clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Establish the Fun: Kirk Cousins is playing some of his best football

Plus, UNLV’s offense throws everything and the kitchen sink at opposing defenses.

Welcome back to Establish the Fun, where football is fun and we’re establishing that harder than a Big Ten West team every Saturday. It’s spooky season, and with Halloween around the corner we have another three pack of tricks and treats ready for your viewing. So buckle in, all you ghouls and goblins and general football fans, let’s have some fun!

Kirk Cousins’ tiny chef: Kevin O’Connell

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has been somewhat of the barometer for average QB play over the last few years. He was the definition of “mid” at the position: good enough to win with talented players and playcalling at the position, but never good enough to win because he played very well.

However, with the hiring of Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell, Cousins has played noticeably better and tougher than before. Through the first portion of this season, his EPA/play is higher than it was in 2022, and it looks like he now has comfort within the offense. This was on display in the Vikings’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and Cousins was on point, posting a 0.34 EPA/play and 48% success rate on the game. It might not lead to many wins this season due to the construction of the Vikings roster, but Cousins has played really well, and his game has gotten better as he’s gotten older.

O’Connell has coaxed a bit more aggression out of Cousins in his second year as his playcaller, getting him to swing for more doubles and homers instead of simply taking the single. I really like this play because you can see Cousins’ process. He could take this little hook route to TE TJ Hockenson vs. cover 2, but he decides to take the intermediate route to Brandon Powell. Sure, the single probably would’ve been a good choice, but he can make the intermediate throw, and really attack the defense. Good throw by Cousins, and a good route by Powell.

Cousins was on fire on Monday, and when you watched him, he knew he was feeling it. He was confident in his passes and knew when to make plays out of structure or off the normal timing of the play. This has always been Cousins’ biggest issue; he’s so used to cooking by the book that he never tries anything different. It’s like in Ratatouille, when Linguine and the other chefs are so used to cooking from Chef Gusteau’s cookbook that it takes Remy for them to finally open their minds up to the world of cooking.

So yes, Cousins’ Remy is Kevin O’Connell. Do with that information what you will.

On this play, the 49ers send a blitz that normally Cousins would just eat a sack on. However, he is able to process the free runner and make a play on the fly, and get this ball out to continue the drive without taking a negative play. A great off-script play by Cousins.

Perhaps his most impressive throw was the most important one of the night. On third down, the 49ers get into Cover 1, man across the board. The right tackle loses around the edge, and Cousins makes a move in the pocket and steps up. From here, he sees WR Jordan Addison (who had a big day in Justin Jefferson’s absence) breaking to his right, away from where his body is. That’s when the little chef starts to cook. He’s able to get this ball off to his right and move the chains. Unheard of by Kirk Cousins.

The Vikings are in a competitive rebuild, and with Cousins playing like this, they’re really emphasizing competitive. They take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, so look out for Cousins and his ability to continue his good play.

UNLV hands out tricks and treats on offense

Which of these numbers would’ve surprised you more at the beginning of the season:

UNLV being 6-1?

Or UNLV being among the top 40 teams in college football in terms of offensive EPA/play?

The Rebels have gotten new life breathed into the program this year, with the arrival of head coach Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Brennan Marion. Yes, Marion of Go-Go offense lore. A few weeks ago I wrote about how Seattle was using vestiges of it in their 12 personnel, but now we’re getting right into the source, and how UNLV uses it as both decoy and a fundamental part of their offense.

What the Go-Go offense does is use the backfield alignment and misdirection to run what essentially is the triple option but from out of shotgun. Five players for UNLV have over 30 carries this season, and with as many mouths as they have to feed in the run game, it can make opposing defenders’ heads spin. In UNLV’s 45-27 victory over Nevada, they ran for 259 yards, a majority of it using the Go-Go offense. On this play, Nevada gets caught in a run blitz, but look at the space created because the deep safety doesn’t want to overcommit to the outside zone run. The speed and the space the run game plays with helps create that big gain on the ground.

Normally, UNLV will run zone schemes with their alignment in the Go-Go offense. However, they threw a nice counter (literally) at Nevada with the guard and the H-back both pulling, and one of the backs running in the same direction. The movement by the back both pulls the cloud corner and the linebacker out wide, creating a natural crease after the H-back blocks the already widened LB. Watching this offense go to work is so cool.

On a long TD run for UNLV, Nevada gets caught in a run blitz, but watch how the blitz completely opens up the hole UNLV is trying to run into. Nevada slants their defensive line away from the numbers, towards the dive part of the triple option, if you want to call it that. Then the MIKE linebacker has the QB responsibility, and the nickel corner has the pitch man. It should all be covered. However, the WILL and backside corner both get caught up in the backfield action and leave their areas unmarked, and next thing you know, UNLV has a touchdown. There’s the trick part of the trick or treat offense UNLV runs.

I also thought this play stood out not only because of how UNLV ran it, but because of how similar it looks to something the NFL is running this year. This is how UNLV got into the play:

And this is a play the Miami Dolphins ran on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles:

Football is a copycat game, folks.

UNLV takes on Fresno State this Saturday on FS1 at 10 pm. If you thought Pac-12 After Dark was fun, get your popcorn out for this one.

The Falcons’ Dirty Bird Defense

Through seven games this year, it’s not the Atlanta Falcons offense that has impressed much, but their defense. According to Sumer Sports, the Falcons are 11th in defensive EPA per play and fourth in success rate allowed. After hiring defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen away from the New Orleans Saints and signing players such as Jessie Bates and Calais Campbell, the Falcons defense has undergone a major facelift.

It starts up front with Atlanta. They’re first in EPA allowed per rush, and when you watch them it makes sense. They’re big and physical up front, and can really put teams behind the 8-ball on offense. Imagine being a tight end and having to block 300-pound Calais Campbell out on the edge. They play heavy on run downs, with bigger guys out on the edge, so then they can get into more creative packages on second and third down.

Nielsen has been really good with sending pressure and blitzes that will get home. The Falcons are 23rd in blitz rate, but fourth in pressure rate. They don’t send five or more rushers a lot; per Sports Information Solutions they’ve only done it on 48 pass attempts this season, 22nd in the NFL. They can get home with various types of pressure looks, and it makes them extremely difficult to gameplan for. On this play, they line up in a double mug look—both linebackers are standing in the A gap. The Buccaneers move their RB up and ask him to help the OL sort out the double mug pressure. However, Atlanta brings their nickel off the edge and drops the LB that’s lined up directly in front of the Bucs RB. The Bucs protection can’t sort it out immediately, and it ends with a pressure and incompletion.

That double mug look was so good that the Falcons ran it again, and got the same result. This time, it was Bates who came flying off the edge from his safety spot, and the Bucs never touched him. Atlanta gets Tampa Bay to waste 2 blockers on a LB and Bates flies in, forcing Baker Mayfield out the pocket and into an incompletion on 4th down.

Bates has been a critical part of the Falcons’ defensive resurgence, and Nielsen has not only used him in a traditional centerfield role, but has also made him the rock of the Falcons’ secondary. CB AJ Terrell gets most of the attention (because he’s also good at football), but Bates has been phenomenal this year. The Bucs are in the red zone here, and watch the eyes for Bates, knowing where Mayfield wants to go with this ball. The Falcons have a double team on Mike Evans to the top of the screen, and Bates knows they want to run a hi-lo with Chris Godwin. So Bates turns his body to take away that option, and then you combine that with two great pass rushes up front and you get a sack.

The Falcons defense has the opportunity to put together another solid defensive performance against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, so when you turn on your TV, look out for the Falcons’ defense and what they do.