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State of 8: Cousins on Playing Under Pressure, Turnovers & Prepping for 'Hometown' Team

EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has a passer rating of 91.1 when throwing under pressure.

According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Cousins' rating ranks third among quarterbacks through Week 8, behind Philip Rivers (118.5) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (103.0).

What are the keys to continuing to succeed when facing pressure?

Cousins told Twin Cities media members Wednesday that it's of course "not ideal" to be under duress but that it's important to "first and foremost keep your eyes downfield and be able to feel the rush but not see it."

"It's important to throw with anticipation; it's important to have as good of vision as you possibly can have an understanding of the coverage to know what your issues are, so if you do have to throw early, you're not throwing into trouble," Cousins said. "You certainly have to be smart about when you take your shots and when you just get rid of the ball, throw it out of bounds, throw it at someone's feet to avoid a critical error or a turnover, as we talked about, because those are so crucial in games.

"And then, play-calling's very important, too," Cousins added. "We're just trying to not put players in a tougher position than they need to be in and trying to have a scheme that allows you to not have to worry about those protection issues."

Cousins, who has been sacked 23 times this season and has an overall passer rating of 102.5, was asked if learning to play through pressure is largely based on experience.

Cousins said that was an accurate assessment, pointing out that the quarterback's red practice jersey protects him but also doesn't allow for the simulation of a real NFL pocket.

"The only way to get that experience is to play and get hit and feel that live rush, and that takes time," Cousins said. "And fortunately, I've got a lot of games logged in this league, which has enabled me to develop that feel over time.

"It will be something I'm always working on," Cousins continued. "No matter how many games I've played, it's still going to be something I have to pay attention to every week to see how I'm doing in that area."

Here are four other topics Cousins talked about during his weekly session with media:

1. Continuing to emphasize elimination of turnovers

The Vikings outshined the Saints in many statistical categories but lost the turnover battle en route to the 30-20 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday night.

A second-quarter fumble swung momentum to New Orleans, and Cousins was later picked off.

Cousins was asked if there has been extra focus this week on eliminating turnovers.

"Well, you have to remember that to increase the emphasis would imply that we weren't emphasizing it much beforehand," said Cousins, who reiterated that ball security has been a major focus of the team since the spring. "We have a sign in our quarterback room that shows the statistics of a Coach Zimmer-led team when we win the turnover battle and what our record is and what it is, then, when we lose the turnover battle. It's noticeably different.

Added Cousins: "We've emphasized it all the way along, we'll continue to emphasize it, but we're well-aware that it's going to be an important factor in our success."

2. Preparing to play 'hometown' team

Much of Cousins' community back home will have a dilemma Sunday when he plays the Lions.

Cousins moved from Chicago to Holland, Michigan, with his family in seventh grade, and although he grew up cheering for the Bears, Cousins said it will be special to play against Detroit this weekend.

Cousins reflected on the talent that's played in the NFC Central/NFC North over his lifetime and then commented on the division's current state.

"I think anybody can win it. I think it's filled with quarterback play, it's filled with good defenses, good pass rushers, and it's the way I envisioned the NFC North being," Cousins said. "I think the margin for error is very small in most all divisions, and I think our division's no different. I'm sure it could come down to the last couple weeks of the season."

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.

3. Cousins' approach to criticism

For any NFL athlete, criticism comes with the career path.

Many are quick to criticize after a team loses and sometimes overhype to the other extreme after a win. Cousins was asked how he handles critique that follows a loss, particularly one in prime time like Sunday night's against the Saints.

The quarterback paused just a moment before answering.

"The question makes me think of a line, I don't know who said it – not me – but it's, 'You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one,' " Cousins said. "I just try to listen to the people whose voice matters, which would be my coaches, my teammates. Listen to what they're telling me – when they praise you, criticize you, listen to that. But outside of those people, I try to keep blinders on and just go about my business and do what I'm being coached to do.

"I've always taken confidence in the line, 'The people who know, know.' In other words, the people who really know football and know what they're talking about, they're going to know how you're playing," Cousins continued. "And while their opinion matters, the people who don't know, don't know. So let's not try to get caught up worrying about what they think, because at the end of the day, if they don't really understand it, you're wasting your energy trying to listen to what they say."

4. Slate of divisional games down the stretch

The Vikings have a unique schedule this year in that five of their remaining eight games are against divisional opponents.

Minnesota played just one division game in the first half of the season, a 29-29 tie against Green Bay.

Cousins acknowledged that it's an interesting order of games but reminded that every year there are aspects of the schedule players take note of: home games and road games in prime time, Thursday night games and how it relates to travel, et cetera.

"You always look at those logistics. Schedules can be different, they're not all created equally, but I guess it gives us a great opportunity here in the second half of the season to have a lot to play for," Cousins said.

Asked if he expected the Vikings to be at 4-3-1 at the season's midpoint, Cousins said he doesn't made predictions.

"I don't sit in August and say, 'That's a win, that's a loss, that's a win, so we should be here by Week 8.' I just think that's an immature perspective for me to have," Cousins said. "I'm going to play the schedule, at the end of the year we're going to go back and evaluate it, we're going to evaluate each week individually.

"And fortunately with all the divisional games we have up ahead and with half the season left, there's a lot to play for," Cousins added.

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