Tarik's 5 takeaways following the Redskins' win in Dallas
1) Kirk's numbers in the first quarter are scary
Kirk Cousins has produced a lot of impressive numbers during the Redskins’ four-game winning streak, and set a few franchise records along the way. But you know what's stood out most to me in recent games? Cousins’ first quarter numbers. In the opening 15 minutes of the last four games, in fact, Cousins went a combined 34 of 39 passing (87.1-percent) for 444 yards, 6 TDs and 0 INTs. And he came out dealing. He started 6-of-6 against the Bears, 9-of-9 against the Bills and 7-of-7 against the Cowboys. I’m not a big fan of the term “in the zone.” But you know what? Cousins is, indeed, in that imaginary place right now.
2) Turnovers galore for Joe Barry and Co.
Last season, the Redskins’ defense ranked 25th in takeaways with 19 (7 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries). This season, the unit vaulted to 14th with 26 (11 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries). How big of a difference does a well-timed takeaway make? Sunday, the Redskins got four of them, including two by Will Blackmon that kept the Cowboys out of the end zone. Blackmon intercepted Kellen Moore at the Redskins’ goal line and, a series later, jarred the ball from Darren McFadden’s arms as the Cowboys running back entered the end zone, forcing a touchback. Back in the offseason first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry required his players to race to and pick up the ball whenever the offense put it on the ground. And that ball-hawking mentality has paid off.
3) Not many pickups have been better than Blackmon
Speaking of Blackmon, if there was a better in-season free agent signing anywhere in the league, I want to know about it. As I’ve already mentioned, the 31-year-old veteran had a big day in Big D, leading the Redskins with seven combined tackles to go along with a clutch interception and touchdown-saving forced fumble. But what I found more interesting was this little nugget: Blackmon was a member of the 2011 Giants’ team that finished the regular season 9-7 and went on to win Super Bowl XLVI. And the similarities between that Giants' team and this year's Redskins' squad don't end there, as he told me on Redskins Postgame Live. “I see a lot of similarities,” he said. “One, I [signed] off the street in New York. No. 2, Coach Perry Fewell was over there with us; he was the D.C. in New York. And [No. 3] we fought through so much adversity. Same thing here—everyone counted us out. We were ranked last in the power rankings. Home field [for the] first [playoff] game, just like in New York. We don’t care who we play. We’ll be ready to go, and that’s the mindset we had when I was a Giant.”
4) The offense cannot be stopped right now
After scuffling earlier this season, the Redskins’ Cousins-fueled offense has hit its stride during the winning streak. In fact, Cousins and Co. are averaging 32.75 points per game during the four-game winning streak. The unit is converting third downs and finishing drives. Most important, though, it’s scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Guys like Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are making plays, no doubt. But it’s important not to miss the primary reason for the marked improvement. It’s because Cousins is playing like a top-tier quarterback, and has been for some time. In fact, over the last 10 games, Cousins has completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 2,746 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions.
5) The offensive line is gelling
One more stat that helps to tell the story of the Redskins’ turnaround this year: the quarterbacks were sacked 27 times in '15 (Cousins absorbed 26 of them). Only three teams allowed fewer. Last year? Robert Griffin III, Cousins and Colt McCoy were sacked a whopping 58 times. Sure, the Bill Callahan-coached O-line has been better in pass protection in ‘15. Trent Williams earned a fourth straight trip to the Pro Bowl, while Morgan Moses, Brandon Scherff and Spencer Long are emerging as three of the more promising young linemen in the league. But, again, you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. And Cousins deserves a lot of it. He’s decisive, possesses good pocket awareness and gets the ball out of his hand quickly. As a result, he takes fewer drive-stalling sacks than other signal callers.