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The Cam Newton/Kirk Cousins debate is ridiculous

The Cam Newton/Kirk Cousins debate is ridiculous

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of the hot take, the more preposterous and outrageous suggestion gets the buzz. 

The latest fallacy of a sports debate started when Jordan Rodgers - best known for being Aaron Rodgers' brother and a winner on The Bachelorette  - said he would take Kirk Cousins over Cam Newton while talking on ESPN Radio. Rodgers laid out his reasons, mainly that Cousins is an accurate passer while Newton's game depends to much on athleticism. Rodgers: 

You know what gets figured out? Athleticism. What happened to Robert Griffin? Athleticism. Teams caught up to him. They figured how to scheme him. You know what never gets schemed or what never gets stymied? Going through your reads and completing balls. That is what Kirk Cousins does: completing the last two years 67 and nearly 70 percentage of his throws. Going through your reads, there is always an answer. And if you consistently, from a mental standpoint as a quarterback, go through your reads, you always give your team a chance to win. And I will take consistency, leadership and accuracy over athletic potential any day of the week.

So there's that. Then Tiki Barber decided to get involved. Some highlights from Barber's rant via his radio show:

  • Kirk Cousins will sit in the pocket and find his guy and read a defense and know pre-snap where he’s going to go with the ball, and if something breaks down, then he finds his checkdown back. Those two guys who they had in Washington were fantastic in giving him support in that role, so yeah, of course you take Kirk Cousins over Cam Newton, even though Cam Newton was the MVP.
  • With Cam Newton, you’re getting year-to-year volatility. With Kirk Cousins, you haven’t had that. It’s been pretty consistent.
  • If you’re choosing one and you’re building out for the next five or six years, who are you picking? I think it’s pretty easy to pick Kirk Cousins.

Looking at statistics, the claims of Rodgers and Barber can be validated in some capacity. In six seasons, Newton has only thrown for more than 4,000 yards once in his rookie year. Cousins has done it both years he's been the starter, and nearly went for 5,000 in 2016.

And Cousins completes way more of his passes. The Panthers QB's best completion percentage came in 2013, when he connected on 61.7 percent of his passes. Cousins completed nearly 70 percent of his throws in 2015, and 67 percent in 2016.

Dig a little deeper though, and some things are obvious.

The Panthers run a prehistoric offense, where running the ball is the focus. In 2016, Carolina ran the ball 28 times per game, the 7th most in the NFL. That was actually a significant decrease from 2015, where Carolina ran the ball 33 times per game, by far the most run heavy offense in the NFL. 

The Redskins were on the other end of the spectrum. Washington ran the ball less than 24 times per game in 2016, and ranked 27th out of 32 teams in the NFL in rush attempts. 

Consider that the 'Skins play a pass-first offense, and Carolina does the opposite, and that explains much of the yardage differences. Cousins had nearly 100 more throws in 2016 than Newton, 606 to 510, though the Panthers QB missed two starts. In 2015, when Newton won the MVP and the Panthers went to the Super Bowl, Cousins still threw nearly 50 passes more over the course of the year. 

Another consideration on the stats: Newton goes deep. All the time. Cousins and the Redskins move the ball well, but are not reliant on the vertical passing game like the Panthers. Remember, about halfway through the 2016 season, many stories questioned why the Washington offense was under utilizing DeSean Jackson. That changed as the year progressed, but anybody that watches football recognizes the difference.

Rodgers even provided the context. "Any time you talk about the completion percentage being as high as Kirk’s is, it means he’s consistently getting to his third and fourth read and check-downs. That’s how you have that high percentage."

Oh yeah, Newton is arguably the best running quarterback in NFL history. Deadly in short yardage situations, Cam has 48 rushing TDs in his six-year NFL career. Cousins has shown flashes of good wheels, the touchdown run in Detroit comes to mind, but is nowhere near the runner Newton is. Nobody is. 

All of this is not to talk down Cousins. The Redskins passer has proven to be a worthy NFL starting quarterback, and he could continue to improve over the next half decade. He is smart with the football and quick in his reads. In Washington or elsewhere, Cousins will make a ton of money, and deservedly. 

But ranking Cousins ahead of Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, just seems silly. Rodgers and Barber laid out their reasoning, but in actuality, it's hard to believe. 

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Zach Brown 'surprised' by 1st half benching, calls run fits 'Day 1' knowledge

Zach Brown 'surprised' by 1st half benching, calls run fits 'Day 1' knowledge

When the Redskins sent their defense out to the field to start the game against the Giants on Sunday, Zach Brown did not take his usual spot at linebacker. Rookie Shan Dion Hamilton did instead. 

