This season has established a clear pattern: When Kirk Cousins takes chances under pressure, the Vikings win.
When he doesn't, they lose.
How comfortable Cousins is with continuing to take chances under pressure, as he has the last two games in resuscitating the Vikings' season, will largely determine their fate the rest of the way.
That comfort level was well-established in Ben Goessling's excellent second-day piece after the Vikings defeated Green Bay 34-31 on Sunday with details and this key Cousins quote:
"I could kind of point to a half-dozen throws there that were too aggressive and I could argue that that's one of them," Cousins said of a late throw to Adam Thielen (pictured above after the catch) that set up the game-winning field goal. "I don't think you want to live doing that. I think that we got away with it a couple times. I keep saying we're [on a] razor's edge, but that's a play where it's an example of it."
I read that, and I thought: uh-oh. And: Is the take-a-chance mentality from the past two games, plus the play-it-safe mentality that preceded it, more a function of Cousins than anything Klint Kubiak or Mike Zimmer are preaching?
Vikings writer Andrew Krammer and I talked about all of that on Tuesday's Daily Delivery podcast, and the numbers tell a very interesting story.
In six games before the bye, with the Vikings going 3-3, Cousins was only pressured on 29.8% of his dropbacks (per Pro Football Focus), the 12th-lowest rate of 36 QBs in that span.
But in four games since? Cousins has been pressured 43.1% of his dropbacks, sixth-most of 38 QBs.
Conventional wisdom says the best way to have success with Cousins is to give him time to throw. But given the inconsistency (a nicer word than they perhaps deserve) of the offensive line this year and in the past, the most important thing is this: Encourage Cousins to keep being aggressive under pressure. Numbers from the last four weeks (and really the entire season) tell a compelling story:
*In losses to Dallas and Baltimore, Cousins completed 12 of 26 passes for just 82 yards when facing pressure. The 3.2 yards per attempt were No. 32 of 38 QBs under pressure in those two weeks, and checkdown Kirk was in full force. The Vikings lost two close games.
*In wins over the Chargers and Packers, Cousins is 19 of 30 for 279 yards and two touchdowns under pressure. Those 279 yards are almost 100 more than any other QB has thrown for under pressure in the last two weeks. The Vikings won two close games.
Now: Cousins did have two "turnover-worthy plays" in the last two weeks that he got away with; in the previous two games, he had just one. But would you live with one extra ball up for grabs if it meant producing big plays and keeping the chains moving?
Also: It's a little too reductive to say being aggressive is the only reason they won. The Vikings could have beaten Dallas with one defensive stop or Baltimore with better efficiency. They could have lost to the Packers if Cousins' late pass had been held onto by Darnell Savage. So Cousins is correct that there is a time and place for it.
But this is the bottom line: In their five wins this season, PFF grades Cousins as the eighth-best QB under pressure out of 38. In their five losses this season, PFF grades Cousins No. 29 out of 38. He hasn't thrown a single interception under pressure all season, but in the five wins he's been far more productive and has taken more chances.
That has to be the formula going forward, even if Cousins doesn't seem altogether comfortable with it — and even if it ends up producing some turnovers.