Nov 15, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks over the line of scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Kirk Cousins has played much better over his last three starts. For the most recent game versus New Orleans, he had a perfect rating of 158.3. This rating came in a 47-14 blowout of the Saints.
I went back and reviewed Cousins’ last three games to see how much he has improved and why. The Redskins have had numerous injuries and many of those injured players have returned to the field over the last two weeks. Key among them is the Redskins’ top deep threat, Desean Jackson.
Grades are based on an 11 point scale from -5 to +5. Most grades fall in the -1 to +1 range. Positive grades indicate the player had a good play and negative grades indicate he had a bad play.
Kirk Cousins vs the Saints
In the Washington victory over the Saints, the Redskins featured a much more balanced attack offensively. The running game was successful from the start so head coach Jay Gruden didn’t abandon it as he had for much of the 2015 season. This also allowed Cousins to operate the passing attack very well as the Redskins play calling was more balanced than it had been all season.
Even backed up with a first and 20 after a holding call on Morgan Moses, Alfred Morris got the ball on a four yard run. On second and 16, Morris remained in the game and Cousins threw a check down pass to him which he turned upfield for four yards. On third down, Cousins threw a beautiful 24 yard pass to Jackson streaking downfield and turned it into a 42 yard gain and a first down. +4 points.
Alfred Morris ran the ball three times for a total of 20 yards before Cousins threw his next pass to Pierre Garcon on a quick out for 3 yards and a first down. Cousins threw on first down for the first time in the game with a check down to Morris who turned upfield for a 7 yard gain. After a 2 yard run by Morris, Cousins threw to Jordan Reed along the line of scrimmage on third and one and Reed ran for 16 yards and hurdled for a touchdown to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead. +6 points.
The Saints tied the score quickly and Cousins began the following drive with a 1 yard loss on a check down pass to Darrel Young. Matt Jones runs for 24 yards on 2 runs before Cousins checks down to Reed again at the line of scrimmage and he runs for 5 yards after the catch. Morris gets the first down on a 6 yard run. +1 point.
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Morris gains a yard on first down and Cousins throws a screen pass to Jones who gets great blocking from his line and the Redskins’ receivers and cuts between several of the blocks for a 29 yard gain down to the 11 yard line. Cousins throw a strike to Jamison Crowder from the 11 yard line for the Redskins second touchdown of the game. +6 points.
In the second quarter, the Redskins get the ball back after forcing the Saints to punt holding a 14-7 lead. Morris is stopped for no gain on first down but Cousins throws to Crowder 3 yards downfield who runs for 11 yards and a first down. Morris runs for 4 yards on first down but Cousins throws his first incompletions of the game on the following two plays and the Redskins punt back to New Orleans. +2 points.
New Orleans ties the game again at 14 but would not score for the remainder of the game. The onslaught continued for Washington though as, after a two yard run, Jones takes a screen pass from Cousins and winds his way through numerous great blocks to score from 78 yards away. +3 points.
With the Redskins defense shutting out the Saints the rest of the game, Cousins and the Redskins offense dominated the rest of the second quarter and all of the third. Cousins throws a 3 yard pass to Morris on first down. He follows that up with a 1 yard toss to Jones who does his magic again and runs for 24 yards and a first down. +3 points.
Chris Thompson joins the fun with a 38 yard run and Jones follows that up with a 5 yard run to set up second down at the Saints’ 9 yard line. Cousins throws a short 2 yard pass to Jackson to get the ball down to the 7 yard line. On third down, Cousins feels pressure and tries to escape but is pulled down for a 10 yard loss. Dustin Hopkins kicks a field goal to make the score 24-14. -2 points.
Crowder came open on a crosser but Cousins failed to pull the trigger
Cousins begins the last drive of the first half with a short toss to Crowder who turns upfield for 7 yards. On second down, Cousins gets pressure as he looks to Crowder on a quick out to the right so he runs left and is taken down for a 2 yard loss. Although Cousins throws incomplete on the next pass, a defensive holding call extends the drive and he hits Thompson on a short crosser that Thompson turns into a 23 yard gain. +1 point.
Cousins gets sacked again for an 11 yard loss pushing the Redskins back to the 47 yard line and out of field goal range. Crowder came open on a crosser but Cousins failed to pull the trigger as he is forced back and brought down. He follows that up with a screen pass to Crowder who dances through excellent blocks for a 31 yard gain and a first down at the 16 yard line. -1 point.
With only 25 seconds left in the half, the Redskins run 4 go routes into the end zone but Cousins is forced to throw the ball away as the Saints bring the blitz. A false start call on Trent Williams forces the Redskins back 5 yards. With 12 seconds left, Thompson runs down to the 5 yard line on a draw but with only 5 seconds left in the half after calling a time out, the Redskins settle for a field goal. and a 27-14 lead. 0 points.
The Second Half
The Redskins stop the Saints on fourth down at their own 31 yard line to begin the second half and drive back down the field with 5 straight run plays for a total of 40 yards. Cousins throws outside to Garcon and he runs down the sideline for a 7 yard gain. On third and one, the Redskins run a bad route combination for third and short and with no one open quickly, Cousins is forced out of the pocket and throws incomplete as they again settle for a field goal and a 30-14 lead. +1 point.
After the Redskins force a Saints punt, Morris runs for a pair of 14 yard gains. Cousins throws over the middle to Derek Carrier for another 14 yard gain. An incomplete pass and a six yard run by Morris lead to a third down at the 8 yard line. Cousins hits Reed on a slant and he dives into the end zone for a touchdown, 37-14. +5 points.
The Redskins defense joins the fun with an interception return for a touchdown by Dashon Goldson and follow that up with a fourth down stop at the New Orleans 22 yard line. The Redskins run 5 times for 18 yards down to the 4 yard line and kick a field goal to cap the scoring at 47-14. Cousins is relieved by Colt McCoy.
Cousins ends an excellent (but not perfect despite his 158.3 rating) day with 29 points on 28 graded plays for a 1.04 rating. Cousins showed a lot of improvement versus the Saints and protected the ball well. He didn’t threaten down the field after the early 42 yard gain by Jackson but he didn’t really need to. 258 of Cousins’ 324 passing yards came after the catch with Jones leading the way with an amazing 135 yards after the catch on only 3 receptions.
The game in Carolina…should provide a real test for the Redskins offense
The Redskins have become a very conservative team this season and whether it is Gruden keeping Cousins reined in or Cousins himself being timid with the ball, they need to throw the ball downfield more to keep defenses from crowding the box and turning them into a one dimensional offense. Astonishingly, only 4 of Cousins’ 20 completions were further than 3 yards past the line of scrimmage and only 1 was over 10 yards past the line.
Cousins has shown the ability to throw down the field and if the Redskins are going to be a consistently good offense, the coaching staff needs to encourage him to do so. The Saints are a historically bad defense and most other teams won’t allow the Redskins to dominate on the ground as they did in this game nor allow the yards after catch that the Saints did with their poor tackling and poor pursuit angles to the ball.
The game in Carolina versus the Panthers this Sunday should provide a real test for the Redskins offense against one of the better defenses in the NFL. Jackson must give the Redskins the ability to stretch the field, particularly if the run game struggles for the Redskins. Giving the Panthers their first loss of the season would be a landmark win for the rebuilding Redskins.