This year's up-and-down effort comes after a 2017 campaign filled with success -- a 13-3 regular-season record, NFC North title and an NFC Championship Game appearance. All of this with Case Keenum under center, and he was playing on a one-year, $2 million deal. This offseason, the Vikings chose to let Keenum walk (to Denver) on a two-year, $36 million contract with $25 million in guarantees, and sign Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract. When comparing Keenum's production per start in Minnesota in 2017 to Cousins' starts this season, their overall performance isn't drastically different.
Keenum in 2017 (14 starts): 22 of 33 pass attempts, 243.4 passing ypg, 3:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 97.6 passer rating.
Cousins in 2018 (10 starts): 29 of 41 pass attempts, 294.7 passing ypg, 2.7:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 99.3 passer rating.
The issue is the Vikings are paying Cousins $10 million per year more than Keenum -- and committed $59 million more in guarantees -- for a drastic difference in performance. They're paying Cousins to be exceptional, and he hasn't been.
That's why I believe it was a mistake for Minnesota to pay him ALL that money.
Now, let me be clear: Cousins isn't the only Viking who's not playing up to snuff. Minnesota, which currently holds the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture, hasn't been anywhere near as dominant as it was a year ago. Specifically, the offensive line, run game and defense have taken noticeable steps back in 2018. In terms of the big boys up front, whose struggles were on full display in Sunday night's loss to Chicago, Minnesota's O-line ranked 12th in the league in pass blocking and 10th in run blocking in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. This season, it ranks 31st in pass blocking and 26th in run blocking. Despite having a unit that's been more adept (albeit marginally) at blocking for the run than the pass, the Vikings have leaned too heavily on Cousins and the passing game -- they're running the ball on just 32.6 percent of their offensive snaps, down from 47.4 percent a year ago. So, it's no coincidence that the rushing attack has fallen all the way from ranking seventh in yards per game in 2017 to 31st in 2018. As for the defense, Mike Zimmer's unit is on pace to give up 114 more points this season than it did in 2017.
Oof. That's rough.
With their numbers suffering as a whole, and looking nothing like the team of last year, it's clear the Vikings could use help in several areas. Some quarterbacks can mask weaknesses, but I don't believe Cousins is one of those guys. Yes, he's a smart quarterback, but he's a product of the system around him. And if I'm a defensive coordinator, I'm not concerned about Cousins. He's not going to consistently make dynamic, big-time throws or beat defenders with his legs -- not like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson (or a half dozen other QBs). The problem is, though, that Cousins is getting PAID like a quarterback who can transcend an offense beyond the Xs and Os, and that's just not him. He didn't do that in Washington and he's not doing that now.
With Sunday night's loss to Chicago, Cousins fell to 4-12 in his career in prime-time games. That's not the type of player I'd give a fully guaranteed $84 million deal to. Maybe that's just me, but it looks like the Vikings should've spent less money on the position and re-signed Keenum, who certainly played well enough in 2017 to merit an extension with Minnesota. They would have had more money to spend on other players to better address their weaknesses.
I was sure Minnesota would be a legit threat in the NFC this season with all the weapons around Cousins. But with diminishing production from surrounding players, he has left many people -- myself included -- questioning if the Vikings' biggest offseason move was worth it. I'd say it wasn't.
Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 12 pecking order is below.
Brees is getting better and better as the season progresses. With four touchdowns and a 153.2 passer rating in a dominant victory over Philly, he's making a strong case for why he should win the first league MVP award of his illustrious career.
What a game. Mahomes gave his team a chance against the Rams, but like I've said before ... although his fearlessness and arm talent will play in his favor in any situation, they can also result in some turnovers. He had two costly turnovers in the final minutes of the game that doomed the Chiefs. Protecting the football is something the young gunslinger needs to work on before the playoffs.
I was a bit surprised that the Chiefs held Gurley in check for most of the game. Finishing with 94 scrimmage yards (55 rushing, 39 receiving), Gurley was held out of the end zone for the first time this season, but he's the first running back to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season (1,043).
Rodgers has not thrown an interception in his last 258 pass attempts -- the longest such streak of his career. Rodgers had a solid performance in Seattle (21-for-30 for 332 pass yards, two TDs, 128.8 passer rating), but it wasn't enough to end the Packers' skid on the road. They've lost every road game this season despite Rodgers' elite play.
I was really impressed with how Goff handled the pressure down the stretch against the Chiefs and how he executed that 40-yard dime to Gerald Everett for the go-ahead touchdown. Goff is deserving of some love in the MVP conversation after Monday's performance, especially considering it was Todd Gurley's least productive game of the season.
Brown's 78-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter fueled the Steelers' late comeback. It really was a tale of two halves for Brown as he had just one catch for seven yards in the first half before going off for four receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown coming out of halftime.
Hill had one heck of a performance Monday night, with 10 receptions for 215 yards and two receiving TDs. I don't think there's a defender in this league who can keep up with Hill, who is second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,106). He's torching guys every week.
Wilson proved once again that he's the Magic Man in the fourth quarter against Green Bay. He posted a 147.9 passer rating in the final quarter and orchestrated his 21st career game-winning drive. This huge win in prime time keeps Seattle right in the playoff hunt.
Hunt continues to be a mismatch nightmare out of the backfield. After Monday's effort, Hunt is third in the NFL in scrimmage TDs (14) and fifth in scrimmage yards (1,202).
Gordon had more than 150 scrimmage yards for the fifth time this season with 69 rushing yards and 87 receiving yards Sunday. He's tied with Todd Gurley for the most such games this season.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: Brady's plummet is simply due to the fact that he's being outplayed statistically by a lot of players. He's still the best QB of all time, but he hasn't been that guy of late. That said, expect Brady to come out roaring against a struggling Jets squad out of the bye week, following the Patriots' brutal loss to the Titans in Week 10.
Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: Joining Hall of Famer Randy Moss, Thielen is the second player in franchise history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in the team's first 10 games of a season. With 1,013 receiving yards, he ranks fourth heading into Week 12 behind Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill and Michael Thomas.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Although Rivers is the only quarterback in the league with at least two touchdown passes in every game he's played this season, his two interceptions were costly against the Broncos on Sunday. Too many errors by the offense prevented the Chargers from extending their six-game win streak.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts: I mistakenly left Luck off the list when I first put this together, but he's certainly deserving of a mention after leading Indianapolis to four straight wins, catapulting the squad into the playoff race. He's thrown three TD passes or more in seven straight games, which is the third-longest streak in the Super Bowl era.