The obsession with whether Aaron Rodgers will play on Sunday meant many other storylines went under the radar this week as the Vikings prepared to face the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Kirk Cousins is likely very thankful.
If Rodgers hadn’t injured his left knee last Sunday night against Chicago, there almost certainly would have been more focus on the Vikings’ $84 million quarterback making his first start for the Vikings against their biggest rival.
Cousins has never played in a game in Lambeau Field in his seven-year career, but he was on the sideline as Robert Griffin III’s backup for Washington in Week 2 of the 2013 season. “It’s a great, great stadium, a lot of history,” Cousins said. “Looking forward to an opportunity to play there.”
Cousins, who completed 29 of 46 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown and was six sacked times in a 35-18 playoff loss against the visiting Packers in 2015, will be new to the Vikings-Green Bay rivalry but he has plenty of experience in rivalry games coming from Washington. The Washington-Dallas rivalry has been every bit as nasty as the Vikings-Packers.
If you just look at Cousins’ win-loss record against the Cowboys, it isn’t good. He only won once in his seven starts. But a deeper look shows that Washington’s struggles against Dallas could not be pinned on quarterback play. Cousins completed 176 of 257 passes for 1,919 yards with 12 touchdowns, five interceptions and 13 sacks. Cousins’ passer rating in the seven games was 97.7.
The issue for Cousins often appeared to be his teammates, especially the ones on defense. Washington got swept last season by the Cowboys, losing 33-19 in October at home and 38-14 in November in Dallas. Cousins was sacked a combined eight times in those two games.
While the Vikings have question marks about their offensive line, one thing they have going for them is one of the NFL’s best defenses and not one that is going to consistently give up more than 30 points. Since going 0-5-1 against the Packers, the Vikings are 4-1 against Green Bay and have not given up more than 14 points in any of those victories.
Cousins said he already has a feel for what this rivalry means.
“I think that we feel it throughout the year as a player for the Minnesota Vikings,” he said. “In the offseason, you feel it. You run into people and you are going to hear a lot more about the rivalry of the Vikings and Packers or you are going to hear about your opponents in the NFC North more than you are going to hear about some team in the AFC that you may play once only every four years. I think that is when you start to feel it and it starts to build. You realize how important it is for this organization, for our fans. Just the math of needing to win your division to get a home playoff game. I think the math would say we want to win our divisional games.”
Although it’s only Week 2, this one feels especially important because it would help set an early tone for the season and continue the Vikings’ success against the Packers. It also would put Minnesota atop the NFC North after the Bears and Lions both lost in Week 1.
The nice thing for Cousins is that he has put himself in a situation where he doesn’t have to do everything in order for his team to be successful. But he is a key piece to the puzzle and part of the expectation is that he will be able to go into a place like Lambeau Field and guide this offense.
Cousins isn’t Rodgers but he was guaranteed $84 million over three years because the Vikings are confident he can do enough to beat Rodgers. Especially, if coach Mike Zimmer’s defense plays at the level that’s expected on a weekly basis.
Cousins got passing marks for his performance in a Week 1 victory over the 49ers — his touchdown passes to Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph were things of beauty — but that was just an appetizer. Beating the Packers in Lambeau Field would be considered a main course.
Thanks to Rodgers’ injury that hasn’t been discussed much this week, but it will be a focus come Sunday.