Kirk Cousins Deserves Washington Redskins Starting Job for the Season

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Quarterback  Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins looks to pass during warm-ups before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 21, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Kirk Cousins has done enough to prove he deserves to be the Washington Redskins starting quarterback for the rest of this season. He hasn't even made two full starts in relief of the injured Robert Griffin III, but Cousins has already mastered head coach Jay Gruden's offense and is getting the most from the weapons at his disposal.

He was impressive coming off the bench against the Jacksonville Jaguars to lead the Redskins to a 41-10 win in Week 2. He threw for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Jags, but that was nothing compared to what he did in Week 3.

Even as a full starter, for whom the Philadelphia Eagles had a full week to prepare, Cousins exceeded expectations. He torched the Philly defense for 427 yards, including three scoring passes.

But those aren't the most impressive numbers from Cousins' brief tenure running the Gruden offense. Certainly, many would contend Griffin may have put up the same numbers. However, he struggled mightily against the Eagles in two games last season and has never posted a 400-yard passing game as a pro.

Inevitable comparisons aside, there are more impressive team-wide figures that help prove Cousins is the man for this season. The first concerns the distribution of wealth among this team's many talented receivers:

Ball Distribution With Cousins Running the Offense
Pierre Garcon121501
DeSean Jackson51171
Andre Roberts8950
Niles Paul141671
Ryan Grant5570
Darrel Young3312
Roy Helu Jr.3660
Logan Paulsen270
Aldrick Robinson160

What stands out most about these figures is that nine different receivers have reeled in passes from Cousins. That's evidence of his willingness to spread the ball around, based on an ability to work through reads and make quick decisions.

Those are qualities Griffin has not yet developed, although it must be said injuries have played their part in that failing. But while the former Heisman Trophy winner often locks on to his primary target, Cousins is throwing the ball based on where he expects the gaps in coverage to be.

That's not only bringing others into the game, it's also stretching the field. To illustrate the point, consider Garcon's numbers from Week 1 against the Houston Texans.

Just as he would against the Eagles, Garcon made double-digit receptions on opening day. But those 10 grabs accounted for only 77 yards. While Garcon averaged 7.7 yards per reception in Houston, that figure jumped 12.5 in Philadelphia.

The caliber of receiving talent on this roster naturally demands big plays in the passing game. That's what Washington is getting with Cousins under center.

Being able to spread around the catches is an important factor with ball-hungry egos like Garcon and Jackson on the team. Both can be happy with their workload in Philadelphia.

Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler dropped a few interesting statistics about the offensive performance in Week 3, beginning with Jackson and Garcon's numbers:

Garçon had 138 yards receiving while DeSean Jackson had 117. The last time the Redskins had two receivers with over 100 yards was when Laveranues Coles (180) and Rod Gardner (118) accomplished the feat at Atlanta on Sept. 13, 2003.

The Redskins posted 511 yards of total offense. The last time they had more yards than that in a game was on November 11, 1991 against the Atlanta Falcons. They also had 511 yards in a 1999 game against the 49ers.

It was great that Tandler referenced 1999's brilliant offense. That's what this season's Cousins-led group is starting to remind me of.

Garcon and Jackson, with their dual-100-yard efforts, are this season's Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell, both of whom topped 1,000 yards in '99. Frankly, Garcon and Jackson can even be an upgrade on that prolific pair.

This Washington offense has as many weapons as 1999's brilliant vintage.
This Washington offense has as many weapons as 1999's brilliant vintage.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Roberts is playing the part Irving Fryar adopted 15 years ago. He's become an invaluable supplementary receiver.

Since Cousins entered the lineup, Niles Paul has shown why the previous coaching staff felt he could make it as a tight end. He's certainly on pace to exceed Stephen Alexander's production in Norv Turner's best Redskins offense.

Perhaps the only thing missing is a Larry Centers player. The all-purpose fullback caught 69 passes for 544 yards that year.

Certainly, Darrel Young has the skills to emulate at least a fraction of that production. So does Roy Helu Jr. But it would be nice to see Cousins throw a few more passes to receivers out of the backfield.

Obviously, Alfred Morris is the Stephen Davis-style workhorse no team could live with during Turner's lone NFC East-winning season. As for Cousins, think Brad Johnson, not a particularly heralded quarterback but a surprisingly accomplished passer who can put up big numbers from week to week.

The Cousins-led Redskins offense is beginning to look a lot like the 1999 version.
The Cousins-led Redskins offense is beginning to look a lot like the 1999 version.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The '99 offense had everything. It's not surprising that the unit finished second in both points and yards, per Pro Football Reference.

Now, it may seem too soon for a favourable comparison with 2014's offense. After all, this team is still only 1-2, and Cousins hasn't even made two full starts.

However, since he's been running the show, the offense has amassed 75 points. That's a level of output that gives the Redskins a chance to win any game.

That's not to say it's all been plain sailing with Cousins at the controls. The fourth quarter against the Eagles offered plenty of areas for improvement.

The interception Cousins threw to safety Malcolm Jenkins came on a bad read identifying Paul as his best receiver. But the tight end was pretty well bracketed by the strength of the coverage.

It didn't help that Paul clearly wasn't expecting the ball to come his way. A similar problem blighted the offense when Cousins missed three throws on Washington's final drive.

Cousins missed some throws he should have made during the fourth quarter in Philadelphia.
Cousins missed some throws he should have made during the fourth quarter in Philadelphia.Rob Carr/Getty Images

Mike Wise of The Washington Post chided Cousins for his second-half effort as proof that there remains ample room for improvement:

As early returns go, the only real takeaway from a scintillating Sunday in Philadelphia is Cousins needs to learn how to close if he is to get his first win this season as a starter Thursday night against the Giants.

Look, Cousins did some very good things starting his first genuinely meaningful NFL game in 21 months. He threw some frozen ropes. He hit DeSean Jackson in stride with about the prettiest bomb of the weekend in the third quarter. He didn’t panic when the pocket collapsed, and he missed on just six of his first 25 throws.

But he also didn’t complete 50 percent of his passes in the second half and could not move the ball a single yard when given a gift of a last possession inside Philadelphia territory.

However, these gaffes are not as alarming as they may have initially appeared. They spoke more of receivers and a quarterback not yet fully in tune with one another.

That's understandable considering Cousins is the backup. It's one reason why he favored Roberts and rookie Ryan Grant in Week 2, while practically ignoring Garcon. Those are simply the receivers he's worked with more often.

A greater rapport will come given time. Cousins has earned that time, regardless of when Griffin is ready to come back. He could return in five or six weeks, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (h/t NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal).

But throwing Griffin back into the fray around Week 10 would just keep this team bogged down in transition. The wins and losses will be directly tied to Griffin's health. Progress on the field will have to wait until he makes progress with the playbook.

But the Redskins can win now with Cousins under center. The franchise has to let that possibility play out, even if it means making some very tough decisions regarding its supposed poster-boy quarterback.

Frankly, those decisions are what the next offseason is for. For now, Gruden has the quarterback he needs to run the offense he wants.

Barring a disastrous record by the time Griffin is healthy, which won't happen if the team stays patient with its backup, this has to be Cousins' team for 2014.

All current statistics via NFL.com. All historical statistics via Pro Football Reference.