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Cousins will be tested in latter part of Redskins’ 2016 schedule

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Cousins will be tested in latter part of Redskins’ 2016 schedule

Kirk Cousins got off to a shaky start in 2015. After six games he was struggling with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. In the last two games during that stretch, against the Falcons and Jets, interceptions had been very costly.

He may not have been on the verge of being benched after those losses in Atlanta and the Meadowlands but if he had continued on that course he would not have established himself as the Redskins’ long-term starter. But his performance picked up after the Redskins went down 24-0 against the Bucs and the rest is history.

Cousins hasn’t necessarily locked up the job for the long term yet. The team wants to see more if they are going to give him a big-money deal. If he and the team are going to come to an agreement on a multiyear contract it would help if he had a solid 2016 season.

He should be better in the earlier part of the season for a couple of reasons. For one thing he will spend all of OTAs and all of training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, working with the first team offense. He didn’t get regular work with the starters until after the second preseason game last year.

And Cousins will be facing what appears to be a slightly softer slate of pass defenses in the first part of this year as opposed to last year. Here is the comparison using Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA metric (note that when it comes to defensive DVOA lower and negative numbers are better):

A caveat before we dive into this. Pass defenses do change from year to year. The three defensive free agents the Giants signed could greatly improve their pass defense. Or, as we saw with the Redskins often over the years, the free agents could take some time to fit in with the defense (or they may never fit in at all).

With that in mind, it does look like Cousins will be facing a slightly softer slate of pass defenses in September and October. Last year there were two defensives that finished with negative numbers last year; this year there are none. None of the defenses in the first six games this year were in the top 10 last year and only two, the Eagles and Steelers, were even in the top half and they were just barely there.

It will be good for Cousins if he can get off to a strong start but playing well against soft defenses is not really what the Redskins and many fans want to see. They want Cousins to be run through the gauntlet of some tough pass defenses to see what he is really made of. While the Redskins don’t face the Legion of Boom or any other similar “shutdown” units, the going does get significantly tougher from Week 7 on:

Again, this is based on last year and things will not be static. But it gives you a general idea that the going is likely to be tougher for Cousins in the second part of the season. Four of the opponents were in negative numbers in pass defense DVOA and six of them were in the top half of the NFL.

So if Cousins gets off to a sizzling start in 2016, don’t be surprised. If he continues that into the second part of the season then it will be time to be impressed.

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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins fans want Zach Brown back. Bad. And for weeks there had been no news about contract talks between Washington and Brown. 

Now that's changed.

"We've been talking to his agent," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. 

Gruden, speaking from the Senior Bowl, explained that the team would like Brown back in 2018 but Washington also understands that the linebacker might want to explore the free agent market. 

"It’s a process," Gruden said (full video above). "These guys have a chance to be a free agent, they had a good year and they want to check what the market is sometimes. If we can get them before they get to free agency, great, but if not, the bidding wars will begin."

For Brown, free agency will look different in 2018 than it did last season when he signed a one-year. bargain deal with the Redskins. 

Prior to injuries forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, Brown led the NFL in tackles. For two straight years, 2016 in Buffalo and 2017 in Washington, Brown has proved to be a tackling machine and arguably the fastest linebacker in the NFL. Brown also signed new representation last offseason, Jason and Michael Katz of CSE Football, and should Brown hit the free agent market the Katz brothers will aggresively market their client. 

Washington Senior Vice President of Football Operations Eric Schaeffer will handle the contract discussions for Washington, and is known as a shrewd negotiator. 

Like many business deals, this will come down to money. Brown established himself as a fit in Washington, both on the field and in the locker room. Interior linebackers do not command top dollar like pass rushers do, but Brown will still expect to be compensated appropriately. 

Further complicating matters for Washington, the Redskins only have Josh Harvery-Clemmons, Zach Vigil and Martrell Speight under contract for 2018. 

It's too early to predict what "it's a process" means from Jay Gruden, but Redskins fans should draw some encouragement that talks have begun with Brown. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!