What We Learned About Kirk Cousins in Showcase Start for Washington Redskins

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins chats with Robert Griffin III after throwing a 4th quarter interception against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Kirk Cousins underthrew his final pass into the end zone Sunday, and his Washington team lost by just one point to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-26.

Had this game been about winning and losing, then this would be the lasting memory for most fans. However, because both of these sides have struggled so much this year and because Washington doesn't own its first-round pick, the result of this game was less important than the performances of specific individuals.

Nobody was more in the spotlight than Cousins.

After Mike Shanahan decided to make regular starting quarterback Robert Griffin III inactive, Cousins got his first start of the 2013 season. Although he had impressed in limited action in 2012, when he was a rookie, Cousins needed to play well in this game and the final two of the regular season to raise his chances at being traded.

Things didn't start out well for Cousins. He made two accurate passes, but then a bit of miscommunication with one of his receivers almost led to an interception. He didn't have to wait long for his first turnover after that. Cousins didn't adjust properly to a heavy pass rush from the Falcons and had the ball knocked from his grasp in the pocket.

Cousins wasn't solely responsible, but he played a big role in putting his team in a 14-0 hole.

On the following drive, Cousins threw two accurate passes. One showed very impressive ball placement, as he put his pass on the back shoulder of Pierre Garcon when he ran a slant route into traffic. Those passes preceded a big play from Alfred Morris that set up Cousins' first touchdown pass of the season.


Because of the formation Washington comes out with and because Morris has just broke off a big run, the Falcons have eight defenders in the box. More important than the proximity of the defenders to the line of scrimmage is the alignment of the deepest safety. He is drawn to the left side of the offense because of Garcon's presence out wide.


Cousins fakes the handoff to Morris attacking the left side of the offense. This drags in the Falcons' underneath coverage before he breaks into the right flat on a bootleg. It's 1st-and-10, but regardless of the down and distance, Cousins has an aggressive mindset.

It would be much easier for him to check down to the underneath defender who is wide open, but even while on the move, he keeps his eyes down the field and attempts a much tougher pass.


Tight end Fred Davis has found space behind the defense on a route that brings him toward the pylon. Although Davis is open, he's not wide open, so Cousins has to find him with an accurate, perfectly timed pass while he is on the move. 

Even though the defense was poor, that kind of play from Cousins is still very impressive because the physical requirements to make it aren't possessed by everyone.

After throwing his first touchdown of the day, Cousins' very next pass went deep down the field to Aldrick Robinson. Robinson went for a huge gain to put the offense in scoring position. It was an excellent throw from Cousins that showed off his arm strength, but Robinson was wide open, so his accuracy wasn't really tested.


Because it's 2nd-and-15 on the following drive, the Falcons defense comes out in a Cover 2 look. Cousins is in the shotgun with a back to his left, a receiver also to that side and two receivers with a tight end to the right side.


The Falcons blitz from the right side of Washington's offense. This means that the initial Cover 2 look is rotated into a single-high look. Washington's offensive line picks up the blitz, while Cousins focuses on Garcon to the left of the field. As Garcon slows down in his route, Cousins pump-fakes to draw the cornerback forward.

Garcon is running a double-move that works to perfection.


It's unclear whether Cousins recognizes that the safety is out of position, so it's possible that he got lucky with this throw. He finds Garcon down the sideline with a pin-point pass because the receiver can catch it without breaking stride. However, if the safety had not come from such a terrible angle, he could potentially have intercepted the pass.

As both defenders run into each other, Garcon strides easily into the end zone.

Cousins did well to sell the fake, and his pass ultimately was accurate. He also adjusted in the pocket to move into more space, but he didn't really avoid a sack because the defender wasn't ever near him. This play reflects well on his mechanics and accuracy down the field.

Big plays for Washington's offense were what allowed it to be successful in the first half. Cousins was making throws underneath to receivers as well, but he showed some inconsistency with his accuracy. He repeatedly made the right decision but couldn't complete the pass.

