Through four games, Kirk Cousins is struggling, and things are getting ugly in Minnesota.
Though the Vikings are 2-2, the offense has underwhelmed, with Cousins ranking among the most ineffective quarterbacks in the NFL so far.
In a 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Cousins completed 75% of his passes, but threw for an average of just 6.4 yards, with no touchdowns (and no interceptions). The Vikings gained 15 first downs in the game and did not score until the last three minutes when Dalvin Cook found the end zone.
As has been the case this season, Cousins missed big opportunities downfield and often resorted to check-downs for minimal gains. Though some of that can be attributed to the Bears' fierce defense, Cousins has frequently been hesitant to take chances on the field this season and has missed open players. He has just three passing touchdowns on the season.
After the loss to the Bears, Vikings star receiving Adam Thielen took as blatant a shot at his quarterback as a receiver ever will. Reflecting on Cousins missing him on a deep ball, Thielen said Cousins has to be able to make the throw.
"He made a great read of finding me open, and just didn't complete the pass. It's as simple as that … At some point, you're not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL. That's when you have to be able to throw the ball … You have to be able to hit the deep balls."
Here was the throw-in question:
Cousins' poor play has plagued the Vikings other times this season. In Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, he threw a critical, late interception that sealed the win for Green Bay.
Among many problems for the Vikings is that they have paid the trio of Cousins, Diggs, and Thielen handsomely, and they are not producing.
Diggs and Thielen have combined for just 388 receiving yards this season. Last season, both players had 1,000-yard campaigns — neither is on pace to hit 1,000 yards this year.
Cousins' record against winning teams is becoming problematic for Minnesota, too. He's now 4-27 over his career against winning teams, something that doesn't bode well in a competitive NFC North.
Signing Cousins to a three-year, $84 million, fully guaranteed contract was supposed to push the Vikings' all-in. In many ways they are: several key players are under contract through the 2020 season. If Cousins doesn't turn things around, however, they may have to explore their options.
As ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio noted, the Vikings don't have an easy way to get out of the Cousins experience as the money is guaranteed to him either way. However, the Vikings might have to pay a portion of his salary or give up a first-round pick if they want to trade him.
It's not as if the Vikings haven't seen "Good Cousins" before. Through Weeks 1-8 last year, Cousins completed 70.7% of his passes for over 2,500 yards, with 16 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 102.5 passer rating.
The Vikings began the year 6-6-1, however, and fired then-offensive coordinator John DeFillippo. The returns under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefansky haven't been encouraging either, as an insistence on the run game hasn't positively affected anyone outside of running back Dalvin Cook (and he, too, would probably benefit from a beefed-up pass game).
On paper, the Vikings boast one of the best teams in the NFL. If they can strike a balance between being a run-heavy team while finding what works for Cousins, they could re-enter the contenders conversation in a seemingly wide-open NFC.
Over the next six weeks, the Vikings play the Giants, Eagles, Lions, Redskins, Chiefs, and Cowboys. It feels as if Cousins' future may be riding on figuring things out over the coming six weeks.