EAGAN, Minn. — Remember the preseason alacrity about where Kirk Cousins’ chemistry was or wasn’t with Adam Thielen during the preseason?
Didn’t think so.
An NFL-record 47 receptions through the first five weeks of 2018 have a way of erasing the preseason chomp-the-fingernails chatter.
Yes, Cousins and Thielen only connected four times for 26 yards during limited snaps in their first exhibition slate.
The rapport that has enabled the 47 receptions (tops in the NFL) for 589 yards (second-most in the league) and three touchdowns began with behind-the-scenes work this spring.
It’s how Cousins can loft a fade-away throw and trust that Thielen will come out of his break, track the ball effectively and “finish” the play, to borrow from the quarterback’s pre-game speech Sunday in Philadelphia.
Cousins was asked Wednesday during his media session if he thinks it’s funny that chemistry was once questioned. Rather than a “told-you-things-were-OK” retort, the quarterback said chemistry can exist without production and added that he thinks there might even be a couple of plays that have been left on the table.
“Yeah, I just think, what happens if he goes two games without a catch, now what’s the comment? ‘Where’s the chemistry with Adam Thielen?’ It’s week-to-week, it’s day-to-day,” Cousins said. “I just don’t like to get caught up in all of that. I’m going to go play and do our best.
“I still look back and point to plays where our chemistry could have been better, and he could have had more catches, yards and production,” Cousins added. “He probably could have had two or three more touchdowns, so let’s go back and study the process and look at the plays where we can be better, no matter what the production is or isn’t around.”
Here are four other topics addressed by Cousins on Wednesday:
1. Accurate at a young age
Kirk Cousins has completed 66 percent of his passes during his career, which is third in NFL history. His rate of 71.2 percent (161 of 226) is on pace to be his best for a season.
Completion percentage can be affected by other variables like spiking to stop the clock, intentionally throwing a ball out of bounds to avoid a bad look for the offense or a drop at the other end of the play, but a high rate often begins with accuracy.
Cousins was asked about developing his accuracy during his youth.
“Accuracy is something you can certainly work on, but I do believe it’s hard to develop it,” Cousins said. “I heard one coach say one time, it was at Purdue, he said, ‘I wish I could tell you that we made Drew Brees who he is, but he came to us day one as a freshman, very accurate as a 19-year-old. I think that is true with accuracy. In a lot of ways, it’s innate and you have it or you don’t, but it’s certainly something you can always work on to an extent.
“Trevor Siemian always talks about, if you were a quarterback who was a natural runner as a kid, it’s hard to develop that ability to sit in the pocket and instinctually find the open guy and throw with anticipation,” he added of the Vikings backup quarterback. “Fortunately, for me, I was pretty slow as a kid, wasn’t a great athlete, so I had no choice but to stand in there and find a way to move the football from the pocket. I think in the long run, that served me well.”
Brees, by the way, just moved into first all-time for passing yards (72,103), and his career completion percentage of 67.2 is tops in the NFL, ahead of Chad Pennington (66.05) and Cousins (66.02).
2. Handling pocket pressure
Analytics site Pro Football Focus tallied that Cousins was pressured 18 times on 42 dropbacks during Minnesota’s 23-21 win at Philadelphia on Sunday.
The site noted that Cousins completed 16 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 134.1 on those 18 plays.
Cousins said beating pressure from defenses requires multiple factors. He also said that an opponent’s decision to bring additional rushers can create opportunities for an offense.
“It varies week-to-week, but you’ve got to be good with protections, understand where your issues are, where your line is going and what your quick element is to get the ball out of your hand if someone is coming free,” Cousins said. “You have to be able to trust your receivers, their route angles coming out of their breaks. They can make you successful against pressure because they’re getting separation and getting open quickly.
“It helps when your line versus pressure is holding up,” he added. “There are times where a defense may bring five or six rushers, but nobody is getting home because our five or six, our line and our running back or tight end are holding up in protection, so that helps me be great against pressure. I may not even notice the pressure. All I notice is there are vacated zones in the back end because they brought pressure. Sometimes you love seeing pressure because, ‘Now, I only have to go against three deep, three under, as opposed to three deep, four under, which opens up a zone.’ If our back, line or tight end can pick it up, now I’m free to sit back there and have more space to throw.”
3. Internal clock is always ticking
Arizona’s Chandler Jones led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2017 and has 68 during his seven-season career. The former New England first-round pick has 4.0 so far in 2018, including one in each of the past three games.
Jones sacked Cousins in 2015 in a game between the Patriots and Redskins, and the defensive end got the quarterback again last December when Arizona visited Washington. They also played against each other in 2016.
“I think he’s an outstanding player, and I’ve played against him at least three times now, and he’s been active and affected the game in all three games I’ve played against him,” Cousins said. “It seems like every week we play somebody who is an effective pass rusher who is going to impact the game and sometimes more than just one, so that [internal] clock is going off pretty fast every single week. If there’s ever a week where I feel like we’ve got to be aware of a pass rush, it’s certainly this week with Chandler Jones.”
4. Foundation up and running
Cousins and his wife, Julie, officially launched the Julie & Kirk Cousins Foundation this month.
In a blog post, the Cousins have pledged to donate 15 percent of their gross income on an annual basis to their foundation in support of the following:
Promotion of human rights
Good news of salvation in Jesus
Organizations that the Cousins family plans to support include International Justice Mission, Urban Homeworks, Compassionate Heart Ministries, Holland Christian Schools and Discovery Church. Click here to donate.
The Cousins have previously supporting multiple charities but decided this offseason that they would organize their foundation.
“I think it was something in the works this offseason, and just the nature of trying to dot I’s and cross T’s, it took a little longer [than expected],” Cousins said Wednesday. “We just felt everything was ready to go, and we’re very excited about being able to hopefully have a positive impact on the Twin Cities, this state and, really globally, with not only the gifts that we give to the foundation, but hopefully other people can get behind it and give as well.
“We want to put the nonprofits on display that we’re giving to,” he continued. “We feel good about those organizations. We want to make people aware of the work they’re doing, so we think it will be a great platform to do that.”