"I was surprised but the coaches made a decision I guess," Brown said after the game. 

Brown missed practice time last week with an illness, and Washington head coach Jay Gruden said after the game that's why Hamilton got the start. Brown clearly did not like the decision and posted a message on his Instagram voicing his frustration before the game. 

The results were bad too, as the Giants ran for more than 150 yards in the first half. That type of yardage did not completely hinge on Brown not being on the field, obviously, but it was a noticeable difference in team speed. Hamilton did notch seven tackles before going down with a shoulder injury. 

Of the run struggles, Gruden said that a number of players suffered "missed fits." That means a player wasn't in the right spot for the defensive scheme, and one player missing a fit can impact the whole defense. 

"It's stuff you work on in practice, but at the same time, it's certain things you should know," Brown said. "You should know how to fit, it probably was a Day 1 play that we ran. At the same time, you got to execute the call."

The Redskins offense never produced at a high level this season, even when Alex Smith was healthy. In turn, it's not that weird for the offense to continue to struggle as their quarterbacks and offensive linemen suffer one injury after another.

Defensively, however, things are weird. 

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's unit looked like one of the best defenses in the NFL during the first half of the season. Then, things fell apart. It hasn't been a byproduct of injury either. 

There aren't any answers on the demise of the Redskins defense. Coaches and players can't understand why simple mistakes keep happening, and Brown's comments explain it well. Guys are missing Day 1 techniques, and the execution just isn't there. There seems to be much more under the surface, but so far, that information is staying there. 

What happens next? Brown said the team has to look at Jacksonville next week. 

"You just got to move on from this game. We got beat, and we got beat bad. We just got to move on to the next game," he said. "We just got to make sure we're on point."

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Jay Gruden's job is on the hot seat, and he knows it

Jay Gruden's job is on the hot seat, and he knows it

The Redskins lost their fourth straight game on Sunday, this time in embarrassing fashion. Washington head coach Jay Gruden can feel the pressure mounting. 

"My job is in jeopardy every week," Gruden said after the 40-16 defeat. 

Forgive the head coach a bit of hyperbole, but not much. NFL coaches age in dog years. Every game is a referendum on their ability, and that takes a toll.

For Gruden, it hasn't been an easy season. What started well has since fallen apart, and things swung dramatically when Alex Smith broke his leg last month. His team took an even bigger hit when Colt McCoy also broke his leg last week

Not everything swung on the health of the quarterbacks though.

The Redskins defense started the season strong but has been bad for the last six weeks. Penalties are also a tremendous problem for the Burgundy and Gold. 

"For the most part, I don’t have an explanation right now as far as what the breakdowns were, who they were and why they were," he said.

It doesn't seem fair to blame everything on Gruden, but that's also the nature of the NFL. 

In some ways, it seems Gruden's modest success in Washington might also be his downfall. Jay Gruden's teams won at least seven games the last three years. No Redskins coach in the last 20 years can say the same thing. Gruden was the first, and only, coach to get a contract extension under owner Daniel Snyder. That shows some level of continued competency. Gruden has maneuvered with a stable roster capable of sustained mediocrity, largely without drama.

But there also hasn't been any real success.

The team won the NFC East in 2015, but got quickly dispatched in the playoffs. Gruden's squad lost a win-and-in Week 17 game to the Giants in 2016 to miss the playoffs. In 2017, injuries buried the Redskins' chance at playoff success. In 2018, a new rash of injuries did the same thing. 

The ugly losses don't help. There have been embarrassing defeats that lead some in the 'Skins fanbase to scream for coaching changes. The first half of the Giants game might be a new low point for a franchise that all too often is forced to wonder about new low points. 

Gruden knows the current situation. He understands it. 

He was clearly upset after the Giants game, frustrated by the injuries and his defense's play. Next week in Jacksonville, the team will start their fourth quarterback of the season. That's almost unprecedented in the NFL. 

"What did work? There was nothing that worked so nothing worked. Everything did not work," the coach said.

The nature of the NFL beast means the spotlight lands on the head coach, for better or worse. Gruden, now in his fifth season, knows that, and knows what that means after an awful loss. 

"It’s tough to deal with. It really is. It’s unfortunate. Our guys continue to compete. That product we put on the field today was not a reflection of the guys work during the week and at practice. However, it did look bad. It’s a reflection of all of us."

While the reflection might be of the whole team, Gruden is in the center. 

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