I had initially intended to write a post about the performance of Kirk Cousins at the halfway point of his first year as the undisputed starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins. But the more research I did, the more it became clear just how indispensable DeSean Jackson is to the Redskins’ attack, and why the sighting of him yesterday in Foxboro was such a good sign. Let me run through how the research unfolded and why, even those of us who love DeSean, can be surprised at just how big his impact is.
I used three stats as a basic judge of quarterback play—completion percentage, yards-per-attempt and interceptions. With due to apologies to Fantasy-lovers, Draft Kings and Fan Duel, I’m not able to get all that worked up over touchdown passes per se.
If a quarterback leads a drive down inside the 5-yard line, I don’t care whether the team can power it in on the ground or they go for the cheap touchdown pass. I just want to know how many passes a guy completes, how many yards they go for and whether he makes mistakes.
And with further apologies to lovers of passer rating or QBR, I’m skeptical of any stat that claims to be a universal judge of performance. Sports are more complex than that and these type of stats strike me as a pseudo-Tower Of Babel.
I won’t say my three stats are the final word—again, football requires more actual game-watching than any other sport to make a really good assessment—you need to understand how a system works, what a supporting cast can do, what game situations are in play, etc. But those three stats serve as the starting point.
Kirk Cousins in 2015 has a completion percentage of 66.9% (8th among quarterbacks with enough throws to qualify). He YPA is 6.3 (31st) and his 24th in interception percentage.
To give those numbers further context, let’s compare them to RG3’s play in 2014. Griffin didn’t throw enough passes to officially qualify (no Redskin quarterback did), but here’s how he would have ranked—a 68.7% completion rate would have been 3rd in the NFL. His 7.9 YPA would have been tied for 5th. The only downside was that he threw interceptions on 2.8% of his passes, which would been 22nd.
At this point, as one who is in rehab for RG3 fanaticism, I was ready to throw months of recovery out the window and go ballistic, demanding his return to the lineup. But my team of psychiatrists intervened, reminded me of the presence of DeSean in 2014 and suggested I run Cousins’ numbers for the same year. ‘
Kirk’s completion percentage was 61.8%, a poor number in this day and age that would have had him 23rd. But his yard-per-attempt was soaring at 8.4, tied for 2nd in the NFL with Aaron Rodgers. The interception rate was 4.4%, a ridiculously high number that none of the 33 qualifying quarterbacks reached.
I’m going to leave the Kirk vs. RG3 debate alone for the good of the team, the fan base and my mental health. Because we can say that Cousins’ numbers on completion percentage and interceptions have notably improved this season with continued reps and the confidence that presumably comes with knowing you’re “the guy”. The problem is the big drop-off in yards-per-attempt. And here’s where we get to DeSean.
Jackson led all NFL receivers last year in averaging 20.9 yards-per-catch. He was a full three yards ahead of the field. To give that gap some perspective, three yards is the difference between the #2 receiver and the #21 receiver. Translation—DeSean is not just a big playmaker, he is a dominating big play maker.
The shifty Jackson is also brilliant after the catch which is where his role in the Jay Gruden system comes in. Gruden excels at getting receivers open underneath for quick-hitting routes. Most NFL quarterbacks are going to complete a good percentage in this offense. The key is going to be getting yards after the catch. Jackson does an outstanding job of this, and his speed stretches defenses.
It’s become an all-too familiar sight to see opposing defenses stack eight men in the box. The problems in the running game have been well-documented and while injuries at center and left guard are a big reason, so is the comfort defenses have with coming up close. The Redskins have other good targets, with Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and rising star Jamison Crowder. But there’s only one DeSean Jackson when it comes to stretching defenses.
DeSean hurt his hamstring in the first half of the season opener against Miami and finally returned to the lineup Sunday in the 27-10 loss at New England. Washington is still just a game out in the watered-down NFC East and the two teams ahead of them—the Giants & Eagles—each have to play the Patriots.
If the playmaking receiver can get his 2014 mojo back, it won’t matter if the quarterback is Kirk Cousins, RG3, Colt McCoy or if they want to pull Sonny Jurgensen out of the broadcast booth. Anyone that can throw a five-yard slant to DeSean will do.