The Improbable Surge Of Kirk Cousins

To say that Kirk Cousins is coming into the playoffs on a roll understates the case. The Washington Redskins quarterback is positively surging into the postseason. In the month of December, Cousins has been transformed from a do-no-harm dink-and-dunk quarterback into one playing at an MVP level.

Joe Gibbs Washington Redskins

One statistic tells the story. While Cousins has been at or near the top of the league most of the year in completion percentage, that tends to be a byproduct of Jay Gruden’s offense. Cousins’ 69 percent rate is pretty much on par with RG3’s 68 percent from a year ago. Through three-quarters of this season, Cousins also ranked at or near the bottom of the league in yards-per-attempt.

He was cutting back on the interceptions that have plagued him throughout his young career,  and that was nice, but as recently as December 7 ( during a Monday Night game against Dallas) I said to a friend—“I like what Cousins is doing, but it’s nothing Scott Tolzien (the Green Bay Packer backup) wouldn’t be doing in this system.” I liked the system more than the quarterback and based on the evidence available at the time I completely stand by that.

But over the final four games, Cousins dramatically stepped up his game. He closed the season ranking seventh in the league in yards-per-attempt, while finishing first in completion percentage. He’s rifling the ball downfield with confidence. Now, I like Scott Tolzien a lot more than the next guy (a former Wisconsin quarterback, the program I root for), but he wouldn’t be doing that.

The return of DeSean Jackson to the offense from his hamstring injury was the big trigger point. He gave the Redskins a legitimate deep threat and now these short passes that the Gruden system produces were getting a little bit more space to operate in. The transformation wasn’t instant, but you could gradually see the passing game start to open up.

A home win over the New York Giants on the Sunday after Thanksgiving marked the first phase of the Cousins transformation. It wasn’t dramatic, but he hit a deep touchdown pass to DeSean and the short passing game was more effective. There was a brief regression on the aforementioned MNF game against Dallas, Washington’s last loss. A win over Chicago, with yours truly in attendance was promising, although not dynamic.

Then Cousins took the ball by the horns. Playing against Buffalo, and then a nationally televised December 26 game against the Philadelphia Eagles for all the NFC East marbles, Cousins stepped up and confidently attacked defenses downfield and with intelligence and accuracy. And for all the problems the Bills and Eagles have, they both play pretty good defense. The surge continued against Dallas in a Week 17 win.

George Allen Redskins

If you look at the combination of completion percentage/yards-per-attempt, Cousins ranks higher than Tom Brady and Cam Newton in both. The mistake-prone first half of the season still leaves Cousins with more picks, and it’s fair to say that the Redskins have a lot more weapons at the receiver spots than do the Patriots or Panthers. But I think it safe to say that even with all the qualifiers in the world, no one saw this coming.

I didn’t. I was a Cousins skeptic in August. I had no confidence in his mental toughness, having watched him melt down after interceptions when he had an opportunity to seize the job in 2014. I hoped against hope for an RG3 Revival, before concluding that my sanity was better served by letting it go. I would have started Colt McCoy in Week 1 and to be honest, I do wonder what McCoy—who outperformed Cousins in the regular season last year and the preseason this year—might have done had he gotten the same unconditional love that Cousins gets from Gruden.

But what I don’t have to wonder about anymore is whether Kirk Cousins can get the job done. He can. And to answer your inevitable question, yes, I DO LIKE THAT!