Washington Redskins: In-Game Improvements Sign of Bright Future for Kirk Cousins
This might have been Kirk Cousins' first start in place of Robert Griffin III, but it's extremely unlikely it will be his last. What we saw from Cousins Sunday was part of the reason Mike Shanahan spent a fourth-round draft pick on the Michigan State rookie, with the rest of that move easily being explained by RG3's inability to stay healthy on a constant basis.
It's already been stated that if Griffin's injured knee isn't completely healed in time for the Washington Redskins' Week 16 game against the the Philadelphia Eagles, Cousins will get another nod. Certainly, what Cousins did in the victory over Cleveland has the 'Skins believing they have two rookies who can carry the load if required.
The Redskins' offense ditched the zone read and the pistol and ran a more traditional offense against the Browns. The running game set up the passing game and Cousins had loads of success off of play action and while rolling out on bootlegs.
It was yet another near-perfect offensive game plan from Mike and Kyle Shanahan, who knew the limitations of their rookie backup but also trusted him to make plays when it counted. That gamble paid off, as Cousins posted a 130.6 passer rating in the second half, completing all six of his third-down passes from halftime on.
It was amazing to see how much he improved just from the start to the end of the game. Cousins started 1-for-6 with an interception as the Redskins' first four drives all stalled without a single first down. His biggest problem was that he was locking onto top receiver Pierre Garcon. Well, he locked onto receivers in general, but Garcon was his crutch.
On this early passing play, he forced it to a blanketed Garcon without ever surveying the field for other options.
And his first-quarter touchdown pass was a thing of beauty, but his instincts were bailed out by his awesome arm on what could have just as easily been interception No. 2. Off a wonderful play-action bootleg, Cousins threw a perfect pass into extremely heavy coverage.
I liked that when he couldn't see anyone clearly open on this second-quarter bootleg, he just tucked it in and showed the Browns that they can't assume Griffin's the only Washington quarterback capable of making big plays with his legs. He'd pick up 17 yards and a first down on the scramble.
When Cousins was under pressure like that, he completed 67 percent of his passes and didn't throw a pick, according to PFF.
That he didn't face a lot of pressure was still ideal. Alfred Morris did just enough in a battering ram role to keep Cleveland's defense guessing. The Browns entered Sunday's game determined to stop Morris, but that ended up costing them in terms of pass-rushing pressure and pass defense in general. They didn't expect Cousins to complete 15 of his 19 play-action pass attempts in his first career start, picking up 229 yards and two touchdowns off of play-fakes (according to ESPN Stats and Info., via the Washington Times).
And while he only went deep three times, per PFF, one was a game-changing touchdown and another should have resulted in a pass interference penalty against the man covering Garcon.
Should the Redskins start Cousins again in Week 16?
That the Washington offense was able to put up 38 points and 430 net yards sans RG3 is simply amazing. Such a performance proves that Cousins could also be the real deal, but it also reveals that this team is much better than it is given credit for at complementary and supporting positions. It might hurt Griffin's MVP chances, but it drastically increases the Redskins' Super Bowl chances, which actually exist at this stage.
And if this offense could survive—arguably even flourish—with Cousins at the helm against the red-hot Browns defense in Week 15, there's no reason to rush Griffin back for a matchup with the embarrassing Eagles D in Week 16.
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