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State of 8: Cousins ‘Ready’ for Stretch Run

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have returned from their bye week and know they have at least seven games remaining in 2018.

Kirk Cousins would like to make it more than that by helping Minnesota make the NFC Playoffs in his first season with the Vikings.

“It was good to get some time off to rest and recover,” Cousins said. “At the same time, I’m ready to go now for this stretch run of seven games. Hopefully we play well enough that we play beyond that.”

Teams started going on byes as early as Week 4 (Panthers and Redskins). The Chiefs and Rams will be the final two teams to have their bye (Week 12) in 2018.

When the Vikings quarterback was asked about the timing this year, Cousins said he likes when byes fall closer to a season’s midpoint than earlier.

“All I know is I’ve had a bye after Week 4, and I’ve had a bye after Week 9,” Cousins said. “I’d much rather have the bye after Week 9. I think it helps to have something to look forward to as you’re pushing through the early stretch of the season and then to work from a place of rest going forward to the end of the season. I think it helps. Ultimately, this season will tell if it came at the right time.”

In addition to the opportunity for players who have been grinding since training camp to rest, a bye week can offer a team the opportunity to self-scout and look for areas where it can still improve.

“We did talk about where we are ranked statistically on some different things, as well as some analytics of what other teams, opponents are going to see when they look at us,” Cousins said. “That was helpful to see. We’ll keep trying to improve in those areas.

“It was everything from third-and-4-to-6 to trying to be better on first downs in the red zone, little situations like that where we’re going to look to improve,” Cousins continued. “If we do that, hopefully it leads to better offensive performances and wins.”

The Vikings have struggled more at converting third-and-4s (one conversion on seven pass attempts) than third-and-10s (three conversions on seven pass attempts).

On third-and-6, the Vikings have four conversions on 13 pass attempts, but they have eight combined conversions on 16 passes that have been attempted on third-and-7 or third-and-8.

Cousins said the Vikings also wanted to make sure they’re not tipping their hands too often. 

“We want to look at situations where we’re heavy run or pass, just try to be aware of where we’re giving any tips or tells to our opponent and try to get them off that trail,” Cousins said. “There’s a lot of clues that defenses are looking at. Coordinators on defense use position on field, formations, motions, all that pre-snap information to get a tell of what’s going to happen post-snap. We’ve got to make sure that a lot of our plays that look the same are different or the plays that are the same look different to an opponent.”

Here are three other topics covered by Cousins during Wednesday’s media availability:

1. On his reaction to seeing Khalil Mack traded to Chicago before the season

Khalil Mack has caused plenty of havoc for the Bears, helping Chicago, which last won more than seven games in a season in 2013, open this year at 6-3.

The two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler had a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown in his Bears debut and has forced a league-leading four fumbles in just seven games. Mack leads Chicago with 7.0 sacks.

“I certainly would have loved for him to stay in the AFC,” Cousins joked. “He’s a great player, and I want as many great players on opposing teams to be in the AFC, but you understand that no matter what your schedule is, there are going to be great players in every division, so we’ve got our hands full with him, but they’ve got a few other really good players on defense.

“I have a great deal of respect for their defensive coordinator, Coach [Vic] Fangio,” he added. “They’re statistically ranked very high, and that goes beyond just the addition of one player.”

2. Chicagoland connections

Cousins played high school football in Michigan, but he lived in the Chicagoland area until he was 13 and was “very much a Bears fan growing up.”

The connections run deep.

“[Hall of Fame linebacker and former Vikings assistant] Mike Singletary was my youth football coach, so there were some ties there,” Cousins said. “[Hall of Fame running back] Walter Payton lived in our hometown (Barrington), and his kids went to my school. There was close proximity to those guys. My dad did some chapels for the Bears.”

Cousins said he attended camps led by Singletary and former Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and recalled the lore of the ’85 Bears lingering into the ’90s (Cousins was born in 1988).

3. On the ‘home’ turf

Cousins led Washington to victories at Chicago in Decembers of 2015 and 2016, going a combined 42-of-60 passing (70 percent) for 570 yards with two passing touchdowns and an interception for a rating of 104.2. He also rushed nine times for 43 yards and three touchdowns in those two games.

Cousins tuned in to watch the Bears defeat the Lions 34-22 and noted the greenness of the turf at Soldier Field.

“In the past, and I’ve played in December the past two times,” Cousins said. “I’ve also played there in a preseason game in August. Certainly, when you get later in the year, all fields can be different than what they were in the beginning of the year.

“By the looks of it, just watching the game last week, the field looked really nice,” he added. “I know they put down some new grass, and it looked like they did. It looked like a really good-quality field, so we’ll see what it is when we go Sunday, but regardless, we’ll make sure we have the right type of cleats and be ready to go.”

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