ST. PAUL — At this point in his career, Kirk Cousins is what he is.
The Vikings quarterback is a cerebral signal-caller with an accurate arm who can make the play when it’s right in front of him. He’s also someone who often overthinks himself into danger with little facility for getting himself out of it.
Need proof? Look no further than the biggest play of Sunday’s 43-34 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
With the Vikings staring at fourth-and-short and trailing 22-10 in the second half, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak thought it was a good time to take a shot at the end zone. He got the OK from head coach Mike Zimmer during a timeout and dialed up a play designed to let his best players make something happen.
Instead of running Dalvin Cook up the gut, he put Cousins in the shotgun with unquestioned No. 1 receiver Adam Thielen to his left along with dynamic rookie Justin Jefferson, and journeyman pass-catcher Tajae Sharpe to his right.
And Cousins threw to a bomb to Sharpe. Maybe because Laquon Treadwell was nowhere to be found. The ball fell harmlessly to the turf.
“I think he had Adam on the other side 1-on-1,” Zimmer said. “He went to Tajae.”
It appeared Thielen had beaten Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander off the line and had a step in space. He seemed to think so, too.
“It’s (a play) where the quarterback has the opportunity to pick a side, and he picked Tajae,” Thielen said. “There’s a lot of plays throughout a game that I maybe win and don’t get the ball, but then there might be other plays where I don’t win and do get the ball. That’s just part of the game.”
Cousins had a way to explain away his decision after the game. He always does.
“The safety was leaning over to Adam and it was in the short field,” he said. “I don’t love throwing go-balls with the safety moving over the top. That was why I went to Tajae. I’ll have to watch the film to get a better feel for what made the most sense there.”
In other words, Cousins trusted his pre-snap read more than his most dangerous weapon. He saw the single-high safety shading to Thielen’s side and essentially made up his mind before the play even started.
It made no difference that Sharpe was blanketed. That’s where Cousins was going.
This is who he is. This is who he’s always been.
To be clear, this loss wasn’t on Cousins. Frankly, he could have completed 50 of 50 pass attempts for 500 yards and the Vikings still might have lost because the defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed.
But Cousins refusing to trust his best players in big moments is nothing new. He’s been hardwired from a young age to avoid risks, and he robotically follows that regimen.
If it’s not perfect, he’s not going to throw it.
Sometimes that means turtling in the pocket and taking a sack instead of throwing a jump ball downfield. Sometimes that means throwing to Tajae Sharpe instead of Adam Thielen with the game on the line.
Now, there’s a good chance if Cousins would have thrown to Thielen it would have been incomplete, anyway. Still, Thielen has shown the ability to make seemingly impossible catches in the past; the fingertip grab against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last year comes to mind.
It’s on Cousins to give him a chance, which he doesn’t do nearly enough. It’s why he and Thielen have gotten into it in the past, and why Stefon Diggs is currently playing for the Buffalo Bills.
At some point, Cousins is going to have to let his best players make plays. If he doesn’t figure that out, the Vikings have no chance.