Can the Washington Redskins Trust Kirk Cousins in Place of Robert Griffin III?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 09:  Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins reacts during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FedExField on December 9, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The bad news is it seems there's a chance the Washington Redskins might be without superstar rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III for all or part of the home stretch as Washington looks to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in over half a decade.

The good news is this team has become used to working with a rookie quarterback, so swapping out Griffin for Kirk Cousins might not be apocalyptic for the Redskins. 

Cousins, who was selected exactly 100 spots behind Griffin in April's draft (causing some controversy in the process), stepped in for RG3 in the fourth quarter Sunday, and he didn't just manage the offense en route to victory, but he led the 'Skins to their fourth consecutive win. 

Cousins only threw the ball three times, and one of those passes was wiped out due to a defensive penalty. But he made the most of the two throws that counted.

The Michigan State product relieved the injured Griffin in a bad spot, facing a second-and-20 on the Baltimore 26 and needing eight points to force overtime. But all it took was two throws and a sneak on the convert and Cousins made it look easy.

First, on a play in which everyone in the stadium knew the rookie would have to drop back and throw, Cousins took no time to find an open Leonard Hankerson, throwing a 15-yard dart to the receiver to set up a third-and-manageable with the game on the line.

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And then he followed that up with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon that really showed his maturity as a quarterback. See, Paul Kruger was penetrating for the Baltimore defense immediately, but Cousins bought himself an extra half-second by pump-faking to get Kruger off his feet.

The reaction...

He then showed off his mobility and solid pocket presence by rolling right to allow Garcon to get free. When he released, Kruger was in his grill. Without a well-timed and well-executed pump fake, this play doesn't happen.

That play spoke volumes about how far the young quarterback has come while just holding a clipboard. In a similar situation in his only other appearance this year in Week 5 against Atlanta, Cousins took a sack from Kroy Biermann on a play in which he barely moved his feet at all. He looked much more aware Sunday.

Of course, Cousins would also step up on the two-point conversion, taking a designed draw into the end zone to tie it. The most important aspect of that play was that it was called by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is clearly very confident in Cousins' ability to make plays, not just be a custodian. 

A custodian is something the Redskins can't afford. This is not the kind of team that wins despite its quarterback. They win because of their quarterback, and that has to be the case—at least to some degree—with Cousins. 

The sample size is uncomfortably small, but early indications are good that Cousins can come close enough to replacing the irreplaceable RG3 that it won't cost the 'Skins any games. He might not be a track star, but he's mobile. He might not have Griffin's missile, but he has a cannon. And he's the type of quarterback that won't force the rest of the offense to make drastic changes when he's in for RG3. That, of course, is a big reason why Mike Shanahan drafted him. 

He can impact games in a large way. Two of his first seven complete passes have been touchdowns, while two of his first four incomplete passes have been intercepted. He's all-or-nothing, which is scary but probably necessary in D.C. 

Yes, he made a terrible decision on that first pick he threw against Atlanta...

But it was also raining pretty hard in Landover at that point, and the 'Skins were in desperation mode. On his game-ending interception on the next possession, he was trying to make something out of nothing and took a huge hit in the process.

Plus, the guy's completion percentage is still 64 percent, and it would be higher had Garcon not dropped this perfectly-thrown 20-yard dart in the Atlanta game. 

Santana Moss might have been wide-open on that 77-yard touchdown against the Falcons, but Cousins still had to make the play, dropping a perfect bomb into the breadbasket to set up the big score.

Unfortunately, the game Griffin has the strongest chance of missing might be the one the team needs him for most. If the fear is that Cousins might make some of those mistakes from the Atlanta game again, the Browns are a risk. They've got 15 interceptions this season, which is more than Week 16 and 17 opponents Philly and Dallas have combined. 

Cleveland also ranks in the top half of the league in terms of opponent passer rating, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns. They've won three straight overall and had eight takeaways against the Steelers a few weeks ago. 

The good news is only six teams have given up more 20-plus-yard completions, so there might be opportunities for Cousins to make some more big plays, too. 

This team can't win if the bad outweighs the good at the quarterback position. But they probably can't win if they get no spark at all under center. The fact is that they clearly trust Cousins to provide a replacement spark if needed. And because at this point none of us has the right to challenge the Shanahans for the decisions they've made and the instincts they've followed in their approach to the 2012 Redskins season, I'm willing to bet that a temporary switch to Cousins won't hurt this team.