Cousins excelling at play-action has opened offense

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Kirk Cousins heads to prime time, a place where he's struggled to shine or help his team victories.

The Vikings QB is coming off the best three-game stretch of his career, becoming the first player in NFL history to record 300-plus pass yards and a 135-plus passer rating in three straight games, per NFL Research.

Part of Cousins' improving play in recent weeks has been a better use of play-action to open up easy completions and take deep shots. With defenses fearing Dalvin Cook and the run game, play-action passes make life easier on Cousins, give him a beat more time, and keep him in rhythm.

The results speak for themselves.

The Vikings QB has used play-action on 35.7 percent of dropbacks, second-highest in NFL, per Pro Football Focus. On those passes, Cousins has eight touchdowns, one interceptions, and a 140.2 passer rating on play-action in 2019. His TD throws and passer rating rank first among 34 qualifying QBs on play-action passes.

The fear of Cook and the run game helps, but it's been proven that even for teams who struggled to run the ball as effectively as the Vikings, play-action is still helpful to pull up linebackers and create one more beat of space of separation for targets.

NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported on Good Morning Football that the key for offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski has been the details that the offensive line, backs and QB paid attention to that has helped the play-action game click.

"It needs to look like, taste like, smell like the run," Stefanski recently told Pelissero.

Teams fearing Cook doesn't hurt either.

It's not just straight play action that the Vikings have utilized to help Cousins. Minnesota has employed play-action rollout on 31 of 207 dropbacks this season. The 15 percent of dropbacks is the highest usage in the NFL. The rollout allows receivers time to develop routes while getting Cousins out of trouble behind a sometimes faulty line. The Vikings used it to perfection on Cousins dime TD toss to Adam Thielen against the Lions Sunday. On play-action rollouts, Cousins is 20-30 passing for 322 yards with 4 TDs, and just one INT -- the most passing yards and TDs on play-action rollouts in 2019.

It's no coincidence that the Vikings' employment of more play-action rollouts has led to more inspired play from its QB. Of the 31 play-action rollouts this season, 18 have come in the past three games.

The play-action boost has helped Cousins deep passing, where the QB ranks in the top two among QBs in completion percentage (53.8), yards per attempt (19.6), TDs (6) and passer rating (138.6).

Stefanski deserves credit for righting the ship after the receivers' room appeared ready to mutiny three weeks ago. The bump in play-action reps has helped put Cousins in better spots to succeed and turned the tide on a season that was looking like it might teeter over the edge.

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