This is a big week for Kirk Cousins, who is getting ready to face down not one but two foes: the team with which he began his NFL career, and the notion that he can’t win in prime time.
I expect Cousins to meet the challenge of playing against the Washington Redskins on Thursday Night Football head on, continuing a trend that can be traced back to Week 4, when Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs expressed their frustrations with the team’s offense in the wake of a 16-6 loss to Chicago, with Thielen criticizing Cousins and Cousins apologizing to Thielen. The $84 million quarterback answered the bell, playing lights out and pushing Minnesota to a 5-2 record with three straight wins.
Cousins has made us believers before, only to revert to mediocre play. But this time, we should fully buy into Cousins’ turnaround.
Consider that during the Vikings’ current three-game win streak, Cousins has played at a much higher level than he did in Weeks 1-4.
Cousins in Weeks 1-4: 183.8 pass ypg, 3:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 88.6 passer rating.
Cousins in Weeks 5-7: 325.3 pass ypg, 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 142.6 passer rating.
Cousins told reporters after Sunday’s win over Detroit that, "The last few weeks has been a little more open it up and let it fire." That’s exactly what I’ve seen. Cousins is coming off his best game of the season, having completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for a season-high 337 yards, four TDs and a 141.4 passer rating. He made some great throws Sunday, including a dime down the right sideline to Diggs and several off-balance throws on the run. One thing that’s led to his improved play is his mechanics. He isn’t missing the throws he was in the preseason and early September.
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Cousins’ confidence level is also at an all-time high, as it should be. With Dalvin Cook leading one of the best run games in the league, Cousins and his receivers have taken advantage of defenses with play-action — an area where Cousins has thrived his entire career. We’re starting to see a big-play element show up by way of play-action because defenses will over-pursue the run game, giving receivers time to get open downfield. Against Detroit, Cousins was 13 of 17 for 209 yards and three TDs on play-action passes, according to Next Gen Stats.
Minnesota’s offense has become a well-oiled machine over three weeks, and again, Cousins’ confidence level makes me believe he can take this team where it wants to go. That starts with playing well Thursday in prime time — an area where Cousins has faltered in the past. For his career, the 31-year-old is 5-13 in prime-time contests. But he’ll get two chances to change that prime-time narrative in his next three games, between this week’s game against Washington and a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Cowboys in Week 10.
In this offense, he can absolutely change his prime-time narrative and has all the tools to maintain his recent elite level to put the Vikings in good position down the stretch. Cousins has made me a believer, and I don’t think I’ll get fooled this time.
Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the Week 8 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense were stalled all game by the Ravens in a 30-16 loss. This was by far the quarterback’s worst performance of the season, featuring both his first INT of the year and his first sub-100.0 passer rating (65.2). You have to credit Baltimore for taking away the run game and scoring off the pick (a pick-six by Marcus Peters). It feels like all the candidates in the MVP race have faltered at some point. Hopefully, Wilson’s latest performance doesn’t repeat itself.
Coming out of the Panthers’ Week 7 bye, it feels like the direction of their season will be dependent on their star running back, especially with weekly questions surrounding the starting quarterback going forward. Kyle Allen will get the start Sunday against a confident 49ers defense, so McCaffrey must pave the way like he’s done so many times.
Cook bounced off Detroit defenders left and right on the way to 142 rushing yards and two TDs on 25 carries. His ability to make something out of nothing continuously puts the Vikings’ offense in positive situations. Minnesota is 8-1 in Cook’s career when he rushes for at least 85 yards, and I only see that win total climbing, the way he’s playing.
On Sunday, Zeke became the only running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Eagles’ defense this season, and it came at the perfect time, with the NFC East lead on the line. It really feels like the two-time rushing champ is hitting his stride, and he’ll need to build off his Week 7 performance after the Cowboys’ Week 8 bye with big-time games throughout November.
It just felt like a five-touchdown day was bound to happen, didn’t it? After relying on the run game and the defense early in the season, Rodgers has really taken control of the offense — one that’s without his favorite receiver, Davante Adams.
