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Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?

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Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?

 In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

No. 12

Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016? 

El-Bashir: Yes, I do think Cousins will be a better quarterback in 2016.

Why? Let’s start with this: Cousins’ work ethic and meticulous preparation have always helped him overcome the fact that he’s not 6-foot-5 with a cannon for an arm. And that insatiable drive will continue to serve him well, I suspect.

When Cousins was relegated to benchwarmer in 2014, we learned recently that he flew in a private quarterbacks coach to help him refine his game…after he practiced with his full-time employers. Cousins continued to work with that coach last offseason and even sought help from Jon Gruden. Cousins also spent hours each day studying defenses and top-tier quarterbacks in his spare time.

When I heard about Cousins hiring a Chicago-based QBs coach—on his own dime and time—and then working with him after that day's Redskins practice, that pretty much told me all I needed to know about his makeup. He’s a worker, dedicated to his craft and determined to be the best player he can be. At the pro level, that's half the battle.

Now that he’s on the verge of signing a lucrative, long-term extension, I know some will wonder if he’ll take his foot off the gas and enjoy the fruits of his hard work. I don’t suspect that will be an issue. If anything, I think he’ll double down and feel that he’s now got even more to prove.

And, finally, I think Cousins will benefit from an offseason that’s going to begin with him riding a wave of confidence and momentum. An offseason that’s going to begin with him taking all the first team reps. An offseason that’s going to begin with a playbook that the coaching staff has tailored to his strengths.

My only concern is that the negotiations could prove to be a distraction, particularly if the team ends up using the franchise tag on him and/or talks drag out into the summer. Athletes often say they won’t allow contract issues to detract from their focus. But anyone who has gone through the process knows that’s not entirely possible.

Tandler: I have no doubt that Cousins will work as hard as he can to get better in 2016. I also doubt that the contract situation will be a distraction; even if it goes unresolved past the franchise tag deadline, Cousins simply won’t put any entries into any of the color-coded 15-minute blocks in his daily planner.

But there are things that are out of his direct control that will affect how well he plays in 2016. One of them is the Redskins’ running game. It was not good last year as they ranked 20th with 1,566 rushing yards and a dismal 29th with 3.7 yards per carry.

Cousins’ ability to put together a solid year despite the team’s poor performance running the ball is one of the least appreciated aspects of his season. Of the eight NFL quarterbacks who averaged 7.7 or more yards per attempt, Cousins (7.7/att.) had less support from the running game than any of them in terms of yards per carry. Same for the six who had passer ratings over 100 (Cousins 101.6).

If Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan can make good on their 2015 vow to have a powerful, effective running game that will take a lot of the pressure off of Cousins. If the defense is guessing that makes the play action game more effective and opens up a lot of things that Cousins does well.

An upgrade in depth at receiver would help Cousins, also. At times it seemed that targeting Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant was the same as throwing the ball into the dirt; they combined to catch just 53 percent of the passes thrown their way. And Rashad Ross needs to figure out how to evolve from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL wide receiver.

25 Questions series

·  Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?

·  Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?

·  Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?

·  Will there be a surprise cap casualty?

·  Will DeAngelo Hall return?

·  Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?

·  Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?

·  Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?

·  Should Pierre Garçon return?

·  What should the Redskins do at tight end?

·  Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job? 

·  Today: Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?

·  Tomorrow: Who will start at inside linebacker?

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Thanksgiving is a huge game for the Redskins and a huge opportunity for Colt McCoy

Thanksgiving is a huge game for the Redskins and a huge opportunity for Colt McCoy

For decades, the most iconic image of America came from Texas. 

Hollywood loved the cowboy, silently toiling in the heat and cold, staring down danger and prepared to answer any challenge that came his way.

But over time, industrialization and modernization, cowboys drifted from the national consciousness, or at least from the movies and television screens. 

As things shifted, however, another Texas icon emerged: the quarterback. 

Friday Night Lights, first as a book, then a movie, and later a TV show, made the country care about small town Texas high school football. The sophomoric Varsity Blues helped too. 

As that mythology grew, one real life QB emerged to fit the storybook casting: Colt McCoy.

With blue eyes and a humble voice, McCoy came from tiny Tuscola, Texas, a town of fewer than 800 people about three hours west of Dallas. He went on and excelled as the starting quarterback at the University of Texas, becoming the winningest Longhorn QB ever. 

Then the storybook ended.

In 2010, he was drafted by a terrible Browns team. In two seasons he started 21 games, but went 6-15. 

His career stumbled, he landed on a few bad San Francisco teams after that. He battled injuries, often, and didn't play all that well in spurts. 

His chance at NFL stardom, like he'd found in college, faded. Eventually, he caught on with the Redskins in a weird situation. 

McCoy joined the team in 2014, the same year Jay Gruden took over as head coach. Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins were already on the roster, and a multi-year awkward dance ensued. 

