After slow start, Cousins leading one of NFL’s hottest offenses into playoffs
Imagine an offense with a QB ranked top 10 in passing yards and QB rating, and No. 1 in completion percentage; a wide receiver averaging nearly 18 yards per catch and another up over 70 receptions for the year; a tight end who scored double digit touchdowns and hauled in 75% of the passes thrown his direction; and two running backs who totaled more than 700 yards from scrimmage this season, followed by a third RB at close to 500 yards.
Would you want to face that offense in the playoffs? Probably not.
What if I told you it belonged to the Redskins?
Washington may not deserve to be mentioned among the Super Bowl favorites as the playoffs arrive, but its offense is simply scorching right now. The Kirk Cousins-led attack kept on rolling early on Sunday, with Cousins hanging three touchdown passes on the Cowboys in the first quarter (one each to Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant and Pierre Garcon) before taking a breather for the rest of the afternoon. Cousins finished the regular season with 4,166 passing yards, breaking the franchise single-season passing record, previously held by Jay Schroeder, who had 4,109 in 1986.
Myriad reasons could be contributing to why Washington is being somewhat overlooked right now, from its 4–6 start to the putrid NFC East to Cousins himself. And while it’s true that the Redskins’ recent burst has come against the likes of Chicago, Buffalo and Philadelphia, that should not overshadow the way that offense is playing.
On plenty of occasions in NFL playoff history, the hottest team—not necessarily the best team—has run off four straight in January and February. That’s not to say that Washington is or should be anyone’s Super Bowl pick, but ignoring the way its obvious talent is clicking on offense would be a mistake.
“Guys are making plays and Kirk is starting to trust the fact that these guys are great players,” coach Jay Gruden said last month. “Kirk has to pull the trigger, but the receivers have to make plays for him.”
Early in the season, Cousins stood as the biggest question mark for the Redskins, once the offensive line started to show signs of life behind new position coach Bill Callahan. There was ample reason to doubt, too. During Washington’s 2–4 start to the year, Cousins tossed eight interceptions to just six TDs and the offense generally looked out of sorts more times than not. Gruden stuck to his guns with Cousins, hamstrung to some degree by his very limited backup (Colt McCoy) and the injury clause hovering over Robert Griffin’s potential 2016 contract.
His decision—some may have called it stubbornness—began to bear fruit when Cousins led a furious comeback against Tampa Bay, in what we now know as the “You Like That!” game. After a subsequent loss at New England, Cousins torched the Saints (who hasn’t?) and now has been unstoppable the past three weeks.
Obviously, the playoffs present a much different challenge. Washington will play Green Bay and proven quarterback Aaron Rodgers next Sunday in the wild-card round after the Packers lost to the Vikings Sunday night. Cousins’ only playoff appearance thus far came in relief of Griffin, back during a franchise-changing loss to Seattle at the end of the 2012 season. This time around, he’ll make the start as the unquestioned starter, and no matter what happens, he’ll likely strike it rich when Washington offers him a long-term contract in the coming months.
Such a scenario would have seemed ludicrous back when RGIII was running around as a rookie. It still felt rather far-fetched even at the midpoint of this season, as Cousins struggled, and the Redskins looked for all the world like they would head into the off-season needing one—possibly two—quarterbacks.
The situation has changed dramatically since then, and next week’s playoff appearance gives Washington a chance to make everyone take notice.
Cousins has enjoyed a burst of confidence the past month or two, aided in no small part by—as Gruden mentioned in that quote above—his trust in DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and especially tight end Jordan Reed. This is a very difficult offense to match up with, from Jackson’s ability to stretch the field on just about anyone to Reed’s skill as a pass-catcher. Add in a versatile backfield, and whichever defense draws Washington could have its hands full.
That is, assuming Cousins continues to play the way he has. There is some reason to doubt, including how the Redskins have picked on underachieving teams. But Cousins also has been mostly lights-out at home (13 touchdowns, zero INTs in Washington’s past five home games). Gruden allowing his starters to play a significant chunk early Sunday also allowed Cousins and company to maintain their momentum, whereas a full week off could have deposited a little rust.
Washington may not have the NFC’s best team and it certainly does not have the most talented quarterback. However, the Redskins have more than enough to cause some concern on the opposing sideline, thanks mainly to Cousins’s rapid improvement.