passes ranked ninth and his interception percentage (1.2) ranked second.

Despite landing in numerous top 10s for traditional passing stats, Cousins' adjusted QBR of 52.3 ranked 15th in the NFL. ESPN created adjusted QBR to evaluate quarterbacks on all types of plays on a 0-100 scale adjusted for the strength of opposing defenses.

The two quarterbacks who started Super Bowl LVI, for what it's worth, ranked fourth (Matthew Stafford, 63.8) and 12th (Joe Burrow, 54.3) in adjusted QBR during the 2021 season.

Stafford totaled 4,886 yards and tied his career best with 41 touchdowns last season in Los Angeles with O'Connell as his offensive coordinator. Stafford's 102.9 passer rating also was the best of his career in any season with at least nine starts, and it increased to 108.3 in the Rams four playoff games, which included three game-winning drives.

"What separates him from a lot of guys in this league that may try to do that is he's doing that stuff within the rhythm and timing of the play," O'Connell said when Twin Cities media members asked about Stafford's key no-look pass in Super Bowl LVI.

"He's not taking extra hitches and clicks in the pocket where bad stuff can happen," O'Connell said. "He's doing that with one hitch, two hitches, moving underneath defenders and making throws. He has a really special ability to take the concept of a play and then understand the defense and what individual roles were within that defense and how he can manipulate from there.

"We call it processing, doing that in real time," O'Connell added. "Once the rock hits your hands, it's something a lot of quarterbacks can look at, and maybe not emulate the extreme nature of some of those no-looks, but absolutely what he's doing with his feet and eyes to expand windows and attack the defense."

Adofo-Mensah rose through the ranks with his prowess in football research and development in San Francisco and Cleveland. He's capable of creating metrics that will provide evaluations unclouded by emotions. He said he doesn't know if people evaluate quarterbacks "the right way."

"Yards, things like that, it's not always the best way to judge a quarterback," Adofo-Mensah said. "They start a play with, there's a certain probabilistic outcome that could happen based on your protection. … You start a play versus a certain look and maybe a certain pressure's coming and your best play might be an incompletion. And people don't realize that, so how do you start at it from a play level and take that to a macro level and really evaluate his position?"

O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah said they like multiple things they've seen from Cousins, who had O'Connell as his position coach in Washington in 2017.

"I think the starting point is I'm excited about Kirk being our quarterback," O'Connell said. "With that comes the opportunity to build an offensive system around things that he does well, which are a lot of things.

"He's got the ability to use the experience he has going back to our time together, to obviously all the really good things he's done over the years to play at a really high level," O'Connell continued. "Now we can kind of step back together and look at those things and have him be a part of the process, as well, where we figure out what's the best way to play offense for the Vikings this year. How can we take advantage of our personnel we have around him, which is really, really important.

"Then ultimately he feels good about what we're doing offensively, everything else works around the quarterback for a reason because it's the hardest position out there," O'Connell added. "They're hard to find. So when you get a guy comfortable in his role within your offense, everybody else can really take off from there around him."

Cousins in previous years has talked about trying to add more improvisation to his game, but rather than having to rely on that more and more, perhaps the new Vikings leadership will be able to maximize the time the offense spends on-schedule.

Adofo-Mensah described Cousins as an "incredibly consistent passer" and an "incredibly accurate thrower."

"I don't think people realize it. Essentially, every play has a result built in based on factors that he can't control," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think what you know about Kirk, is when the odds are shifted in his favor, he gets the most out of it, right? And I think people don't appreciate that skill enough.

"Tough. Durable. He plays every game. He stands there and takes those hits when those throws are a little bit harder to come by," Adofo-Mensah said. "He's an incredible player. Really cerebral."

Adofo-Mensah said Cousins was one of the first players he called after taking over as GM.

"The level of detail of things we talked about was incredible," Adofo-Mensah said. "I won't share that with you guys, but he's an incredible person. I'm excited to work with him."

View photos at Head Coach Kevin O'Connell at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The first-time GM also said he's had an "in-depth" discussion and dinner with Cousins' agent Mike McCartney. They spoke "generally about our vision for the team" with Cousins set to enter the final year of his current deal with a contract that would count $45 million toward Minnesota's salary cap.

"We will do whatever's best for the Minnesota Vikings, and Kirk will do what's best for Kirk," Adofo-Mensah said. "But I think there's a lot of middle ground for us to work well together."

As GM, Adofo-Mensah has to focus on the future of the franchise as well as this first season, which O'Connell will no doubt want to maximize.

"Ultimately to win at the highest level, it's pretty hard to do it without good quarterback play. So globally, [the longer-term status of the quarterback position] needs to be answered," Adofo-Mensah said. "Now, does it need to be answered this year versus the next five years and things like that? It's trying to be smart about how you try to answer that question generally to sustain success in the NFL."

"But again, he's under contract; Kirk's our quarterback. He's a really good player," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think he's going to play at a high level for us given all the things Kevin wants to do with him and things like that, so we're excited about that."