Kirk Cousins and the Win/Loss Conundrum

Dec 13, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) greet after the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While many statistics define how good a quarterback is in the NFL, one that is highly controversial is the win/loss record. The quarterback is penalized for a win or loss regardless of how the rest of the team does. He is also penalized for a win or loss regardless of how he does on any given game day. 

I say penalized for three reasons that all tie together. The first being that he gets credited for the win regardless of how he plays. Second, specifically for a pocket passing quarterback, you need to have a running back(s) that force the opponent to at least commit to stopping the run. Finally, you also need to have a defense that will consistently keep teams from scoring late in games. Can you pin a loss on a quarterback if his defense gives up a touchdown to take the lead with 15 seconds left? 

No quarterback in the league has been scrutinized more than Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. At 51-51-2, he has the textbook definition of average when it comes to the win/loss record. Cousins gets heat for being paid top money in the NFL for a subpar record, and an even worse record against winning teams. 

Defining what a winning team is

For this analysis, I decided to define a team with a winning record as having a winning record at game-time. Unless the team has won 9 games, teams won’t know which teams will finish with a winning record. This also keeps data from fluctuating, especially with 8-7 record teams in week 17, where they either finish at 9-7, 8-8, or rarely 8-7-1. 

His record at the end of the 2020 NFL season against winning teams is 13-28-1. This record signifies before games being played. His record against teams that finished with winning records is 7-35. Both coming courtesy of, after looking through every single game log of Cousins. 

While both records can be used against Kirk, they are dependent on how the run game was and how the defense was as well. For my analysis, I will be using the 13-28-1 record, but I will be researching the 7-35 record as well. 

Running game woes

Of the 42 games, Kirk’s supporting run game averaged 91.6 yards per game and a touchdown every other game. To give some context, in 2020 only the Steelers averaged less on the ground than Kirk’s run game against winning teams. His run game went over 100 yards only 15 times, and 10 of those games resulted in wins. In 27 of those 42 games, there was not a rushing score from any running back. 22 games running backs failed to surpass 100 yards.

One game that sticks out was week 4 of the 2018 NFL season. The Vikings lost to the Rams 38-31. Kirk ended the game leading the team in rushing with 28 yards. His supporting cast could only muster 26 yards. While there have been some spectacular help from time to time, Kirk has had the shorter end of the stick when it comes to run help outside the 2019 and 2020 NFL seasons. 

Defense solid, but has faults

Kirk’s defense has been overall solid throughout the 42 games. Only twice has a Kirk-led team been down by more than 17 points entering the fourth quarter (0-2). They have averaged 25.9 points against, but 33 of the 42 games the defense gave up points in the fourth quarter. The defense also averaged 7 points against but gave up 8+ points 17 times.

To break down the scoring even more, here are the records for whether Kirk’s team was leading, losing, or entered the fourth quarter tied:

Leading: 10-2

Losing: 1-24-1

Tied: 2-2

While the defense does deserve some of the blame, I would say that they deserve the least of the three. Football is after all a team game and they have put Kirk and the offense in positions to win games. 

Kirk shares blame for losses

Kirk does hold some blame in this as well. In 42 games, the offense averaged 22.4 points per game, which is a little low in today’s NFL. Frankly, the offense has failed to produce more times than not. The offense has only averaged 6.6 points in 42 games, with 8 games scoring 0 points in the fourth quarter. Only 7 games did Kirk and the offense produce 8 or more points. Kirk has had decent stats per game (267 yards, 1.8 TDs, .76 Ints) but nothing to write home about. 

Kirk is the highest-paid player on the Vikings. Simply pinning a win/loss record on him is foolish to do. Kirk does need to improve against teams with winning records, but like every quarterback in the league, he needs some help.