ATLANTA—Kirk Cousins played eight snaps against the Falcons on Thursday night, seven if you subtract the one play that was negated by a penalty. He threw six passes, none of them particularly challenging, and completed all of them. A holding penalty put them in a first and 20 situation that they couldn’t climb out of and after moving a net of 21 yards, they punted. Colt McCoy came in the next series.
Earlier in the week Cousins told CSN that he expected to play about 10-15 snaps. But head coach Jay Gruden said that he felt comfortable with Cousins getting in and out after one series.
Did he play enough?
Cousins had a pretty good 2015 season but he is not to be confused with Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers at this point in time. He still has work to do, a lot of it. Here was an opportunity to get in another series or, here’s a radical idea, even two series before calling it a night. But Gruden sat him down before many at the Georgia Dome arrived at their seats.
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This is less of a complaint against Gruden than it is against the NFL coaches’ conventional wisdom that dictates that your starting quarterback should play no more than a series, maybe two, in the first preseason game. It doesn’t matter if your team was 12-4 the year before or picking first in the draft. The starting quarterback comes in, barely breaks a sweat, and becomes a spectator.
Where is the evidence that this is the best way to handle the first preseason game? Teams do it and make the playoffs. Other teams do it and lose double-digit games. Quarterbacks make quick exits and have outstanding seasons, others do it and play poorly enough to get benched early in the season.
Should a coach maybe do something different and play his quarterback (gasp!) into the second quarter?
This uniform decision to pull the QB’s so early is especially odd behavior considering the fact that NFL coaches often lament the lack of offseason preparation time. There isn’t an exact way to measure it but I’ll make the suggestion that a dozen or two snaps against another NFL team is the equivalent of a week of work with a coach in April.
Yes, there is the injury factor. Math tells you that each snap a quarterback takes against live competition increases the chance that he will get hurt by some infinitesimal amount. But if that’s the case, why play the starting QB at all? Keep him in bubble wrap on the sideline until the games start to count.
Will the QB be rusty if you do that? Maybe, but playing seven snaps about a month before the season opener helps significantly?
I certainly don’t expect the NFL to change the way it does things, especially not because I suggest it. But maybe one day a coach will play his established but not stellar starting quarterback into the second quarter of the preseason opener and his team will go on to have a successful season. Maybe then in the copycat league that is the NFL, some coaches might start to wonder if the conventional wisdom is really all that wise.
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