Kirk Cousins provides Eagles defense with critical measuring stick in week 2

Eagles vs vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 11: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass during an NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on September 11, 2022 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

After a chaotic performance in week 1 that saw Jonathan Gannon’s unit gift Jared Goff and the Lions a lifeline, Philadelphia now braces itself for a far more intimidating quarterback in Kirk Cousins.

The Philadelphia Eagles allowed 35 points in their Week 1 victory against the Detroit Lions, a team not commonly considered in the top half of the league in terms of offensive firepower. 

The defense failed to generate consistent pressure from an expensive group of defensive linemen. Philadelphia native and St. Joseph’s Prep graduate D’Andre Swift gashed the Eagles for 144 yards on just 15 carries.

Jared Goff failed to put together a long string of completions when presented with opportunities, and he appeared out of sync with his wide receivers at points on Sunday. Goff’s shortcomings helped the Eagles sneak away with the win narrowly.

The unfailing predictor of defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s unit in 2021 was the merit of the opposing starting quarterback. Signal-callers with track records of success moved the ball with ease, while the Eagles exposed multiple outmatched quarterbacks who couldn’t execute plays available to be made. 

Gannon and the Philadelphia defense failed their first test in Week 1 even when they faced an underwhelming opposing quarterback. Will the struggles continue despite the offseason upgrades in personnel on the defensive side of the ball? Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings will provide a critical measuring stick in Week 2.

2021 and 2022 Eagles Schedules

Five starting quarterbacks who faced the Eagles in the first nine weeks of the 2021 season finished in the top 10 of Gregg Rosenthal’s NFL QB Index. They didn’t face a starting quarterback who finished higher than 18th on the list for the remainder of the season. Opponents included Garrett Gilbert, Jake Fromm, and Taylor Heinecke. 

The imbalance provided a clear explanation for the defense’s statistical improvement down the stretch. However, it didn’t provide a large sample size against quarterbacks closer to the league average, especially late in the season when the defense hit its stride. The 2022 season will play out differently when the Eagles face talented quarterbacks who don’t have the same overwhelming track records of success as Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes.

Cousins, the 13th-ranked quarterback on the 2021 NFL QB Index, and three other looming opponents fall somewhere in the middle. Kyler Murray, Carson Wentz, and Trevor Lawrence all bring capable skill sets that landed them in the top two of their respective draft classes, but none of them have ever started for a team that won a playoff game.

The Eagles face the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 12. Expected Green Bay starter Aaron Rodgers owns a successful body of work significantly more impressive than any other opposing quarterback that Gannon’s defense will face during the regular season. 

Kirk Cousins and the Vikings

Kirk Cousins came out firing in Week 1 against the Packers with 15 completions in 21 tries for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. He executed to the tune of an emphatic 23-7 victory. A conservative approach in the second half still got him 277 yards and a 71.9% completion percentage on the afternoon. Justin Jefferson continued his ascension into the top tier of NFL wide receivers with nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

The track record of Derek Carr, Rosenthal’s 10th-ranked quarterback, is comparable to Cousins. The Las Vegas Raiders veteran embarrassed the Eagles in Week 7 last year with a 31/34 performance in a blowout victory that resembled the same type of efficiency that Kirk Cousins showed on Sunday. Neither quarterback will ever be enshrined in Canton, but they both have more than enough talent to carve up porous NFL defenses that can’t generate pressure, finish tackles, or utilize their talent properly.

NFL media and fans don’t frequently consider Kirk Cousins in the realm of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has one playoff win to his credit in 11 NFL seasons, eight as a full-time starter.

Pro Football Network broke down his poor record as a starter in prime-time games entering a Week 14 matchup in 2021 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. Among the 62 quarterbacks who had thrown 500 or more passes in prime-time games during the Super Bowl era, only Jeff George, Andy Dalton, and Jim Everett had worse winning percentages.

The former Michigan State Spartans star has thrown up some duds in big spots, but his win-loss record doesn’t tell the whole story of his career in big moments. Among the same sample of quarterbacks, he also ranks seventh in passer rating and second in completion percentage at 67.8% behind only Drew Brees.

His impressive career statistics against the Eagles have helped his teams to a 6-3 record in games he has started. The 2017 Eagles swept Washington with Kirk Cousins under center, but they struggled to defend him in previous seasons. The Vikings have won both their games against the Eagles since acquiring Cousins in 2018. He has 19 touchdowns and six interceptions in his career against Philadelphia.

Eagles Confidence Level

The Eagles gloriously bulldozed the Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship Game after the 2017 season. The loss will never truly heal for the Vikings franchise in the same way that the memory of the NFC Championship Game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season still makes Eagles fans cringe.

To make matters worse for the Vikings, they’ve helped the Eagles clinch two playoff berths since. Ugly losses in Week 17 in 2018 and 2021 eliminated them from playoff contention while the Eagles locked up NFC Wild Card berths as a direct result in both seasons. 

Philadelphia fans will naturally feel confident and euphoric at the home opener at the Linc on Monday Night Football. After all, an opponent that choked away their supposed dream season at the same stadium just five years ago is starting a quarterback who gets ripped for coming up small in prime-time games.

However, the NFC Championship meltdown came courtesy of Case Keenum. Last year’s loss in Week 17 came with unknown journeyman Sean Mannion under center. Kirk Cousins might have dropped some key opportunities during his career, but he has historically had Philadelphia’s number.

A defense that failed its first test against the Lions will not benefit from buying into the conversations about how Cousins struggles in prime time. They need to find a way to stop a capable opposing attack in a way that they haven’t done yet during the tenure of Jonathan Gannon.

If the defense passively leaves opportunities on the field like they did against Carr and the Raiders last season, a talented quarterback like Kirk Cousins can also make them pay. The explosive potential of Jefferson adds another wrinkle to the equation. Will Gannon find a way to pass the Week 2 test?

Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire