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El-Bashir: Bigger sample size needed to evaluate Cousins properly

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El-Bashir: Bigger sample size needed to evaluate Cousins properly

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.  

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10 Questions in 10 days: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

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10 Questions in 10 days: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a week late last season for the Redskins where most informed people considered Kevin O'Connell on his way out. The talented young quarterbacks coach was being pursued by Chip Kelly to be offensive coordinator at UCLA, and the smart money suggested O'Connell would take the job. 

Except he didn't. 

O'Connell decided to stay with the Redskins and continue to work on Jay Gruden's staff. In turn, Washington promoted O'Connell to passing game coordinator, a new title that likely means much more involvement in game-planning. 

Working for Gruden comes with some perks. Sean McVay ran the offense for Gruden for a few seasons and landed a prime head coaching job with the Rams. McVay has plenty of his own talent, but throughout the NFL, Gruden's offense is widely respected. 

How will O'Connell's influence shape things this fall?

Consider that he deserves some credit for Kirk Cousins improved play out of the pocket in 2017. Now combine a coach that schemes plays for QBs on the move with new Washington passer Alex Smith, a strong runner and serious athlete, and this offense could look much more mobile in 2018. 

Gruden still has the final call on gameday, but O'Connell's voice will matter this year, more so than before. Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh retain their roles and prominence in the offensive game-planning, for sure, but as Washington imports more run-pass option plays and QB movement, know that O'Connell is playing his part. 

Things will look different with Alex Smith running the Redskins offense than they did with Kirk Cousins at the helm. 

Just remember, O'Connell didn't turn down a job in Hollywood for no reason. 

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Need to Know: The best receivers the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best receivers the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, July 17, nine days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best pass catchers the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the pass catchers are up. They are roughly ranked 2017 receiving yards, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teams and quarterbacks

Julio Jones, Falcons—Somehow the perception is that he had an off year in 2017 even though he still had 1,444 yards receiving. His touchdowns were down; his total of three TDs was a career worst for a full season. Still, he’s a beast to try to cover and even if you have him perfectly covered he can still make the catch on you. 

DeAndre Hopkins, Texans—Despite working with some shaky quarterbacks, Hopkins has managed to gain over 1,100 receiving yards in three of the last four seasons. He is a highlight show regular and his 13 touchdowns led the league in 2017. 

Michael Thomas, Saints—The third-year player doesn’t have high name recognition outside of New Orleans and maybe fans of the other NFC South teams. Defensive coordinators certainly don’t sleep on him. Thomas is as consistent as they come, posting nine games with 80 or more receiving yards last season. 

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals—I keep wondering when he will show signs of his age (he’ll be 35 before the season starts). He didn’t last year, posting 109 receptions despite the fact that his quarterbacks were an aging Carson Palmer plus journeymen Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton. 

Mike Evans, Buccaneers—At 6-5, he is able to physically beat most cornerbacks. Evans will turn 25 just before the season starts and he got a five-year, $82.5 million contract extension. He is worth every bit of it. If Jameis Winston gets a big contract (something that is up in the air right now), he owes a good chunk of it to Evans. 

Best of the rest: T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Davante Adams, Packers; Alvin Kamara (RB), Saints; Zach Ertz (TE), Eagles

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 9
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 23
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 46

The Redskins last played a game 198 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 54 days. 

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