NFL Storylines: Vikings’ Kirk Cousins experiment already a failure

vikings-quarterback-kirk-cousins

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) watches from the bench during the second half against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

The NFL regular season is over and suddenly we’ve got 12 playoff teams and eight head coaching vacancies. Oh, and more dysfunction (to say the least) with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let’s not waste words – here are takeaways from the end of the 2018 regular season as we head towards wild-card weekend.

The mega-deal for Kirk Cousins in Minnesota has failed

As I’ve written here before: if I’m the Minnesota Vikings, I don’t sign Cousins to be my franchise quarterback.

Cousins will be 31 at training camp this summer, and although the Vikings still have a very good roster there’s little reason to expect the tide will suddenly turn and he’ll play as he’s being paid, like a top-eight quarterback. He was not Minnesota’s only issue this season, but his play certainly was their biggest one. Cousins’ numbers with late-game touchdowns and loads of yards in decisive losses only mask his inefficiencies.

There’s no way out of the Cousins deal for Minnesota, and I’m not suggesting they’re looking for one. But the Vikings Minnesota will only be free of this deal when it expires after the 2020 season. Bottom line for Cousins, though: there are other teams who are relieved they added a QB in the 2018 draft rather than chase Cousins in free agency, like the Jets, the Ravens, and even the Bills.

Lamar Jackson will need to adjust play style

Lamar Jackson looks like no other NFL quarterback has since Michael Vick in his first few seasons. That’s my own eyes telling me that, and I’ve watched this league intently for almost 40 seasons. But this is also true: he’ll have to become a more accurate thrower, and he’ll have to run far less by design or his health and success cannot last.

I know what you’re thinking: he’s been amazing in six starts and has only had to leave the field once for a possible injury. Yes, all that is true, but try starting 60 games in this league playing the way he is. Other quarterbacks who like to take off and run like Josh Allen, Andrew Luck or Patrick Mahomes are sliding feet-first to avoid being tackled. Many times, Jackson is lowering his helmet to absorb contact. Stop that.

The Steelers, AGAIN, are their own worst enemy

Since going to a third Super Bowl in six seasons back in February 20011 (a loss to the Packers in Dallas), the Steelers have not had a bad season. They have no campaigns under .500, and are a collective 37 games over .500 in those eight years. They’ve only won three playoff games, though. The quarterbacks they’ve beaten are A.J. McCarron, Matt Moore and Alex Smith.

And now, Antonio Brown. He was benched in Week 17 or did he refuse to play? He threw a football at his starting quarterback during the week … or did he? He can’t stand Ben Roethlisberger or they’re wonderful colleagues? We don’t know, and we may not need to, but if you sense there’s dysfunction within a successful pro sports franchise, it’s usually worse than it sounds.

Trading Antonio Brown sounds great until you try to replace him, and the Steelers already have the off-season headache of receiving far less for Le’Veon Bell than they could have anticipated 12 months ago.

It’s another circus in Pittsburgh and it truly is shocking they haven’t won more with the excellent talent they’ve drafted and signed via free agency in the last half-decade.

 
Putting a bow on the NFL's 2018 regular season with Ross Tucker
December 31 2018

There’s one big winner and one big loser from Black Monday

There are six new head coaching vacancies to add to Green Bay and Cleveland, which happened mid-season.

I absolutely think Bengals fans have a right to celebrate – while being grateful for the time put in – the departure of Marvin Lewis. While it’s true the Bengals were a wasteland of talent and good football for close to 15 seasons before Lewis became head coach, it’s forgotten that Lewis’s rookie season running the Bengals coincided with drafting Carson Palmer first overall. Palmer lasted 97 games in Cincinnati before he first begged, and later demanded, a way out.

The ownership in Cincinnati has long had a reputation for being frugal with their budget, but they have drafted multiple-time Pro Bowlers like Chad Johnson, Geno Atkins and A.J. Green. They have not been bereft of talent, and given Lewis got Cincinnati to the playoffs in seven different seasons, losing all of those games, you cannot say he wasn’t working with any talent.

Let’s add the fact four of those playoff losses were at home, and the Bengals in none of those contests ever scored more than 17 points, and the time was so right for new leadership.

Now, Miami I don’t get. Adam Gase had a rookie head coaching season in which his starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, suffered a season-ending injury with several weeks left and they still went 10-6, making the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons (and five coaching changes!). The guy came with a fantastic reputation for being innovative offensively, and he was stuck with quarterbacking in the bottom five to 10 of the league.

Gase will be a success and coach more playoff games wherever he goes next, while the Dolphins will start fresh and spin the same old tires they seem to have for close to 20 seasons now.

Road teams are 10-10 in the past 20 wild-card games

It’s a dangerous thing to weight home-field advantage in playoff games too heavily, especially this weekend. There’s a big reason why teams are usually playing wild-card weekend: there’s an Achilles’ heel, something you just can’t trust about them.

All four home teams this weekend feel highly questionable in terms of being able to deliver an “easy” win. Do any of Dallas, Chicago, Houston or Baltimore feel like mortal locks? I think not. Dak Prescott is the most senior of the home starting quarterbacks and winning that first playoff game is often a very tricky thing – many greats like John Elway, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning didn’t do it.

I would expect two of the home teams to lose this weekend and, for the record, I’ll say your wild-card weekend winners will be Indianapolis, Seattle, Chicago and Baltimore.

Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup
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