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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