QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. QB Kirk Cousins
The fact that the NFL gave the 49ers their unfortunate opening-day matchup with the Vikings likely has much to do with Shanahan’s previous love affair with Cousins, and his blossoming relationship with Garoppolo.
It’s no secret that prior to Garoppolo’s arrival in San Francisco, Shanahan’s “master plan” was to sign Cousins to a long-term contract over the 2018 offseason; in fact, even after the Garoppolo trade, Shanahan didn’t rule out the possibility of the team signing Cousins.
But Garoppolo’s stellar play in 2017 eventually forced Shanahan’s hand. After starting the season with one of the NFL’s worst offenses, the 49ers led the NFL in points per drive, yards per drive, and scoring percentage with Garoppolo under center:
Thanks to Garoppolo’s leadership, his quick release and his continued success on third downs, San Francisco won each of his five starts to end the 2017 season, which earned the Niners’ new QB a five-year contract with nearly $50 million in guarantees:
Shanahan was Washington’s offensive coordinator when his father, head coach Mike Shanahan, and Redskins general manager Bruce Allen drafted Cousins in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Although Cousins started just four games — winning only one — during their two seasons together, Shanahan believed in Cousins from the start, and has continued to praise his former QB. Shanahan’s father has concurred with his son’s assessment, even after the former head coach’s exit from Washington:
"“Kirk Cousins is a franchise quarterback, he will be a top-10 quarterback in this league no doubt about it,” – Mike Shanahan, 2015"
Unfortunately, Cousins has yet to live up to the elite expectations of the Shanahan family. While Cousins regularly shows flashes of brilliance, he also commonly makes mistakes expected of a younger quarterback with far fewer NFL starts under his belt.
Last offseason, I wrote a two-part series for 49ers Webzone analyzing Cousins’ quarterback play. In the first installment, I discussed what I learned from my study of Cousins’ game film, including areas where Cousins excelled, and areas where he displayed obvious deficiencies. In the second installment, I broke down 38 examples of Cousins’ game film.
To summarize, I concluded that Cousins has the physical tools required to be a franchise quarterback, but he lacks the development expected of a player with his level of NFL experience. However, Cousins is extremely effective when he “wins pre-snap” by correctly determining defensive coverages:
"The majority of Cousins’ impressive passes were throws to Cousins’ first read, from a clean pocket. Cousins was extremely successful on passing plays that were designed to be thrown to a specific receiver — provided that the receiver was open — and he had limited success on plays that required improvisation."
Cousins runs into problems when he’s tricked by defenses pre-snap or when his first read isn’t open. Provided Cousins is given a clean pocket, he can still excel when his first read is covered, although he often gets into trouble by telegraphing his passes.
When he’s forced to go through his route progressions, Cousins is slow and demonstrates poor mechanics. Pressure is the ultimate killer for the QB, as it causes Cousins to throw a high percentage of interceptable passes or take an excessive number of sacks — or both, like he did in 2017.
Cousins is best when his offense uses vertical stretch concepts to open large passing windows, and when his first read is open off play action. Due to field constrictions and his lack of accuracy on short passes, this causes Cousins to be significantly less effective in the red zone.
Finally, Cousins is very streaky. When he gets into a groove, he can be nearly unstoppable, but when he gets into a funk, he misses open targets and is unable to read simple defenses. Due to his lack of consistency, Cousins has lost more games than he’s won over the course of his career:
While the preceding summary mostly focuses on the negative aspects of Cousins’ game, when he gets into a zone, he plays every bit like the franchise quarterback the Vikings paid him to be.
Shanahan certainly believes Cousins has the ability to become a franchise QB. Given what DeFilippo was able to do with Philadelphia’s quarterbacks last season, Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator may be the coach who is finally able to take Cousins to the next level.