Cousins is on a record pace in Vikings’ pass-happy offense

EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins is on pace to rewrite the Vikings’ record book. He might even challenge some NFL marks.

Through five games, the Vikings quarterback has completed 161 of 226 passes for 1,688 yards. Project that over 16 games, and he would finish with an NFL-record 515 completions, 723 attempts (second-most all-time) and 5,402 yards (third-most).

Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson called Cousins’ stats “amazing.” But can he keep up this pace?

“If you’re the Minnesota Vikings and you have to win games in a shootout, you feel pretty comfortable,” Joe Theismann, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and NFL analyst, said Wednesday. “That’s not what you want to be, but that’s not on Kirk. Basically, you look at the Vikings and say, ‘Their defense hasn’t been at the standard that a lot of people expected.’ ”

Neither has their running game. The Vikings are 31st in the NFL in rushing with an average of 65.8 yards per game.

Combine those factors with passing statistics being sharply up throughout the NFL, and the Vikings are filling the air with footballs like they never have in their 57-year history.

The team record for completions in a season is 395 by Sam Bradford in 2016; the attempts mark is 606 by Warren Moon in 1995; and the yardage record is 4,717 by Daunte Culpepper in 2004.

Cousins has 11 touchdown passes, putting him on pace for 35. The Vikings record is 39 by Culpepper in 2004.

Mike Zimmer didn’t have a 4,000-yard passer in his first four seasons as Minnesota’s coach. Now he could have a 5,000-yard one.

“I don’t really care about statistics,” Zimmer said. “I just want to get wins. I don’t care how we do it. Obviously, I have a philosophy, but we have to do what we have to do to win football games.”

One reason for Cousins’ gaudy statistics is the Vikings (2-2-1) fell behind by 10 or more points in the first half in three straight games from Week 2 through 4. He was throwing on nearly every down as the Vikings tried to rally.

In Sunday’s 23-21 win at Philadelphia, the Vikings led 17-3 at halftime and 20-3 in the third quarter. Still, with the running game not very effective against the Eagles’ tough defensive line, Cousins ended up completing 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards.

“Stats can give you an indication of how a player’s playing, but it does not tell the whole story,” Cousins said. “My focus is on what do we need to do each week to win. In the first few weeks, we felt like throwing the football, getting pass attempts so our best athletes on the outside can make plays was our best chance to move the football and to score points. That may not be the case every week, but it’s given us a chance to be explosive early in the season, and we’ll see if it can continue.”

If defenses keep allowing passing yards to pile up the way they have this season, Cousins figures to continue putting up big numbers. There have been 57 300-yard passing performances this year, three by Cousins.

That is one per every 1.4 games. According to the NFL, from 1966 through 2017, there were 300-yard passing performances once per every 3.8 games.

Factors helping the passing game have included officials calling more penalties to better protect the quarterback and receivers. Vikings safety George Iloka said defensive backs “can’t impose your will on guys coming across the middle” like before.

“I think that’s fun for everybody on the outside, for people who follow this league to talk about, to discuss around the water cooler,” Cousins said of the increase in passing numbers. “But for me, I just want to do whatever it takes to win.”

Heading into Sunday’s game against Arizona at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings don’t have a winning record. But Theismann, a former Washington quarterback who watched Cousins plenty when he played for the Redskins from 2012-17, believes that will change if Minnesota can be more consistent on defense.

“Kirk was brought there to be a consistent force in the offense, to generate offense, and he has certainly done that,” Theismann said.

On track for …

If Kirk Cousins continues his current pace, here’s what his statistics would look like after 16 games: 

515 completions NFL record is 471 by Drew Brees in 2016

723 attempts Record is 727 by Matthew Stafford in 2012

5,402 yards Record is 5,477 by Peyton Manning in 2013