Chip Scoggins
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The Vikings officially enter game week Monday, with the opener against their biggest rival in clear view now, which means we can go back to critiquing how Kirk Cousins performs when the pocket collapses.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The blowtorch that singed Cousins’ backside this past week was an example of cancel culture on display. The Vikings quarterback expressed his opinion on a divisive subject using some clumsy phrasing, and the social media stampede snorted and took off.

Never mind that millions upon millions of citizens happen to share the same opinion as Cousins on COVID-19, and that the root of his message shouldn’t be all that controversial, if we truly value freedom of expression and individual thought.

Cousins said he doesn’t live in fear of the virus, that his faith gives him peace in the event of the worst outcome, and that he’s not a fan of masks but wears them out of respect for people and to protect those around him.

And he got ripped to shreds for that?

What a country.

We live in a sound-bite society, and it was two phrases in his original comments on a national podcast that got Cousins in hot water: “Survival of the fittest” and “If I die, I die.”

Upon reflection, I’m guessing Cousins wishes he could take back those two comments. Or explain his feelings in more detail to avoid sounding flippant. As an NFL quarterback, he lives a fishbowl existence in which everything he says is dissected and scrutinized. Fair or not, that’s the deal, on any subject.

But he shouldn’t feel compelled to apologize for having an opinion that might differ from others. More than his intent or his message, those two phrases sparked the uproar. Those lines will probably stick with him in the same way “You like that?” has become his trademark.

This country is so deeply divided and quick-triggered that every … single … topic is bound to make someone angry. We can’t even agree on what day of the week it is without breaking into a verbal donnybrook and accusing each other of being idiots. It’s exhausting.

Sheesh.

Now, back to football.

In that realm, the line on Cousins probably won’t be much different in Year 3 than his first two seasons in purple. Some good, some bad, with much of his production riding on whether his offensive line shows improvement and several young receivers emerge to take pressure off Adam Thielen now that Stefon Diggs is no longer his sidekick.

Cousins altered the “big game” knock last season by winning a playoff game in New Orleans, highlighted by a 43-yard completion to Thielen in overtime that could not have been thrown any better.

The other narrative continued in vivid imagery the following week, when San Francisco’s ferocious pass rush overwhelmed the Vikings’ line and turned Cousins skittish. He had no chance that day.

An abundance of evidence exists by now that Cousins isn’t and will never be Harry Houdini in the pocket. He has a different skill set than some of the league’s young stars who play that position with a sense of flair and improvisation.

Cousins’ style is more textbook. Given ideal conditions, he’s extremely accurate with a nice touch. He looks most comfortable with scripted deception on rollouts and bootlegs. There are games in which he looks like a maestro, but also games in which he looks flustered and indecisive.

Therein lies the great debate about Cousins. Is he good, better than good, elite, or continually sabotaged by offensive line neglect? That evaluation always seems to be a moving target.

His offensive line doesn’t look all that different or primed to take a significant step forward. That position remains a major question mark, and we’ve seen how Cousins responds when they struggle.

The organization gave Cousins an extension in March, so this won’t be a lame-duck season as his original contract set up to be. The pressure on him hasn’t changed, though. Cousins remains the most important player on the roster, the guy with the biggest spotlight, and whatever happens under that light will be the subject of great debate.

chip.scoggins@startribune.com