We're beyond the midway point of the NFL season and what was supposed to be an explosive Minnesota Vikings passing attack has resembled something more like a good mystery.
There are several suspects that can be connected with the disappearance of the Vikings' passing attack. The most obvious are head coach Mike Zimmer in the film room and offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak in the coach's box.But neither Zimmer nor Kubiak are the ones making the throws.
That leaves one very obvious primary suspect: Kirk Cousins.
Statistically, Cousins seems like an unlikely suspect. He ranks ninth in the NFL in passing yards, eighth in passing touchdowns and first in the NFL with a 0.6% interception rate. But a closer look reveals a quarterback that has been hesitant to pull the trigger.
After Sunday's win over the Chargers, Cousins ranks 34th among qualifying quarterbacks with an average depth of target (aDOT) of 7.1 yards. That clip is tied with Ben Roethlisberger and only Mike White and Jared Goff have a lower aDOT (6.4 yards) this season. In other words, Cousins is among the most conservative QBs in the league.
Cousins has cited defenses presenting a Cover 2 look and pressure as reasons not to throw the ball deep but what he may not realize is that he's elite when he forces the issue.
Only Kyler Murray (97.1) has a better PFF grade than Cousins (96.8) on attempts 20 yards or more this season and his 114.1 passer rating on those throws ranks fifth in the NFL.
So why doesn't Cousins throw downfield more? This is where Kubiak could be accused of aiding and abetting with his offensive scheme.
When Cousins got off to a fast start in September, Kubiak emphasized quick passes. The early dividends had Cousins posting the quickest time to throw of his career and he still ranks eighth among qualifiers at 2.53 seconds.
This is a good thing with the Vikings' struggles in pass protection but it also speeds up the clock to get rid of the ball. When Cousins doesn't believe he has an opportunity to throw deep, his mind focuses on getting rid of the ball, which leads to more short targets for C.J. Ham and Tyler Conklin.
It's a huge reason why the Vikings have faced so many second-and-long situations, which ultimately lead to difficult third downs and then punts.
But in Sunday's 27-20 win over the Chargers, it was very clear that Cousins got the message to be more aggressive and focus on getting the ball to his playmakers, namely Justin Jefferson. It was Randy Ratio-like, but after throwing Jefferson's way just nine times total during the previous two weeks, Cousins targeted the phenom 11 times against the Chargers and Jefferson caught nine of them for 143 yards.
By getting Jefferson more involved, it creates opportunities to be aggressive. When that happens, Cousins can make throws that few quarterbacks can make.
And is it any coincidence that the Vikings are 4-0 this season when Jefferson has 7+ receptions and 0-5 when he has 6 or fewer? Could be, but probably not.
A lot was made of the Vikings' newfound aggressiveness on Sunday but in the end, it depends on Cousins letting it rip. If he gets his playmakers involved and trusts himself to get the ball down the field, this could be the beginning of a revelation for the offense.