EAGAN, Minn. -- Kirk Cousins added a new element to his offseason enrichment program.
Instead of doing the usual unpacking at the end of the Minnesota Vikings' 7-9 finish in 2020 by watching all 16 games to evaluate his individual performance, the 32-year-old quarterback did something he had never done before.
"This year, I decided to go back and really watch my whole career, watch a couple other offenses to see what they have been doing, or what they did the year they had a lot of success," Cousins said. "I do think that time looking at tape through the winter and spring, and even now as I go home through the summer after next week, I do think that it's helpful now to see what has worked in the past, what I want to make as a staple for myself as I move forward, but then also, where I have improved and where I need to improve.
"That evaluation certainly comes from your coaches, day in and day out, but there's also got to be an ability to self-evaluate and say, 'I like what I'm doing there; keep doing that,' or, 'That's not good enough -- I want to improve that.'"
Cousins has appeared in 109 games since being drafted by Washington in the fourth round in 2012 and has started 104, including 47 games since signing with the Vikings in 2018. The sheer volume of game film is something he hadn't had access to until recently, which allowed him to up the ante with his self-scouting.
"I wanted to go back and really just study, create cutups and really build up some volume that I can pull from as we go forward," he said. "I regret I hadn't done it earlier in my career but I did get the film set up in my house to basically have access to all of that so that all offseason, even if I'm not in the facility, I'd have access to tape. I do think it's been a very valuable resource to have and I'm kicking myself I didn't do it sooner in my career. It was just a piece that hopefully can help me improve this coming year."
In spite of Minnesota's 1-5 start, the Vikings boasted a top-10 offense throughout the second half of the 2020 season before missing the playoffs. Cousins' bounce-back following a Week 7 bye resulted in the QB throwing for 4,265 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 67.6% of his passes. Minnesota's offense featured a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher (Dalvin Cook) and 1,000-yard receiver (Justin Jefferson) for just the eighth time in franchise history and second season in a row.
Asked about what he has gleaned from his expanded film-watching sessions, Cousins cited a line from ESPN's 2011 documentary the "Brady 6," which recapped Tom Brady's college career at Michigan and the careers and lives of the six quarterbacks taken before the future Hall of Famer was selected with pick No. 199 in 2000.
"[Brady] was quoted as saying, 'I watch myself on film, and to this day, I still don't feel like I'm that good,'" Cousins recalled. "And I really felt that sentiment. When he said it, I was in college, but I understood what he meant. And now going back and watching my career, I would echo that sentiment. I've watched myself in '12 and '13-14 and think, 'Man, I'm such a better quarterback now. I can't believe that the coaches didn't just cut me when I did that and made that mistake. I can't believe they were patient with me.' Because nowadays looking back, it would just be unacceptable to myself, allowing myself to play that way or make that read or make that throw or that decision."
Among Cousins' biggest takeaways from watching the entire catalog of his NFL playing career came from rewatching his years in Washington, where he supplanted Robert Griffin III for the starting job at the end of the 2014 season through 2017.
Being able to revisit the tendencies of his playmakers in Washington and how it affected the way Cousins transitioned to playing with new receivers in Minnesota was an eye-opening moment for the quarterback.
"What just jumps out are the players you play with," Cousins said. "You realize that the way Pierre Garcon ran a route or DeSean Jackson ran a route, that affects you in the way you play and the way you think, and then you come to a new team and you're trying to tell Adam Thielen to run a route that way, and he's saying, 'No, I don't do it that way.' So just the process of then learning those players and saying, 'OK' and understanding that you always have to be aware of what your teammates do well and try to put them in those positions to be successful."