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State of 8: Cousins on Continuing to Build Rapport with Stefanski

EAGAN, Minn. – Now in the second week under Kevin Stefanski as the Vikings interim offensive coordinator, it's been so far, so good for Kirk Cousins.

Cousins reminded reporters, however, that the rapport between the passer and play caller will continue to develop. 

"It'll be a process," Cousins told media members Wednesday. "Every game we play, we get more inventory of what we do well and what we like to do together, and we have a small sample size right now. We're still in that process of building a rapport."

The good news is, Stefanski and Cousins aren't unfamiliar with one another. Stefanski was promoted to interim offensive coordinator from his previous role as Minnesota's quarterbacks coach, a position he continues to oversee.

"The fact that he's been in the quarterback room for so many months helps quite a bit, and I don't think anything I tell him is a mystery or surprise to him, and vice versa," Cousins said. "Communication's been good, but with only one game under our belts, I think there's still a lot of growth that can happen."

Now that Stefanski essentially has a dual role, Cousins was asked if it largely changes his interaction with Stefanski on the sideline or in the meeting room.

He responded that "big picture," it's relatively the same, but there's an element of group effort.

"In the meetings, Kevin is still very much taking on the role of a quarterbacks coach in terms of still coaching the position and leading the room," Cousins explained. "[Assistant quarterbacks coach] Drew Petzing's maybe a louder voice than he was prior to last week, and I think there's certainly a lot of collaboration, too.

"[Tight ends coach] Todd Downing is stepping in, and really the offensive line coaches (Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko) and [wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell] are all stepping in to help get everybody going and get on the same page – same with [running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu]," Cousins continued. "[We need] all hands on deck to get a game plan together and be ready to go for Sunday." 

Here are three other topics Cousins discussed during his podium session:

1. Preparing for 'well-coached' Lions defense

The Lions are 5-9 entering this weekend, having lost three of their past four games.

Detroit's defense has been playing effectively, though. Since Nov. 18, the Lions have forced five turnovers, and in three of those games, they held opponents to fewer than 65 yards rushing.

Cousins said Detroit's defense is "certainly well-coached" and has a great scheme.

"I thought they gave us a good challenge the last time we played them; we only got 51 plays offensively," Cousins said. "I think they have really good safeties, good corners, and they have a stout front that I thought really, except for maybe one big run that Dalvin [Cook] had, took away a lot of what we were trying to do up front.

"[It's a] good defense, and anytime you play on the road, they certainly have the advantage from a crowd standpoint," Cousins added.

And despite the fact that Detroit is eliminated from the postseason, the Vikings don't anticipate the division rival rolling over.

"They'll fight hard," Cousins said. "We're all in this league fighting to put good things on tape, and we're all being evaluated, and nobody's safe. Nobody's arrived, and nobody can feel like they can just roll their helmet out there and play. It's too competitive, and it's too combative. I think we're going to get a battle for four quarters. It may take more than that, who knows?"

2. Picking apart the pick six

Cousins was asked if he saw anything further on tape to help him assess what went wrong against the Dolphins when his pass was intercepted by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and returned for a touchdown.

Cousins said it's a quick play in which he has to make the throw while trusting that the defensive back is being blocked.

"It's a bang-bang play. If you wait to see if he is blocked, that play will never work," Cousins said. "If you go back and watch the probably two dozen times we've run that play this year, I mean, it's bang-bang. If the [defensive] end's not blocked, I throw it over his head and trust everyone else to get everyone else blocked.

"Just because of the way [Fitzpatrick] played it, the way he guessed it, it put our blocking scheme in a little bit of confusion, and he made the play," Cousins added. "But those plays happen from time to time – he made a nice play, he jumped it, and that's part of playing this game."

A follow-up question asked if that means the play is too risky and shouldn't be called.

"[If you watched] the game we had against the Rams and the games we've had against the Packers and the big plays we've had, you'd say, 'We can't afford to not have that play call and not have it ready to go.' It's just a play you have to be careful with because of the way that it can happen quick," Cousins said. "I understand the defensive end is the one who can be my issue because he's unblocked, and we just need to get out and if that guy is blitzing, block him; if he's not blitzing, leave him alone. Because of the way he played it, there was a little bit of confusion."

3. Changing tempo to challenge a defense

The Vikings offense went up-tempo for part of the game against the Dolphins, and the pace was successful in keeping Minnesota moving and making plays.

"I think it can keep defenses off-balance, and they can't quite get comfortable and tee off. You love to be able to just change it up so that they can't get comfortable or get used to any one thing," Cousins said. "Anything you can do to keep defenses on their toes is important, and snap counts and pace of play is certainly one of the ways to keep the defense honest."

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