EAGAN, Minn. — Protecting the football will be paramount when the Vikings face the Jets on Sunday, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
Cousins suffered a fumble during a sack that Arizona returned for a touchdown on Sunday and was intercepted on a pass attempt he made under duress against the Cardinals in a 27-17 win in Week 6.
As the quarterback turned the page to Week 7 on Wednesday, he said that the Jets ability to cause turnovers has helped them open the 2018 slate 3-3.
"What stands out the most is the turnovers they've created," Cousins said. "Such a big part of having success in this league is protecting the football, and if you're a defense, trying to turn it over.
"They've done that so well, so we obviously feel like we need to protect the football as we always do, but just when you're going against a team as good as they are at taking it away, just having a heightened sense of awareness of the need to not give them that whenever possible," Cousins said.
Linebacker Darron Lee has three interceptions, including a pair against Detroit in Week 1 when he returned one 36 yards for a touchdown. Morris Claiborne has two picks, including one he returned 17 yards for a touchdown last week against Indianapolis.
Remarkably, Marcus Maye returned an interception a league-leading 104 yards against Denver only to get tripped up at the 1-yard line on the final play of the game against the Broncos.
The Jets have recovered five of 12 fumbles by opponents.
Here are three other topics addressed by the Vikings quarterback.
1. Assessing Jets during free agency
Cousins believes in doing his homework. Once news broke during the week of Super Bowl LII that Washington traded to acquire Alex Smith, Cousins used the coincidental timing to assess the Twin Cities area as a possible landing spot. He also, of course, researched the football operations of the Vikings and multiple other potential suitors, including the Jets, before opting to sign a three-year deal with Minnesota.
"It was a process of two-and-a-half months of trying to research once I found out my former team, the Redskins, was out; it was probably a month-and-a-half of trying to gather information on all of those teams that were still looking for a quarterback," Cousins said. "For a month-and-a-half, I was really trying to dive into coaching staffs, rosters, the whole nine yards."
Cousins was asked if his research on the Jets could help prepare for this week, and he pointed out how active the Jets were in free agency. In addition to Claiborne, they brought in Cousins' former teammate Spencer Long, as well as Isaiah Crowell, Trumaine Johnson, Avery Williamson, Terrelle Pryor and Andre Roberts.
"I think one thing I've noticed in looking at the roster is how much they've added players in free agency," Cousins said. "When I was looking at their roster, I was not factoring that in. There's a lot of change, and then there's injuries, so as we know, there's so much turnover in the NFL that it is a little hard to take a snapshot in February or March and still feel like it's going to be the same in October the following year."
2. Playing well on the road
Cousins led a late rally in Week 2 to help the Vikings tie Green Bay, he dazzled against the Rams in Los Angeles and helped the Vikings exorcise a demon in Philadelphia.
In three road games this season, he is 101-of-135 passing for 1,148 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 116.5.
Now, he's trying to give Minnesota its first road win in six tries when visiting the Jets.
Cousins was asked about what it takes for a team to play well on the road.
"You need all 11 on the field to really know what they're doing, not have questions or a mental slip because it is harder to communicate with the noise, and sometimes you're against the play clock a little more, so you've got to trust that the guys around you are going to be on their details," Cousins said. "You do have to communicate within the noise, in terms of where the protection is going, what the personnel grouping is, the formation, any shifts or motions. It helps when our coaching staff can identify things and get the play quickly from the sideline and substitute quickly.
"It comes down to the same things that you've got to do at home," he added. "You win or lose home or away, you can point to the same factors causing the result."
3. Impressions of Darnold
Jets rookie Sam Darnold is 3-3 in his first six starts. The third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft said this week that he was closely watching teams' courtship of Cousins for clues on where he might land in the NFL Draft.
Cousins, who follows the happenings throughout the league, said he's been impressed by Darnold's debut.
"Anytime you can go out there as a rookie and win games, I think it says a lot about you," Cousins said. "He's done a great job. A lot has been made about how young he is. You factor that in, too, and you feel like it's a really impressive start. I'm sure he's got a lot of great days ahead of him. Hopefully our defense can contain him well this weekend."