It was hard to expect either team to find a rhythm in the pass game while working that torrential downpour in FedExField on Sunday. Again, Kittle’s main calling in this game was blocking for his backfield, which gained 137 yards on the ground.
Brady is just cruising through the season with so-so quarterback play, thanks to Bill Belichick’s top-ranked defense and an above-average run game. It’s hard to move him up here, because he’s not making as much of an on-field impact as others on this list. I don’t think he’s too torn up about it, though, as he’s helped his team get to 7-0 without much stress.
If the refs hadn’t made an "in the grasp" call that wiped out a TD pass in the second quarter, Houston’s loss to Indy would have been a completely different game. That play took the wind out of the Texans’ sails, and it was evident Watson and the offense found themselves forcing plays the rest of the way, resulting in favorable results for the Colts.
Kelce’s numbers weren’t off the charts (six catches for 44 yards) in Kansas City’s 30-6 win over the Broncos. With Patrick Mahomes sidelined for several weeks while he deals with a knee injury, Kelce has to be the guy to step up for backup QB Matt Moore. Between his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) and the mismatches he creates, Kelce can help Moore get comfortable in this offense.
Without several key offensive players, Thomas really stepped up against the Bears, compiling nine receptions for 131 yards. I have to tip my hat to the Saints WR1 for what he’s been able to do without Drew Brees. It’s evident that he’s worked hard to perfect his timing with Teddy Bridgewater, and the results are showing.
Jackson moved into the MVP conversation with his big performance in Seattle. He’s proven week in and week out that he’s one of the hardest single players to stop, both because of his ability to beat you in the pass game and even more so with his legs. The second-year quarterback didn’t get a ton of help from his pass catchers (three drops from Mark Andrews alone), so Jackson took matters into his own hands on crucial downs. Nothing speaks louder about his running ability than the fact that Jackson has more rushing yards (576) than seven teams this season.
It feels like the trade rumors are a thing of the past, with Diggs showing out the last two weeks. Since Week 6, he has 309 receiving yards (most in the NFL in that span) and three touchdowns. With his 142-yard game against the Lions, Diggs became the first player with back-to-back games of 140-plus receiving yards since DeAndre Hopkins did it in Weeks 4-5 last season.
Kamara was sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Bears with an ankle injury, and the run game didn’t skip a beat with Latavius Murray. It doesn’t seem like Kamara will be out for long, but the team’s offensive performance without him caused him to slide in the ranks.
Nearly halfway through the season, Godwin is on pace to shatter the totals from his 2018 campaign. He needs just 200 receiving yards and one more TD reception to match what he did last season. Coming off the bye, the well-rested Godwin could surpass these marks as early as Sunday against the Titans.
Chubb played extremely well heading into Cleveland’s Week 7 bye, and he’s going to have to keep his high-level play up if the Browns hope to make a playoff push. With a meeting with the Patriots next on the schedule, there are a lot of players who need to step up for Cleveland. Chubb just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.
Dropping out: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs (previously No. 3); Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles (No. 13).
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams: Only Michael Thomas (62) has more receptions through seven weeks than Kupp (51). The Comeback Player of the Year candidate had six receptions for 50 yards in Sunday’s team win over Atlanta. After several down weeks, the Rams’ offense found its groove, with one week remaining before the bye.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: Since returning from a shoulder injury in Week 6, Hill has recorded 154 receiving yards and three receiving TDs. With Hill’s 57-yard receiving TD against the Broncos, the speedster has 17 50-plus-yard TDs since 2016, more than anyone in the league. It’ll be interesting to see how Hill does with Matt Moore filling in for Patrick Mahomes under center.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: We’re where we were two years ago when Jones (four touchdowns) struggled to get in the end zone. But he was productive against Rams newbie Jalen Ramsey as he went on to finish with six receptions for 93 yards in the loss.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: It’s good to see Hilton get a lot of targets (11 on Sunday), because it usually results in good things. Against the Texans, he logged six receptions for 74 yards and a TD — his first since Week 3. Hilton has a chance to best his career mark of seven receiving TDs in a season (2012, 2014), especially with Jacoby Brissett emerging as a legitimate passer.
Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.
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