How the 49ers Can Defend Against Kirk Cousins
The 49ers finally get to play some real damn regular season football. It's like reaching enlightenment; we've gone through an incredible journey to get to this point, and this is our reward.
So San Francisco plays at Minnesota at 10 a.m. for all the West Coast dudes. The Vikings are stacked in talent and are considered one of the NFC heavyweights that could represent the conference in the Super Bowl. Their new quarterback happens to be Kirk Cousins, previously with the Washington Redskins from 2012-2017.
The Vikings are heavily favored to win their home opener, but it's not an impossible fight for the 49ers. The Minnesota defense is unbelievable, but a key aspect to winning is shutting down Kirk Cousins and putting him in an uncomfortable spot.
Kirk Cousins has more flaws than his stats would suggest. But before we get to that, let's look at where he's at his best.
Most if not all quarterbacks tend to play better when they get the ball out of their hands quickly. Not to sound obvious, but if you put Cousins in situations where he can get the ball out quickly to his first read, he can offer you good stretches of quarterback play.
Cousins's Sunday Night Football game in Week 3 against the Raiders last season was an example of this. Granted, Oakland's defense is awful, but thanks to a well-coached game plan from Jay Gruden, Cousins' production was great, as he tossed for 365 yards, three touchdowns and no picks.
On this play, the slot receiver runs a shallow crossing route, designed to clear space for the tight end Vernon Davis. The high safety plays this badly, allowing Cousins to release the ball with a quick throwing motion for a perfect touchdown pass.
Now let's look at where Cousins is at his weakest. Of course, every quarterback plays worse when they're required to throw into a tighter window, but Cousins's quality in particular takes a deeper step down than some of his peers. He lacks consistent touch on shot plays, and his accuracy into tight windows is awful.
Here, Cousins again fires to Vernon Davis. As a downfield passer, Cousins has always relied on open receivers and guys making spectacular catches on phenomenal catch radii than making a precise throw himself. That's not to say he hasn't had moments like that, but compared to great deep passers like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, he can't compete.
As you can also tell from the clip, he backpedals a little bit, affecting the accuracy of the throw as he barely misses Davis, who stretches his hands as far as he can, for a backbreaking turnover on downs.
But let's face it, the 49ers’ defense just isn't as talented as the Vikings’, and they'll also have to go up against the best starting wide receiver duo in football in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
You could argue that Adam Thielen is the best slot receiver in football, and he's easily a top-ten receiver. His sharpness as a route runner combined with phenomenal hands and a wide catch radius made him one of the most dangerous and consistently great receivers from 2017, as shown on this overthrown ball.
Stefon Diggs is also a great receiver. He does what Thielen does to a slightly lesser extent, but is also a capable WR1. Here, Case Keenum throws a little behind Diggs, who plants his feet, goes up, snags the ball and provides great security to prevent the ball from being disrupted by the slot defender.
With center Pat Elflein out, that could give the 49ers' pass rush a distinct advantage on getting to Cousins. Elflein is easily the best player on Minnesota's offensive line; consider him to be the glue that keeps that unit together. A guy like DeForest Buckner should have zero problems racking up a huge game, provided that John DeFlippio, the offensive coordinator, doesn't have a few tricks up his sleeve.
So while I think the Vikings win this one, I also believe the 49ers can get to Kirk Cousins. It'll be difficult with a great wide receiver duo that provides a large margin for error, the return of running back Dalvin Cook, and a defense that'll constantly give the offense rest, but if they can take Cousins out of his comfort zone, that means they're one step closer at an upset victory on the road.
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