Much of the Vikings' 5-1 start to this season is hard to quantify. In terms of raw counting statistics, they don't do anything particularly well on offense or defense. Advanced stats suggest their play is more befitting of a team hovering at or just above .500 rather than one threatening to run away with a division title.
Many of us have been sent scurrying toward the idea of "winning on the margins," which is useful and contains truth but isn't always satisfying.
They don't turn the ball over and don't commit penalties. Do these guys know how to party or what?
The idea that the Vikings are making plays when it matters most also gets to the idea of culture, another nebulous but not insignificant factor in team sports. Most of us tend to perform better, particularly in important situations, when we feel supported and empowered.
And the middle of all of this — embodying and fueling the Vikings' success — is quarterback Kirk Cousins.
His season has been a statistical paradox in many ways, but anyone who studies him can see there are subtle intangible differences in his manner and interactions — something I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast with Star Tribune Vikings beat writer Ben Goessling.
Cousins' passer rating (88.7) is lower than it has been in any full season since he became a starter in 2015. Same goes for his yards per attempt (6.4) and yards per completion (9.9). Designed rollouts, a huge part of Cousins' game in past years (and especially 2021), have been a drag on the offense this year instead of a boon.
But he's led the Vikings to three fourth-quarter comebacks (Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago) and his 5-1 record stands in stark contrast to his 59-59-2 mark coming into the year.
And if you listen to him and watch him on the field, wearing his teammates' custom chains after victories and appearing in media availability settings, he seems more comfortable being himself than he did in past years — even if the nuances of head coach Kevin O'Connell's scheme haven't (yet) meshed fully with Cousins' skill set.
Goessling, who spends as much professional time around Cousins as anyone in the media, agrees there is a difference. He also agrees that it's hard to quantify.
Acknowledging this without trashing the strained relationship between Cousins and former head coach Mike Zimmer is impossible, but it's also too early to declare this a culture victory.
With both Cousins and the Vikings as a whole, there will need to be four-quarter improvement in these final 11 games instead of just fourth-quarter success.
But they can also be in a glass-is-half-full posture coming out of the bye. If you can go 5-1 on the margins and with intangibles, even better things could be coming down the road.\