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Dane Mizutani: What if Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell can’t fix Kirk Cousins?

The abysmal performance by Cousins on Monday Night Football provided the latest example of his struggles in primetime.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell walks the sidelines during the team's 24-7 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia.
Eric Hartline / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL -- After an exhaustive search this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings landed on Kevin O’Connell as their next head coach largely because they felt he was the best person to help fix quarterback Kirk Cousins.

But what if he can’t? That’s a thought O’Connell is likely confronting for the first time after the Vikings suffered a sobering 24-7 loss to the Eagles on Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Though he took accountability for the loss postgame, adamant that he has to find a way to put the Vikings in a better position moving forward, O’Connell doesn’t deserve all the blame.

No, a large portion of that belongs to Cousins, who once again crumbled in the face of the pressure. He never found a rhythm in a game in which the Vikings appeared to be hopelessly outmatched, completing 27 of 46 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, predictably padding his stats with a meaningless drive in garbage time.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throws a pass Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. Cousins threw three interceptions in the 24-7 loss after playing well in the team's opening win against Green Bay.
Eric Hartline / USA Today Sports

The abysmal performance by Cousins on Monday Night Football provided the latest example of his struggles in primetime.

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There’s a reason the narrative always seems to come up whenever Cousins is playing on national television. That’s because throughout his career, when the lights get bright, he often looks as if he’s playing the position with his eyes closed.

Shame on us for believing things would be different after Cousins impressed in the 23-7 season-opening win over the Green Bay Packers last week. Though it looked like O’Connell had gotten through to him at the time, Cousins immediately reverted back Monday night to the player he’s always been.

Not once did Cousins conjure up a sense of calm as the Vikings tried to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit. Instead, with the Eagles doing everything in their power to make the game close, Cousins perpetuated a sense of panic, unleashing a trio of interceptions that destroyed any hopes of a comeback.

Dane-Mizutani-col-sig
Dane Mizutani

The first interception was actually fairly forgivable.

After marching the Vikings down the field on their opening drive out of halftime, Cousins fired a pass to star receiver Justin Jefferson expecting him to flatten out his route near the goal line. The miscommunication resulted in cornerback Darius Slay swooping in for an easy pick. As much as the broadcast criticized Jefferson for his route, it’s worth noting that Cousins didn’t have to throw the ball into such tight coverage.

The second interception was much worse.

After a blocked field goal gifted the Vikings the ball on the edge of the red zone, Cousins missed Jefferson wide open down the right sideline for what would’ve been an easy touchdown. He compounded that missed opportunity with a pick after cornerback Avonte Maddox baited him into a throw.

The third interception was the most egregious of them all.

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After the defense forced a turnover to give the Vikings the ball back inside the 10-yard line, Cousins completely melted down with his worst possession of the game. He twice failed to recognize the blitz before the snap and twice floated the ball into coverage while under pressure. He looked like a bad high school quarterback on many plays. That ineptitude from Cousins resulted in another pick from Slay in the end zone.

If the Vikings had scored on any of those possessions after halftime — aka, if Cousins wouldn’t have imploded into himself — the game might have played out very differently, even as the Eagles dominated play from the start.

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It’s not hard to imagine Mike Zimmer watching the game from his sprawling ranch in Northern Kentucky, sipping on a bourbon and laughing to himself as he watches someone else take on the seemingly impossible task of reprogramming Cousins.

Nobody has been able to do it so far. There’s a chance O’Connell is no different.

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