EAGAN, Minn. — Whether it's through studying from afar, casually watching a game as a fan, or connecting as NFC teammates at the Pro Bowl in January 2017, Kirk Cousins has developed a sincere respect for Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
"He's one of the best ever and is playing at a very high level again this year, so he's been a great guy to learn from," Cousins said during his weekly session with media members. "I've crossed paths with him a couple of times, one being the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago, and that was a great opportunity for me to just watch and learn. It's no surprise how much success he's having again this year. It will be a great challenge for us."
Brees, who is no stranger to leading the league in completion percentage, has completed a whopping 77.3 percent of his passes (170 of 220) this season. That's 5.3 percentage points higher than in 2017 when he led the NFL for the fourth time in his career.
While leading the Saints to a 5-1 mark in 2018, Brees has become the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards (72,315). He also threw his 500th career touchdown and enters Week 8 with 501, which is fourth all-time behind Peyton Manning (539), Brett Favre (508) and Tom Brady (504).
Cousins was asked if there was a specific attribute he liked the most about Brees' game.
The answer is there are lots of aspects.
"Well, when you're as good as he is, there's not just one thing," Cousins said. "If it was one thing, he wouldn't be the [future] Hall of Famer he is. He doesn't take sacks, he protects the football, throws for a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns, he's good on third downs, has stayed healthy, he's got durability. That's why he's Drew Brees; it's not one thing. The whole point of him being Drew is you can't name just one thing."
Brees, now in his 13th season in New Orleans after beginning his career with five seasons in San Diego, posted numbers with the Chargers that are similar to what Cousins posted with the Redskins.
Brees with Chargers: 30-28 in 58 starts, 1,125 of 1,809 passing (62.2 percent), 12,348 yards, 80 touchdowns, 53 interceptions, passer rating of 84.9
Cousins with Redskins: 26-30-1 in 57 starts, 1,372-of-2,096 passing (65.5 percent), 16,206 yards, 99 touchdowns, 55 interceptions, passer rating of 93.7
Brees also spoke with Twin Cities media members on Wednesday and said he's "been really impressed with" Cousins.
"First of all, I love the path that he's traveled to get to where he is," Brees said. "He came in as a fourth-round pick that same year that they drafted [Robert Griffin III], so RG3 was going to be the guy, and Kirk was just going to be a backup. I think he just fought and fought and competed and earned the starting job and really played well in Washington. Obviously, he has a great opportunity there in Minnesota."
During game prep, quarterbacks turn their focus toward watching cut-ups of opposing defenses going against other offenses, which leaves little time for observing the play of the opposing quarterback, unless the teams have a common opponent.
This year, however, the Vikings and Saints are meeting through the rotational part of the schedule that pits teams of corresponding order of finish from the previous season.
"I haven't had a chance to see any Minnesota offensive film," Brees said. "We just haven't played any similar opponents yet where I've had a chance to watch him on offense, but I remember seeing a bunch of them [when he was] in Washington and really respect his game, his talent. It certainly appears that he's having a great season. He's got great control of that offense and has got a lot of weapons there, so it looks like he's doing great."
Here are three other topics that Cousins covered on Wednesday.
1. Scouting the competition
As for the prep work by Cousins this week, he's doing a deep dive on the Saints, including a secondary that acquired Eli Apple after a trade with the New York Giants on Tuesday.
"I study them. I do. That's a very important part of playing in this league, understanding your opponent, understanding the personnel," Cousins said. "I think highly of them. Marshon Lattimore was as good of a corner as I played last year in our schedule. I also think a lot of [Ken] Crawley, and I think a lot of Eli Apple and [P.J.] Williams as well. I think they're some good players that are going to give us a handful."
When a team adds a player during the week, Cousins said "you factor it in and gather all of the information you can know."
"There's certain things you won't know," he added. "You try to gather information you can know and react on Sundays to anything that changes."
2. Struggling last week on third downs
The Vikings were 2-for-15 on third downs against the Jets, a success rate of 13.3 percent.
A big reason for the significant drop in success on Sunday, compared to the rate of 41.9 percent entering Week 7, was that the Vikings weren't in manageable distances.
"I think you start with the fact that they got us in third-and-long," Cousins said. "Any time you have, I believe it was eight third-and-11 plusses, and then four more that were third-and-7-to-10, you have 12 plays that really aren't third-and-medium or less. I think that's the starting point. They were effective on first and second downs to make third down very difficult. From there, I think they did a good job of doubling some receivers and taking away the concepts we have."
3. On the anticipated atmosphere in Sunday's game
Cousins watched the NFC Divisional Round playoff meeting between the Saints and Vikings in January from his wife's parents' house in Atlanta.
He was asked if he expects the rematch nine-plus months later to have an elevated atmosphere.
"I think it will be a very dynamic environment with our fan base at home on Sunday Night Football, playing against a very good football team," Cousins said. "Anytime you play an NFC team, you feel the importance for the playoff chase to get a win. There's all of those factors contributing. I think there will be juice. I'd hate to admit if there wasn't juice for a game."