Over a large sample, every quarterback in the NFL is much worse when they are pressured than when their offensive line gives them a clean pocket. But in one game, sometimes a quarterback can rise to the occasion when facing the heat. That was the case for Kirk Cousins on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Per Pro Football Focus, Cousins was pressured 18 times on 42 drop backs — which was driven in part by the fact that he only threw eight passes more than 10 yards down the field — and on those 18 throws he completed 16 passes for 179 yards and one touchdown, good for a 134.1 quarterback rating when under duress.
The Eagles had very little success blitzing Cousins. On nine total blitzes, he completed seven passes for 121 yards.
Overall Cousins has a 98.4 rating when under pressure here — which isn’t quite as good as his 109.4 rating when kept clean. He has a better rating overall (108.8 vs. 104.0) when blitzed than when not blitzed.
“He’s had experience,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday. “I would say that’s the biggest thing is having experience and then the ability to get into different protections.”
The question is whether his numbers are sustainable. Against the blitz he was a better passer in 2016 and 2017, so it appears likely that he can continue to take advantage when opponents send an extra rusher. However, his passer rating under pressure was just a 66.3 last season and has never been higher over a full year than 72.3.
Of course, this season is different. Passing around the league has increased and the Vikings have been beneficiaries several times of personal foul penalties.
Zimmer commented on the explosion in passing numbers on Monday.
“Last year was like the lowest scoring in the league in a long, long time and they wanted to fix that,” Zimmer said. “They obviously have. They’re allowing things to happen; allowing receivers not to get touched; allowing QBs not to get hit.”
Cousins has also benefitted from talent at receiver. Adam Thielen became the first receiver ever to gain over 100 yards in each of his first five games. The Vikings’ quarterback has a 117.3 rating when throwing to Stefon Diggs and 115.5 rating when targeting Thielen.