When Robert Griffin III injured his knee in Washington’s playoff loss to the Seahawks two seasons ago, there was no doubt over whether he’d be the starting quarterback upon returning. But now? After an unspectacular 2013 campaign and his second major injury in 20 months, there’s a distinct possibility that Griffin has taken his last snap as the starter in the nation’s capital.
Of course, in order for this to happen, Kirk Cousins would have to step into the void left by Griffin and outperform the teammate drafted three rounds before him in the 2012 NFL Draft. Cousins certainly took a strong first step toward doing just that on Sunday against Jacksonville, helping Washington top the 40-point mark for just the second time since Griffin did the same in his NFL debut. His 2014 debut truly could not have gone much better. Cousins’ first throw was a 20-yard touchdown to fullback Darrell Young. He was 8-for-8 on his first four drives, three of which ended with touchdowns.
Cousins ended up with a 109.4 QB rating on the day, passing for 250 yards with a 66.7 completion percentage (22-for-33) in the 41-10 taming of the Jaguars. He also fulfilled the basic requirements of a backup who’s inserted into a contest mid-game – keep the ball in your offense’s hands. Even though Alfred Morris averaged less than four yards per carry, Washington consistently dominated possession, thanks to Cousins’ pinpoint accuracy on short passes (16-for-21 for 129 yards, according to NFL.com) and lack of turnovers.
Cousins’ ball security hasn’t always been so reliable, though. He has 10 interceptions in 10 career games. Some have chalked those up to Cousins being not as good of a fit for former coach Mike Shanahan’s offense, which adjusted to Griffin’s dual-threat capabilities, as he is for first-year head coach Jay Gruden’s West Coast scheme.
But for all the hand-wringing over Gruden’s new offense, players have said since training camp that the playbook and terms aren’t all that different from those used during Shanahan’s regime. Gruden even retained Shanahan’s offensive line coach Chris Foerster and promoted former tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator to maintain continuity. And Cousins wasn’t all that great in that offense similarly constructed around short throws. Across 155 pass attempts last year, Cousins threw more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (4) with just a 52.3 completion percentage. Those stats aren’t good no matter how you split them. Griffin, who’s somehow been pigeonholed as a “riskier” option than Cousins, threw 16 touchdowns against 12 interceptions with a 60.1 completion percentage in what was unquestionably a down year for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
Cousins is still just 1-3 as a starter, with the lone victory coming against a 5-11 Browns squad in 2012. And it’s not as if the team he beat last week, Jacksonville, is a defensive powerhouse, either. There’s no doubt that Cousins’ debut was encouraging, though, especially for Washington fans who aren’t used to witnessing 31-point blowouts. There’s potential for him to put up even better numbers, as Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson missed most of the game due to injuries. Washington fans can take solace that the weapons Cousins has inherited this season (Jackson and breakout candidate Niles Paul) look to be much improved from the rag-tag crew (sorry, Josh Morgan and Nick Williams) that Cousins had to target frequently while playing out the string of a 3-13 campaign under a lame duck coach in 2013. Truthfully, though, the game action that Cousins has accumulated through 2+ seasons in the league is too insignificant to draw spectacular conclusions from.