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So what exactly is Jay Gruden saying about Kirk Cousins?

So what exactly is Jay Gruden saying about Kirk Cousins?

The debate ended last season. No longer should rational, sane purveyors of professional football question if Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback. He is. 

The question about how good, however, is still very much valid. And it seems to be a question even Redskins coach Jay Gruden doesn't have the answer to.

"He’s got the ball to make the decisions. We just call the plays and try to get him progression reads and man-to-man take your shots with the matchups that you like," Gruden said Thursday. "But ultimately he is the one that is going to make the decisions of what he feels good about making throws."

Gruden's comments come after an interview in Sports Illustrated in which Cousins said that if he played QB like his coach wants, he would throw 20 interceptions per year. Told the quote, Gruden quipped, "He'd throw 60 touchdowns too." (Watch the video above so you can hear the remark yourself).

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That's the thing with Cousins.

He's smart and methodical, highly efficient and capable as a passer. But he does seem to be wary of going after big plays that aren't completely wide open. 

"I think there is going to be a point in time where he is going to have to give some receivers some chances that maybe look a little covered, but give them a chance to uncover or give them a chance to make a play," the coach said. "That’s probably the one area that we can force the issue on a little bit to give these receivers chances down the field."

Watching Redskins games, it certainly seems Cousins is hesitant to take big shots, especially if a wideout is covered. That's not just the most recent loss to the Cowboys either, which was played in a downpour for much of the second half. Washington's passer seems content in taking chunk yardage on underneath and shorter throws, getting his team down the field over time. 

This year too, his receivers have not helped him too much.

Terrelle Pryor has not produced on the level he or fans expected, and 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson remains stalled, though perhaps ready for an explosion. 

Much of the Cousins conversation seems to be a Catch 22 debate. Might Cousins go downfield more if his wideouts made plays? Or might his wideouts make plays if Cousins goes downfield more? What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Even weirder, the stats don't really support the debate.

Cousins ranks 5th in the NFL in yards-per-pass-attempt, behind only MVP candidates like Alex Smith, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz and the injured Deshaun Watson. Looking at net-yards-per-pass-attempt, Cousins' numbers dip to 10th in the NFL. 

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Simple truth: Cousins completes a lot of passes, so his stats will usually look good. And for anybody wondering, that's a good thing.

"When the ball is complete, I never criticize," Gruden said. "We just always talk about other options possible for the next time we call it. That’s all, but he is doing good."

Watch enough game film of the Redskins, and yes, Cousins is missing chances down the field. It happens with most QBs in the NFL, but maybe it happens with Cousins a little bit more. 

Can it change? Sure. Will it? Time will tell. 

The debate if Cousins belongs as an NFL starting quarterback is over. He very obviously does. 

The debate if Cousins can lead a team to big wins, and evolve into a top talent in the league? That continues. 

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Redskins vs. Saints Week 11 inactive list: The good news, bad news scenario

Redskins vs. Saints Week 11 inactive list: The good news, bad news scenario

NEW ORLEANS — The Redskins  face the unenviable task of heading on the road in Week 11 to take on the red-hot Saints in, New Orleans, La. on Sunday.

An improbable and unexpected victory over the Saints would recquire a clean bill of health and plenty of good luck.

The list of inactives for Week 11 is good news-bad news scenario we are used to seeing for about the last month.

Here is the list:

  • TE Jordan Reed
  • C Spencer Long
  • WR Terrelle Pryor
  • G Arie Kouandjio
  • CB Quinton Dunbar
  • DL Caraun Reid
  • WR Brian Quick
     

Reed, Long, and Pryor are not surprise inclusions to the list here. All three were declared out on the Friday injury report. Still, the bad news is that three Week 1 starters are on the shelf for a key game.

It’s good news that OT Trent Williams and ILB Zach Brown will play. They are among the most valuable players on their respective sides of the ball. Both were listed as questionable, Williams with a knee injury that has been an issue since Week 4 and Brown with an Achilles injury.

That’s also good news that wide receiver Ryan Grant is active. He was listed as questionable with concussion. With Quick (concussion) and Pyror sidelined the Redskins would have had only three wide receivers to get through the game.

Dunbar is suffering from an illness that hit him on Friday. His absence means that rookie Fabian Moreau will be the first cornerback off the bench.

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Need to Know: Key for the Redskins—No mistakes

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USA TODAY Sports

Need to Know: Key for the Redskins—No mistakes

NEW ORLEANS—Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, November 19, four days before the Washington Redskins play the New York Giants on Thanksgiving Day at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Redskins kickoff, noon, NBC Sports Washington; Redskins @ Saints, 1 p.m., FOX

Days until:

—Redskins @ Cowboys Thursday night (11/30) 11
—Redskins @ Chargers (12/10) 21
—Cardinals @ Redskins (12/17) 28

Final thoughts on Redskins vs. Saints

Will the Redskins commit to running the ball? Some of you will answer with a kneejerk “no” because they don’t think that Jay Gruden will do that. But just look back at the Rams and Raiders games, when they ran 39 and 34 times, respectively. If running is even moderately effective and if the score remains in a range where the Redskins can play ball control, Gruden is more than happy to let Kirk Cousins had the ball off. The Saints defense allows 4.7 yards per carry, 30th in the NFL so the effectiveness aspect should allow for running. Can the Redskins defense keep a cap on Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram long enough for Gruden to be able to stick with the run?

The Chris Thompson factor—Whether he is taking handoffs or catching passes, Thompson’s productivity has been a key for the Redskins. He averages 61 yards from scrimmage in their losses and 116 yards in their wins. Earlier in the season it was Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff getting out in front of Thompson on outside zone runs and screen passes. While they were out of the lineup, Thompson was largely stuck in the mud. With both back, maybe he can get some traction in the Superdome.

Can’t afford mistakes—Like most teams who lead their divisions, the Saints are very opportunistic when it comes to takeaways. They don’t have a large number of them, 13 (13th in the NFL), but they are taking advantage. They have scored eight touchdowns after turnovers, with two pick-sixes, a scoop and score after a fumble, and five TD drives. Kirk Cousins can’t afford to make a mistake, especially in his own territory.

Prediction—It’s not impossible to paint a picture where the Redskins win this game. But it would take something like we saw in Seattle, with some mistakes by the Saints (equivalent to the three missed Seahawks field goals) combined with a dash of late magic could get them past the Saints. The Redskins are 7-1 in the Superdome and Drew Brees has a career passer rating of 70.5 with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions against Washington. Of course, many of the players responsible for those numbers have long since retired. But the reality is that the Saints are playing better than the Redskins and they’re at home. That means that the home team is likely to win.

Saints 31, Redskins 21

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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