Earlier this season, it seemed Redskins coach Jay Gruden was hesitant to criticize Kirk Cousins. Washington's coach famously, or perhaps infamously, even blamed the wind for a poor Cousins performance in New York in October.
If Gruden was protecting his QB, it made sense. In four seasons with the Redskins, Cousins repeatedly got put in awkward positions by the organization, starting with the day he was drafted. When Mike Shanahan decided to take Cousins in the 4th round of the 2012 draft, three rounds after paying a king's ransom to draft Robert Griffin III, the stage was set for an odd dynamic between two rookie QBs that understandably wanted the chance to play.
When RG3 experienced great success in 2012, Cousins' role as backup was obvious. After injury and performance robbed Griffin of his clear starter status, and Cousins continued to show flashes of QB1 skill, the relationship strained. When Cousins did get to play, and turnovers mounted, it seemed the criticism never stopped.
So this season, with Kirk installed as the clear No. 1 quarterback by Gruden, the coach defended his passer early. The struggles weren't tremendous, but Cousins had some bad games, and the coach was hesitant to call out Cousins. Now, 14 weeks into a season where the Redskins find themselves battling for a division title, it looks like Gruden is taking the gloves off.
Consider this quote from Gruden on Cousins' interception in the win at Chicago:
"He should have seen that it was Cover 2, and that particular route, the flat defender was the corner. He just didn’t see him." the coach said of his QB. "He does have to do a better job of seeing where he’s throwing it and seeing the underneath hook defenders or flat defenders."
And this Gruden quote from Cousins' play two weeks prior in a Monday night loss at home against Dallas:
"If you put the film on, you’ll see guys, we took some shots, just we didn’t take them, whether it was pressure forced us into throwing a check-down or what have you, the quarterback couldn’t see it."
Now compare that with Gruden's infamous defense of Cousins quote after the Jets loss:
"It was also a little windy. Also, he had a lot of pressure on him really. There were a lot of things going on pre-snap that he's got to deal with, getting the formations, the protections, all that."
Looking at the dialog, it's obvious Gruden has become more comfortable calling Cousins out publicly for his missteps. For Redskins fans, this should be treated as good news, as it means two things:
- Kirk has established himself as the starter of this team. Gone are the days of QB controversy, and the proof comes when the coach no longer has to defend Cousins' every poor throw. Through solid, and at times spectacular play, Cousins has cemented himself as the Redskins quarterback.
- Gruden trusts Cousins, and more importanly, believes his QB is mature enough to handle some criticism. Listen to Jay Gruden over the course of the season, and it's clear the coach speaks in honest terms. At times that will mean blunt assessments, and for Cousins and Gruden to reach their peak together, that type of communication will serve both well.
For months, it seemed Gruden protected Cousins. In the last two weeks, that's changed, and in a season full of positive signs for the Redskins, that may be the brightest of all.