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September 13, 2023

The stat that shows why Kirk Cousins is worse in prime-time games

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is known for coming up short on the biggest of stages. There's a simple answer why he falters in prime time.

Kirk Cousins: the NFL's punching bag. 

His catchphrase is nauseatingly cringe. He dresses like his wife picks out his clothes every morning. Most of all, he fails when the lights are shining the brightest. 

Cousins, in his sixth season with the Vikings, is coming to Lincoln Financial Field for a matchup with the Eagles on Thursday Night Football this week. Cousins in a prime-time game? Eagles fans should be expecting a cakewalk win, right?

Well, that's what happened last year. The 2022 Eagles, much like this year's iteration of the Birds, began their season on the road against a team they probably should've beaten by double-digits, but only scraped by with a close win in an uneven performance. Cousins and the Vikings then came to South Philly for a Monday Night Football affair and were promptly stomped by a score of 24-7.

Why does Cousins have this rep? Is he really that much worse on the national stage?

Cousins, during his tenure in Minnesota, has played in 18 "prime-time" games. Those games include any Thursday night, Sunday night, and Monday night games. Additionally, last season's nationally televised game in London and Saturday afternoon matchup with the Colts were included. Everyone was tuned into that. More eyeballs, in theory, equals him falling apart on the field. 

Cousins is 8-10 (.444 winning percentage) in those games. In every other game he's started as a Viking, he's 38-24-1 (.611 winning percentage). The caveat there is those big Sunday night and Monday night games are usually supposed to feature marquee teams. The competition is stiffer. The football world wasn't completely tuned into the times he was beating up on some three-win Lions team, for example.

Looking game-by-game at Cousins' performances, one thing became clear: He turns the ball over at a higher rate in these prime-time matchups than he does during a "normal" game:

 StatPrime Time Regular Time 
 Games18 62 
 TDs35 120 
Turnovers* 19 50 
TD:TO ratio 1.8 to 1 2.4 to 1 
 TOs/game1.1 0.8 
*Turnovers include INTs and fumbles lost

The turnover margin, to absolutely no one's surprise, is integral to winning in the NFL. In Week 1, the Patriots had 131 more yards of total offense than the Eagles, but the Birds won because they forced two turnovers and New England forced only one. It simply comes down to that. 

With the pressure beating down upon him, Cousins gets an extra set of butterfingers, forgets to look off the safety, and starts tightening up. In Week 2 last year, Cousins threw three picks against the Eagles. 

This isn't reinventing any defensive concept, but if the Eagles force Cousins into a couple of turnovers, they're probably going to win. Darius Slay will handle Justin Jefferson and unproven second-year corner Josh Jobe will likely start in relief of James Bradberry, matching up with Jordan Addison, who just put up 4-61-1 in his NFL debut. Cousins should look to attack the Eagles' injury-depleted linebacker group and inexperienced safeties, particularly with tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

When the skies darken and America turns on their TVs, however, all bets are off when it comes to Cousins. 

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