All Eyes Will Be On Kirk Cousins When Minnesota Vikings Return To Action

Kirk Cousins is off to a sharp start in the 2021 season for the Vikings. (Photo by Elsa/Getty … [+] Images)

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The early part of the season has been remarkably frustrating for the 3-3 Minnesota Vikings. While they have had one victory over the Seattle Seahawks that showed they had the ability to dominate an opponent, the other five games have left head coach Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff often shaking their heads at their team’s execution.

Losses in their first two games to the Bengals and Cardinals were hard to swallow because the Vikings could have emerged with last-second victories in either game. That troubling feeling is not just limited to their losses. The Vikings had both the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers teetering on the brink of double-digit defeats in Weeks 5 and 6, but they breathed life into their opponents in both cases. It took near-miracles to survive their opponents’ stunning comebacks.

When the Vikings return to action in Week 8 against the Dallas Cowboys (5-1), the team will have the opportunity to make a statement on national television against an opponent that has gotten off to an impressive start and finds itself in first place of the NFC East.

On paper, the Vikings should be able to compete with the Cowboys in what has a chance to be a memorable high-scoring game. The Cowboys have the top-ranked offense in the league with Dak Prescott under center, as they are averaging 460.8 yards and 34.2 points per game.

The Vikings are also strong in that category, ranking in fifth in the NFL with 414.2 yards per game, and 24.5 points per outing.

The Vikings don’t have to take a back seat to the Cowboys in playmakers, as stars like Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen will give Minnesota a chance to match their opponents in big plays. However, all eyes will once again be on quarterback Kirk Cousins to see how he fares in a prime-time game against a big-name opponent.

This has regularly been a big problem area for Cousins, but he has come through in late-game situations in the wins over Detroit and Carolina, and also put the team in a position to win against Cincinnati and Arizona.

Cousins once again has solid numbers through the first six games of the season. He has completed 166-of-239 passes for 1,769 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. The difference this year is that Cousins is coming across as more of a leader than he has in previous years.

He called out his team’s inconsistency after the 34-28 win over the Panthers.

“There’s so much to be better at than what today was,” Cousins said. “Similar to last week, you’re glad you’re learning after a win. But there is so much that we have to be better at. We have to be hungry to learn and hungry to correct. Not be content with a win in the sense that we have to be better, make adjustments and have a sense of urgency.”

In the past, Cousins’ teammates appeared to have doubts about his ability to perform when the game was on the line. That does not appear to be the case this year, as multiple teammates have come out in support of the quarterback and their belief in his ability to make the big throw in clutch situations.

Of course, the team’s coaching staff and fan base need to see more. Coming though in a prime time game would be a key step towards greater confidence in the quarterback’s ability to lead the team to big victories.

This year’s team has a chance to overcome the difficulties of the last two years. In addition to their highly skilled offense, the defense is much better than it was a year ago as the Vikings rank 16th in yards allowed. They were 27th in that area in 2020.

The strength of the defense is the front seven. The pass rush can be formidable with Danielle Hunter (6.0 sacks) and Everson Griffen (4.0 sacks) leading the way. But those two are not alone as linebackers Eric Kendricks (60 tackles) and Nick Vigil (36 tackles, 1 interception returned for a touchdown) are big-time hitters and safety Harrison Smith (49 tackles, 2 passes defensed) contributes from the back end.

Pass coverage remains an issue, and opponents know that the Vikings are vulnerable in this area, especially with Patrick Peterson on the Injured Reserve list with a damaged hamstring.

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