All three QBs got starts in 2014, but by 2015, Cousins got the starter's job, McCoy became the backup and RG3 hit the bench. In 2016, Griffin went to Cleveland, with McCoy firmly entrenched as Cousins' backup.

For two years, Cousins took every snap in Washington, and McCoy worked hard on the scout team to press the defense. 

Things seemed to be coming to a head as Cousins' contract situation reached a breaking point in 2018. Finally, maybe, McCoy would get his chance. 

And then Washington traded for Alex Smith.

McCoy again seemed destined to the bench, but much like fictional characters Johnny Moxon or Matt Saracen, the backup got thrust into the spotlight. 

After 10 games and a 6-3 start, Smith went down with a broken leg last week in a loss to Houston, and now, after a long, long wait, it's McCoy's team.

"For me, now is not a time to really kind of think about what got me to this point right here," McCoy said Tuesday. "Now, it's time to play."

That said, a small town upbringing is a big part of his story, and for McCoy, he can't forget it.

"I certainly wouldn’t change where I grew up, where I came from," McCoy said. "Everyone there means so much to me and that's a special part of me. Right now, my focus is on this team and how I can help this team this week because I know they're counting on me."

What McCoy might not know, or realize, is that his story is part of what makes him so appealing. 

The small town hero, the Texas gunslinger, McCoy fits all those bills. 

Redskins running back Chris Thompson tried to describe the intangible trust that comes from playing with McCoy, and the best he could muster was labeling it that "Texas thing." 

Watching McCoy enter the game for the Redskins last week at FedEx Field, there was an undeniable electricity that shot through the stadium. It was palpable, and multiple Redskins players said they felt it, too. 

And now, after four starts in four years in Washington, McCoy has the chance to lead a good team into the NFL playoffs in a league where a backup quarterback got named Super Bowl MVP last season.

"This opportunity is a great one for him," Gruden said.

"We don't have to change a thing with Colt at quarterback. We just go on as scheduled. I know the players all have a ton of respect for Colt and they're going to play hard for Colt and they know the ball's going to be thrown in the right spot."

Of course it starts on Thursday, on national television, and of course it starts in Dallas with the Redskins installed as big underdogs. 

McCoy found success once before playing against the Cowboys in Dallas on national television. It was a riveting win, down to the wire, and the Redskins entered the game as big underdogs, too. 

That came in 2014, in the middle of a lost season for Washington, but the victory still resonates for a lot of fans, in the same way Colt McCoy resonates with a lot of fans. 

The story is easy to root for and the person makes it even easier. McCoy, despite some circumstances where other players would complain, publicly or privately, never did. He never really got his chance to start, but kept soldiering on. 

"It's not easy but at the same time, I'm thankful for where I am and for the things that I’ve gone through. Hopefully some of the ups and downs that I've been through in my career will help me now, help me in this situation. I think if I didn’t enjoy football, if I didn’t love football, I probably would have maybe been through. But I love the process. I love the challenge each week."

This week's challenge is much different than it has been for McCoy. 

The challenge is no longer staying engaged in meetings or practices when playing time isn't on the horizon. 

The challenge is the Dallas Cowboys, on a short week, with a surging defense and a vicious pass rush.

The challenge is a beat-up Redskins offensive line and the pressure of maintaining a one-game lead in the NFC East. 

For years, the challenge has been mental. Now, the challenge will be very, very real. 

This game is huge for the Redskins. For their playoff hopes. For their coach's job security. For the organization's direction in 2019. 

And it's also huge for McCoy. To validate his hard work. His patience. To validate Tuscola. 

"I'm thankful for the opportunity but I think it's even more than that. It's time to just go play and put everything else aside," he said.

"We have a huge game this week. It's a huge game."

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Not that this helps, but NFL admits refs missed a late call that would've assisted Redskins vs. Texans

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Not that this helps, but NFL admits refs missed a late call that would've assisted Redskins vs. Texans

You're finally over the Redskins' loss to the Texans and looking forward to their matchup against the Cowboys, right?

Well, time for you to get upset again.

At the end of that game, officials made a call on Josh Norman, a holding that shouldn't have been flagged.

They also didn't make a call involving Josh Doctson on a play where two Houston DBs got very physical with the 'Skins wide receiver on Washington's last play from scrimmage.

But hey! Guess what!?

On Tuesday, the NFL informed the Redskins that the Texans should've been penalized for pass interference on that second sequence:

Fantastic news, right? This means Dustin Hopkins can trot out and try his game-winning field goal again, doesn't it?

Oh, wait, it doesn't?

Of course it doesn't. 

These late admissions don't help anyone. They don't change the final scores or records of the teams involved.

So why don't you just head to the comments section of this blog and let it rip, because that's about the only thing you can do at this point.

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