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Kirk Cousins Reminds Washington Redskins, NFL He's Still Starter Material

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2015

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Sure, it was only preseason, and the first game no less. Sure, it was only the Cleveland Browns. But Kirk Cousins didn't waste his chance to remind the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL that he's still starter material.

Cousins proved he should be at least the backup quarterback for the Burgundy and Gold, after an impressive showing in Washington's 20-17 win. If the Redskins don't value Cousins after this performance, they should check the trade market to see who does.

The discussion is bound to start up again after Cousins led a trio of scoring drives in Ohio, including running for a touchdown. 

Cousins was pleased the performance, saying, courtesy of Redskins.com editor Andrew Walker:

Just a good night, a good night. It’s fun to get out there and compete, and be able to work that efficiently, and not all the time in the NFL do you go out there, play at that level—it felt good to do that.

And his final stat line was impressive, as Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan noted:

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Grant Paulsen @granthpaulsen

Kirk Cousins' night is done. He completed 12-of-14 passes for 154 yards. Rushed for a touchdown. (Playing with & against backups). #Redskins

While the overall numbers were good, it was Cousins' early efficiency that really stood out:

Grant Paulsen @granthpaulsen

First half studs: Ryan Grant: 3 catches vs starters. Kirk Cousins: 8/8, 90yds, TD. Matt Jones: 5att, 38yds. Preston Smith: Tm-high 5 tkls.

Not missing on several passes in a row is a big thing for a quarterback whose inability to protect the ball cost him a starting job last season. Specifically, putting the ball in the hands of opposing defenders became a regular occurrence. Once Cousins threw his first interception, he just couldn't stop.

It's an issue that put his place on the roster in jeopardy this offseason, according to Rick Snider of the Washington Post. Snider was discussing the battle of the backups between Cousins and Colt McCoy.

But after going turnover-free in Cleveland, Cousins looks like he'll emerge from that particular scrap the winner. In the process, he displayed several of the traits head coach Jay Gruden wants in his quarterback.

He threw the ball well with good mechanics creating his accuracy. ESPN.com's John Keim detailed one excellent example from the first half:

John Keim @john_keim

Cousins good PA pass; drop, hitch, hit ross in stride to give chance for some YAC

That's good footwork, sharp vision and excellent ball placement all on one play. Yet there were many more examples of Cousins being smart and precise with his throws.

Paulsen detailed one of those examples:

Grant Paulsen @granthpaulsen

Empty gun, 5-wide, Kirk Cousins with another well-placed football down the field. Andre Roberts in tight coverage, threw him open. #Redskins

Cousins' timing wasn't the only pleasing and telling aspect of this play. The obvious pass-first and expansive offensive set was also a good sign.

Specifically, it was good that Gruden and his coaches felt confident enough in Cousins to let him explore the full range of the offense. That's not only quite an endorsement following his struggles in 2014, it also highlights how the play-calling tends to expand when 2012's fourth-round pick is under center.

Gruden became bold with Cousins on the field in Cleveland. No play personified the creativity and bravado from the sidelines more than Cousins' four-yard QB keeper to score Washington's first touchdown of the night.

As CSN Washington's Rich Tandler pointed out, it's not a common concept from the Redskins, no matter who is at QB:

Rich Tandler @TandlerNBCS

The #Redskins haven’t used the QB bootleg in years. Good weapon if timed right. Tuck it away for the regular season now.

Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay were able to get creative because the offense was clicking with Cousins throwing the passes and moving the chains. This wasn't the watered-down attack Robert Griffin III currently needs while his development continues at a snail's pace.

No. 8 himself visibly grew in confidence the more passes he completed. Cousins began manufacturing key gains and big plays.

His most notable freelancing success came in the red zone to help set up rookie Trey Williams' scoring run in the third period:

John Keim @john_keim

What I liked on last drive: Cousins with subtle step in pocket vs. blitz, opened better lane to hit Rashad Ross in red zone

Cousins showed that he doesn't need the dynamic, dual-threat athleticism Griffin is known for in order to avoid pressure and still make a play. Sometimes, all it takes is awareness and instincts, not qualities RG3 has often shown when trying to buy time in the pocket.

It's also true that coolness under pressure hasn't previously been a staple of Cousins' game during his brief regular-season outings. So it was good to see him show some rare swagger when things were going at full speed on the field.

Of course, there are a few major caveats here. The first two are the most obvious. This was preseason fare, and Cousins was performing against backup members of the Browns' roster.

But to use a tired sports adage, he can only beat what's in front of him. As Mike Jones of the Washington Post pointed out, Cousins certainly did that:

Mike Jones @ByMikeJones

Cousins looks natural. he's getting the ball out quickly and with no hesitation. he's throwing to spots. He's also playing vs. 2nd stringers

Mike Jones @ByMikeJones

But Cousins is doing what he needs to do to keep the offense moving and put points on the board.

Another thing in Cousins' favor was an effective running game. The Redskins were true groundhogs against the owners of the worst run defense in football a year ago.

Washington ran the ball 37 times for 153 yards. The run-heavy plan helped both Griffin and Cousins look effective against the Browns.

Yet let's be realistic here. Cousins won't take the starting job based on one outing in preseason. In fact, he won't take the starting job at all in Washington anytime soon.

It's still the Griff's to lose, as ESPN's Jason Reid noted:

Jason Reid @JReidESPN

He could pass for 4,000. Barring injury, Griffin has to start. Anything else would be awful management.

But RG3 losing his job during the season is far from unlikely. It's a distinct possibility based on his play the last two years, as well as his rocky relationship with Gruden.

David Richard/Associated Press

While Cousins might not have convinced everyone he should be starting for these Redskins, he likely opened a few eyes around the rest of the league.

If I'm the New York Jets waiting for Geno Smith's jaw to set, picking up the phone and exploring a deal for Cousins would look like a good option. The same goes for the Houston Texans, who enter the season missing their best offensive weapon, Arian Foster, and still with major question marks at football's most important position.

Given how much new Washington general manager Scot McCloughan loves to hoover up draft picks, he might still be open to a deal that favors the Burgundy and Gold.

If not, Cousins has cemented his place as Washington's best option for backup quarterback. McCoy could probably teach the Gruden playbook as a correspondence school course. But on the field, he struggled to move the offense on third downs in Cleveland.

Even without those struggles, Cousins is still the deputy this team needs for Griffin. At his best, he makes more pages of the playbook available and provides the offense with greater scoring potential.

Repeating this performance won't be easy in Week 2 against the Detroit Lions. But if Cousins can remain as effective, more than one quarterback-needy team should be inquiring about his trade price.

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