Kirk Cousins: Vikes can be 'explosive' with play-action

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After a disappointing first season in Minnesota, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense are going in a different direction in 2019, on the field and on the drawing board.

The talk of Vikings training camp so far has been the potential increase in use of play-action passes, now that Kevin Stefanski is Minnesota's offensive coordinator. 

According to Football Outsiders, there's room for improvement in that department. The Vikings utilized play-action on just 21 percent of their plays in 2018, good for 25th in the league, even though their DVOA on play-action plays versus non-play-action plays was 33.8 percent higher (eighth).

In short, Minnesota performed well when utilizing play-action but didn't do it often enough in 2018. The result was an 8-7-1 record and a January spent on the couch. That demanded a change in leadership on offense (Stefanski in, John DeFilippo out) and in offensive philosophy.

Stefanski acknowledged this week that the Vikings could expand their use of play-action, in part because Cousins is so effective on those plays.

"I think Kirk works really hard in the ball-handling aspect of the game, and that's in the run game and in the pass game. When he sticks that ball out there it looks exactly the same as it does on a run as a play-action pass. He's really diligent about that and that comes from working it," Stefanski told reporters Monday. "I think that's an element from his game that allows play-action to have some success."

What comes with more play-action will be more opportunities for Cousins to escape the pocket -- he took 40 sacks last season, the 10th most in the NFL -- and potentially run for distance. The quarterback suggested on NFL Network's Inside Training Camp Live on Wednesday that he could have a career year in the ground game.

"I think what they're trying to say is one, we have had success with those bootlegs and keepers in the past, so we've done it. It's just, let's maybe create more explosive (plays) off of it," Cousins said, when asked about the possible expanded use of play-action. "Then I do think there's a point of emphasis that, Kirk, you have the ability to move. Why not use it a little bit more? Not for a thousand yards, but you know, 200 or 300 (yards), yeah, maybe it's there and we'll see if we can do that."

Gaining 200-300 rushing yards in 2019 would be quite a departure for Cousins. The quarterback has just 502 career rushing yards and has never rushed for more than 179 yards in a season.

A more likely scenario is that Cousins simply makes more ad-libbed big plays out of the pocket and outside of the hashes, something Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is anticipating in 2019.

"I think a lot of it has to do with making some plays off-schedule," Zimmer told NFL Network. "There are times when a quarterback has to do that, get out of the pocket. Whether it's move in the pocket with his feet or get out of the pocket, whether it's run or find somebody down the field, a lot of big plays happen off schedule, so that's one of the things we're working on with him."

The result, Zimmer hopes, is a more effective, unpredictable Vikings offense, a unit that is returning the same Week 1 starting QB for the first time since 2012-13 (Christian Ponder). That stability at the QB position, plus a slight change in offensive philosophy, should be a positive change for Minnesota.

"I think it solidifies the team a little bit. He's had a really, really good camp so far," Zimmer said of Cousins. "I think the things we're doing with him offensively have been great for him. Some of the things we've asked him to work on, he's been really working on. Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak and Klint Kubiak have been doing really a fantastic job with him. I'm so impressed with my coaching staff that I may not have to coach as hard."

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