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Spielman: Stefanski, Kubiak Influences Likely to Help Cousins Flourish in 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — Rick Spielman believes the second season in Minnesota will be better than 2018 for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The Vikings General Manager made his media rounds Wednesday at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, meeting with Twin Cities beat writers while also taking the podium for a session with national outlets.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Spielman was that with Gary Kubiak now in the fold in Minnesota as an assistant head coach/offensive advisor, the Vikings front office expects Cousins to flourish this upcoming season under Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and the addition of Kubiak.

"It was a big factor," Spielman said of the decision to mesh Kubiak's offensive ideas with Cousins' skill set. "You've got a quarterback who we think is a very good quarterback.

"To put him into that system he played in for his entire career, it's why we paid him the money we did," Spielman added. "I don't think anyone in the building has any doubt he's going to have an outstanding season next year."

Kubiak and his offensive scheme bring a highly-touted resumé to Minnesota.

He was a three-time Super Bowl champion while with the Broncos, including as Denver's head coach in a 24-10 win in Super Bowl 50 against Carolina. Kubiak also won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 when he was the Broncos offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Shanahan.

Denver's offense ranked first in yards and points per game in 1997, and the Broncos were second in yards and third in points per game in 1998. He earned his first Super Bowl ring in 1994 as the quarterbacks coach with the San Francisco 49ers.

"The one thing is, not only has he been a head coach and won Super Bowls, but the scheme he comes from. Coming from Kubiak, Shanahan, that type of scheme, and when he decided to get back into coaching, we were very aggressive to jump on that opportunity," Spielman said of Kubiak. "I think he had, maybe, other options out there, and I don't want to speak for him, but I think the way he feels with the quarterback we have in place and the quarterback playing in a scheme that we're probably going to evolve to, to highlight what Kirk does best, was one of the attractions."

Cousins has connections to that scheme, as well. Mike Shanahan's son, Kyle, was Cousins' offensive coordinator in Washington in 2012 and 2013.

Add it all up, and Spielman believes Cousins is ready to thrive in his second season in Purple.

"I think going back to an offense that maybe he is very familiar with and working under that Shanahan/Kubiak tree and, really, him playing better, but everybody has to play better," Spielman said. "We all have to do better at our jobs. But him, highlighting things that he does well. But that's any player – do the things that they do well – and that's what I talked about earlier, is you have your schemes, but adjust some of the things in your schemes so you put your players in the best position to have success."

In 2018, Cousins became the only player in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, complete at least 70 percent of passes and throw 10 or fewer interceptions in a season.

Cousins threw for 4,298 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the Vikings finished 8-7-1 and missed the postseason after having sky-high expectations in training camp.

Spielman said the blame for a frustrating season should be spread around and not just placed on the quarterback.

The hope is that with a familiar offensive scheme on the horizon, Cousins can help lead the Vikings on a deep playoff run in 2019.

"Just as a whole, we're all … from myself and Coach Zimmer … going to get judged on wins and losses. We didn't make it to the playoffs this year, so we're going to get judged on that first," Spielman said. "I think Kirk, if you look from his stats standpoint, he threw for over 4,000 yards and he had 30 touchdowns. We had two 1,000-yard receivers [in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs] but all that doesn't mean anything. All it comes down to is if you win and lose football games.

"If he throws for one yard and we get in the playoffs and win, that's all that matters. We had to go back and peel all the different layers off. Coach Zimmer doesn't care what your stats are, it comes down to how we're going to win and lose ball games, and that's the most important thing," Spielman added. "A lot of times, when guys come into a new system and have a new coordinator, especially at that position … I think he did a very good job from a statistical standpoint. But we still didn't win enough games but that's' not all on Kirk Cousins, either.

"There's a lot of reasons why we didn't win [enough] games," Spielman continued. "Going into his second year, and my history with [free agents], they usually start clicking pretty good heading into their second year. And if you put them in a system that they're pretty familiar with, it makes that transition that much easier."