When Robert Griffin III busted his ankle early in Washington's Week 2 game against the Jaguars, the team turned to backup Kirk Cousins to run the offense, again, and damn, he filled in nicely, again. The offense came alive, and Washington came away with a decisive 41-10 victory. RG3's return is still up in the air—definitely not for a few weeks, likely a lot longer than that—but in the meantime, just how good is Cousins?
With Griffin's injury coming so early, Cousins played virtually the entire game. He hit the ground running, ripping up Jacksonville on just his second play. Washington went empty backfield, and fullback Darrel Young lined up as an outside wide receiver:
Cousins dropped back without any trouble, the line held, and he threw an accurate ball right for an uncovered Young in the end zone. The Jags' defense lost track of Young, so Cousins didn't need to fit a pass in a small space, but he put it right in the fullback's hands anyway.
Washington opened its next possession with a play-action pass, and Cousins had to try throwing into coverage as the pocket collapsed. He stood in and zipped a pass right onto DeSean Jackson's hands. Sure, Jaguars safety Josh Evans knocked it out, and Jackson was injured on the play, and that is bad. But Cousins didn't hesitate on and threw it to the right receiver with space. (There was a defensive penalty on the play, so Cousins wasn't credited with an incompletion. More on this later.)
This play was called back because of offsetting penalties, but appreciate it, Washington fans: A quarterback who knows when to run and more importantly, how to slide! That's a correct slide!
OK, here's a play Cousins didn't maximize. Near the end of the first quarter, Cousins sold the play-action to Alfred Morris and bought himself a lot of time. He went to the tight end Niles Paul, who was well covered, while Andre Roberts and Pierre Garcon were running free. Washington got the first down anyway, but that could have easily been much bigger a chunk of yards.
But even on a semi-blown play, there's some positive. Cousins and Paul hooked up all day, on 11 targets for eight catches, 99 yards, and a touchdown. It's possible Cousins was looking Paul's way because of some rapport they developed as backups together (tight end Jordan Reed was out due to injury), but the two clicked. He would've had another touchdown at the end of the first quarter on a lovely deep play-action pass, but officials ruled he was down at the one-yard line. This was a good fit, and if Cousins is going to sitting in on the position for the foreseeable future, he'll need a strong rapport with the receivers. (It would have been nice if Jackson didn't get hurt, sure, but the Redskins will take what they can get.)
So how good was he, really?
Cousins can throw a crisp pass, he doesn't dawdle in the pocket or hold onto the ball longer than necessary, and even though he can move around a little, he runs through progressions quickly with scrambling as a remote last resort. This is a pretty well fleshed out checklist for a young quarterback. He's comfortable with deep throws; his accuracy's there; he can sell play-action passes.
On the other hand, he played against the Jaguars. The Jaguars are not good. The easier opponent will help Cousins's confidence, and since Washington won handily, the coaches can focus on correcting the small mistakes, like the previously mentioned checkdown to Paul in the first quarter.
But the Jags make for a terrible stress test. They sacked Cousins only twice, and hit him as he threw zero times. The first sack came on the penultimate play of the first half, when a five-man rush overwhelmed Washington's offensive line, completely ruining the play. The second was this, in the fourth quarter:
The Jags sent a blitz on a long third down, and left tackle Trent Williams was hung out to dry, trying to block Chris Clemons and linebacker Telvin Smith. He failed, of course. Smith went untouched and slammed Cousins down. At that point, the game was already decided, but the play was an effective reminder: Washington's offensive line—or in this case, its protection scheme in general—does a fine impression of a rusty screen door, regardless of who's at quarterback, and especially against tougher opponents.
And tough opponents are coming. Next week, Cousins gets to face the Eagles, who will give up yards through the air but can bring pressure. (If Washington can't stop the Eagles offense, there will be plenty of pressure coming.) Week 4 is a short week with a Thursday night game, but brings some relief in the form of the Giants' secondary—which was torn apart by Matt Stafford in Week 1 and couldn't pick off Drew Stanton in Week 2. After that, Cousins takes on two ruthless secondaries and formidable pass-rushing fronts in Seattle and Arizona. If Washington wants to make a dent in these defenses, the run game's going to have to help out, and the o-line has to hold up more than it has. Either way, we'll find out more about Cousins through these next four games, but so far, we've seen enough to guess that if he gets some good play out of the line, he should hold up just fine.
Top photo: Getty