After Thursday night’s unsightly loss in the Meadowlands, Redskins Coach Jay Gruden uttered six words that were sure to stir a strong reaction in Washington.
“There is no quarterback controversy, whatsoever,” he said, asked about Kirk Cousins’ performance in the 32-21 defeat.
That, of course, meant Kirk Cousins, despite throwing two interceptions for the second time in three games, is still his guy.
And, for now, it’s the right decision.
Now is the time for Gruden—and, more importantly, for first-year General Manager Scot McCloughan—to study Cousins’ DNA as a quarterback.
Can he become a reliable game manager who puts the ball in the hands of his playmakers, avoids negative plays and keeps his team in the game? Or is he simply predisposed to telegraphing his passes and, quite literally, throwing games away?
Through three weeks, we’ve seen both sides of Cousins.
He ranks eighth in the NFL in completion percentage (69.2 percent), 15th in passing yards (715) and has been sacked fewer times (4) than 19 other quarterbacks. Buuuuuuut…there’s that other stat. The one in the column labeled, ‘INT’. It says he’s thrown four interceptions. Sure, seven other starters have tossed at least four picks. But it’s a little different in Cousins’ case because of his history of throwing the ball to wrong team.
Indeed, Cousins has produced interceptions at a historic rate. In fact, he’s thrown two or more interceptions eight times and has tossed 23 on only 514 attempts.
That, obviously, is not sustainable.
But, to me, there are still too many unknowns, too much potential to contemplate a change now. Or in the next few weeks, really.
Can Cousins be coached up? Learn to minimize risks? Is more experience (not to mention the return of DeSean Jackson) the answer?
Gruden acknowledged that he can’t say for sure. Not yet, anyway.
“Well, we’ll have to see,” Gruden said. “You know, he’s thrown some interceptions in the past—I guess his first year he came in as a backup role, and came in as a backup role again [in 2013]—and now we’re letting him be the starter here, and he’s going to have to play through some of these pitfalls, so to speak. We’re hoping that he does. We’re hoping that a more mature Kirk Cousins will bounce back from these performances.”
He added: “He did some great things [against the Giants], no question about it. But there were some plays that he needs to make to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League…”
A bigger sample size is required.
Cousins has made 12 starts in his career; some talent evaluators believe that it can take twice as many (or more) starts to figure out a quarterback's true identity. If Gruden sticks with Cousins, by season’s end, he'll have 25 starts on his resume. He’ll also be a free agent. At that point, an informed decision on his future can be made.
I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Gruden has made up his mind on Robert Griffin III (35 starts) and Colt McCoy (25 starts). If that’s the case, then what is there to lose by gathering more intel on Cousins? Or, more succinctly, what is there possibly to gain from turning over a rebuilding team to a quarterback that you’ve already decided is not the future?
Of course, recent history suggests that patience really isn’t the Redskins’ thing, particularly when it comes to quarterbacks. And, as we know, Gruden has an itchy trigger finger, having benched Griffin and Cousins for performance-based reasons just last year. We also know this: the temptation to make a change could grow in the coming weeks, particularly if Cousins continues to make poor decisions with the football and it begins to look like 8-8 might be enough to take the NFC East.
But for the long term future of the franchise, I say Gruden and Co. should stay the course (within reason, of course) because it takes time for some quarterbacks to hit their stride. It also takes time to determine whether that will ever happen.