Late in the second quarter, Cousins tried for another big play into the end zone.

Tight end Logan Paulsen was unlucky not to bring in a very accurate pass from his quarterback, but he was also forced into a very difficult catch attempt by his quarterback's inability to manage the pocket properly.


With Washington on the edge of the red zone, the Falcons decide to only rush three defenders. This means that Cousins must hold the ball in order to give his receivers time to find space against eight defenders in coverage.

Cousins keeps his eyes downfield and reaches the top of his drop, but this is where he makes his mistake.


At the top of his drop, Cousins drifts toward the left sideline and continues dropping deeper. This allows the edge defenders, who are initially well blocked, to get outside of the offensive tackles. Cousins puts himself in the firing line instead of stepping up in the pocket to buy more time.


He covers for that mistake with an excellent throw to the back of the end zone, but had he stepped up in the pocket he would have given himself a better opportunity at an easier throw. An easier throw for an easier reception.

Although everyone will point to the tight end not being able to make the play, Cousins didn't make the right choice here, and it affected the rest of the play.

On the very next play, Cousins is nearly intercepted for the first time. His throw isn't exceptionally bad, but the ball placement is poor, so Garcon can't make the catch behind his head. This tips the ball into the air and is nearly intercepted twice by different defenders.

Early in the third quarter, Cousins threw his first interception of the game. The Falcons were stopped short of the goal line on 4th-and-1, but they were stopped. That gave Cousins the ball at his own 1-yard line. Mike Shanahan trusted his quarterback to drop back and throw the ball from his own end zone, but his quarterback let him down.

It wasn't a bad call from Shanahan, because the play was there to be made, but Cousins was too hesitant, and a late pass over the middle of the field resulted in an easy interception for safety William Moore of the Falcons.

Cousins struggled in the third quarter and the offense stalled because of him.

To start the fourth quarter, Washington focused the offense on Alfred Morris. Morris had three carries before Cousins completed a nice pass over the middle to Garcon for a first down after play-action. Roy Helu then came in for two carries before Cousins was forced into action on 3rd-and-9.

Cousins accurately identified a blitz from his left side on that third down before throwing a quick slant to Garcon that perfectly took advantage of the defensive call for a first down.

A screen pass to Garcon followed before a Morris fumble ended the drive. Cousins couldn't really blame him, though, because his second turnover and his first interception was about to come with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons were leading by four points, so the Washington offense had enough time to score and not let the Falcons have the ball again. They needed to score a touchdown in that scenario, but regardless, there was no urgency.

Cousins still forced a pass over the middle of the field without understanding the situation. That is something that young quarterbacks are more likely to do than veterans, but it's still a negative that is tough to ignore.


Deep in their own territory, Washington comes out with a balanced offense. The Falcons, understanding the situation, were less preoccupied with the run game at this point, and this showed in how they lined up.


Washington runs a play-fake, but the Falcons have no interest in biting on it. Cousins whips his head around and immediately looks down the middle of the field. He never looks away from the middle of the field and is ultimately intercepted on an underthrown pass.

The defensive back makes an excellent play on the ball to get in front of Garcon, but the poor throw and Cousins' eyes made it easier for him.

Cousins made a number of nice throws on the ensuing drive that saw him eventually throw a wide open touchdown pass to Santana Moss. Once asked to make a tougher throw on the two-point conversion, he couldn't find his receiver in the back of the end zone.

In terms of his own individual performance, Cousins showed potential. He made a number of nice throws, but he also proved that he needs some development. That makes perfect sense considering where he is coming from and the situation he has been in for the last two years.

One game won't determine Cousins' value, or at least it shouldn't, but if this game did, then it's clear that he wouldn't be worth a first- or second-round pick. He did show enough to entice a team into giving up a third- or fourth-round pick for him.

Of course, this game doesn't determine his trade value. The sample is way too small, and he was facing arguably the worst defense in the NFL.

It was a good, not great start to his three-game audition.