Winners and Losers: Washington's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
With Robert Griffin III out with a sprained knee, the Washington Redskins called on rookie fourth-rounder Kirk Cousins to fill in for the injured quarterback. After finishing off the come-from-behind victory against the Baltimore Ravens last week, Cousins would get his first NFL start with his team riding a four-game winning streak with a postseason berth in mind.
Against the Cleveland Browns, Cousins and Co. did not disappoint, and they owe it to a spirited effort on defense as well as key contributions on offense.
No victory is perfect, and the Redskins' 38-21 win over the Browns is no exception. Here are the winners and losers from Washington's fifth consecutive win.
Winner: Leonard Hankerson, WR
In three of the last four games, Hankerson has been largely invisible on offense for the Redskins. Last week, he caught four passes for 67 yards, but had just four catches for 56 yards in his previous three games.
Against the Browns, Hankerson's 54-yard touchdown catch put the Redskins back in the game and showed his ability to finish a play.
After making the leaping grab, Hankerson regained his footing and extended the ball into the end zone. A less focused Hankerson may have simply stayed down until the defense touched him down, but not today. Later in the game, he made a sure-handed grab to help put the Redskins up by 10 points in the third quarter.
Loser: Kai Forbath, K
Though Forbath remained perfect on the season after hitting a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter, but his kickoffs leave a lot to be desired.
Joshua Cribbs may not have broken off a big return for a touchdown, but Forbath's kicks have routinely fallen short of the end zone, giving teams extra chances to pick up big yards.
Perhaps it is simply nitpicking considering the overall solid game the Redskins played, but if not for the efforts of Lorenzo Alexander, among others, on kick coverage, the Browns could have changed the game with a long kickoff return.
Winner: Rob Jackson
The defense took a huge hit when Brian Orakpo suffered a season-ending injury in just the second game of the season. Rob Jackson has been solid in his stead, but he has made key plays in important games this season when the defense needed it most.
Jackson finished the game with a sack, a forced fumble and a great interception that turned the tide of early in the second half.
After a slow start in assuming the starting role, Jackson has four sacks over his last five games after tallying just half a sack in the first nine games of the season.
Loser: Chris Cooley, TE
Since returning to the Redskins after starting tight end Fred Davis went down for the season with an Achilles injury, Chris Cooley has done next to nothing on offense.
Though he is a reliable blocker, Cooley's greatest contributions come in the receiving game, and he has yet to register a catch in six games with the team.
Perhaps the game plan calls for Cooley to be a decoy and a blocker rather than a receiving threat, but it is sad to see a player who established himself as a fan favorite relegated to such a limited role. Logan Paulsen has stepped up to fill the void Davis left, but it seems like a waste to hold Cooley back week in and week out.
Winner: Kirk Cousins, QB
The Redskins moved into first place in the NFC East with their win over the Cleveland Browns, and Kirk Cousins couldn't have turned in a better performance in Griffin's stead.
After throwing an early interception and missing receivers with pressure in his face, Cousins finished the game with 329 yards and two huge touchdowns to Hankerson.
In his first NFL start, having the bad luck of subbing for the most electrifying rookie quarterback possibly in history, Cousins responded with a tremendous effort considering the limited time he had to work with his receivers.
He even worked in a little RGIII run for 17 yards that extended a drive, and showed his ability to make plays outside of the pocket.
Loser: Reed Doughty, SS
Reed Doughty continues to be the longest stop-gap safety on the Redskins roster. He shifts between being a solid tackler to coverage liability and turnstile tackler.
When the Redskins made to move to play DeAngelo Hall at safety to mix up the coverage, it was just as much of an effort to gain the upper hand in matchups as it was to keep Doughty out of coverage.
The middle of the field was wide open, and when he was asked to play the run, he over-pursued and ran himself out of the play. Doughty is just the newest name to occupy the safety position, but he has been underwhelming and epitomizes Washington's need to upgrade its back line on defense.
Winner: Alfred Morris, RB
With RGIII on the sidelines, the Redskins were prepared to run Morris early and often. They ran him early and often, but the 87 yards on 27 carries is evidence of the tough running Morris had to do against a stout Browns defensive front.
Morris opened the second half with a touchdown run off of the Jackson interception and capped off the day's scoring with an eight-yard run up the gut.
Washington's offense needed Morris to churn out yards like never before, and Morris fought for each and every one with the Browns playing an aggressive defense. Without Griffin, Morris was forced to battle for yards that would typically be there with Griffin running the read option.
Bonus Winner: Mike Shanahan
Back in April, when the Redskins spent a fourth-round draft pick on yet another quarterback, some questioned Mike Shanahan's mindset. He had just paid a king's ransom to move up and draft Robert Griffin III, and he used one of the precious picks in the later rounds on a second quarterback.
Kirk Cousins finished a game-winning drive against the Ravens last week and led the Redskins offense to a 38-point day in the first start of his career.
This victory validates Shanahan's decision to draft Cousins with so many other apparently glaring needs elsewhere. There is no guarantee that the veteran Rex Grossman would have turned in such a good performance despite boasting the only prior experience on the offense among the Redskins quarterbacks.
So much for the team going into evaluation mode seven weeks ago.