Kirk Cousins Self Destructs in the Clutch, Will Doom the Washington Redskins As Long as He Starts

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He is who we thought we was.

There’s something aggravating about the reaction to the Washington Redskins’ 17-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The talk goes that, sure, the Redskins coughed up a lead in a game they should’ve won. But they played something vaguely resembling okay-ish football for most of the game, and hung in there with a trendy pick for a playoff team. That’s something to be proud of.

To quote one of the greatest movies in cinema history, “Gag me with a spoon.”

This kind of excuse making and hedging isn’t exactly new for a team that wins as rarely as the Washington Redskins do. There’s always a search to find positives, even in games that were essentially slam dunks before getting choked away.

The Redskins want to build a tough, physical football team that runs the ball and keeps games close. Teams that due that have to play smart, disciplined football; a few stupid mistakes could end a game. A couple dumb penalties, dumb dropped interceptions, mind-boggling playcalling and clock management.

And turnovers. My oh my, the turnovers.

The reason most people wanted Kirk Cousins to start is because he’s not Robert Griffin III. They will tell you that it’s because he “moves the ball”, or is more comfortable in the offense, or doesn’t take as many hits, or any other myriad of other excuses. But the real reason is simple; he’s not RGIII. He is everything Griffin is not. And for a fanbase as burned out on RGIII as Redskins fans seem to be, that’s really all the matters.

Not being RGIII is all it really took for a half of the fanbase to hitch their collective bandwagons to Cousins. Maybe not as a savior, but as someone who is allegedly a better quarterback. “You can’t watch RGIII and tell me Kirk Cousins isn’t a better passer”, they say. And if you watch Cousins beat up future Finish Line and mall kiosk employees in preseason games, while Griffin gets annihilated and looks out of his depth, then it’s easy to why one would jump to that conclusion, even if the evidence against Cousins being a capable starter in the league in games that actually matter continues to pile up.

I don’t meant for this to devolve into yet another post pitting the two quarterbacks against each other. In all honesty I hope the team moves on from Griffin ASAP, for his sake and theirs. This is about Cousins; particularly, what he is, and what he isn’t.
What he isn’t, is a quarterback capable of winning games in the NFL.

At least not on his own. Not when the game is on the line and the pressure mounts and he has to make that play, and he has to protect the ball, and he has to keep his focus and confidence and his poise. When the Redskins need Cousins the most, he crumbles.

This is not conjuncture. It’s not talking out of one’s rear end. It’s supported and backed by fact. Games are won and lost in the second half. Re-watch the New York Giants versus the Dallas Cowboys, and it becomes clear how a few dumb mistakes here and there can drastically alter the outcome of games.

The Redskins are not built to be in a shootout with anyone. If they’re going to win, they need to do it by keeping the game close, and then putting it away when it matters. To do that, they need a quarterback who can be a closer, who can throw strikes and keep the team out of trouble, keep the chains moving and chew clock.

Cousins can’t put a game away. In fact, he’ll throw games away, more often than not.

Kirk Cousins has thrown 19 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in his career. Of his 21 interceptions, 17 have come in the second half. Of those 17 second half interceptions, 12 have come in the fourth quarter.

His first half passer rating is 95.1. His second half passer rating plummets to 60.9, a more than thirty point drop. His passer rating in the fourth quarter? An abysmal 57.3.

It’d be tempting to say that those numbers are a result of Cousins trailing thinks to a notoriously leaky defense, but it’s not entirely the case. Breaking down his losses from last year; Cousins appeared in 6 games, and only went without a pick in two of them. (And one of those games was against the notoriously leaky Jaguars defense in a blow out win). Versus Philadelphia, Cousins threw an interception with 7:34 to go in the fourth quarter, allowing the Eagles to score what would be the deciding field goal in the game.

Versus the New York Giants, the Redskins opened the second half well, scoring to bring the Redskins within ten points. After the defense forced a three and out, Cousins threw his first of four second half interceptions. The Redskins defense responded by forcing a turnover of their own, with Keenan Robinson intercepting Eli Manning. Cousins then threw his second interception. This time the defense broke, and it was 31-14.

After the offense stalled, the Redskins defense again forced a three and out for the offense, only for Kirk to throw his third interception. Again, the Giants scored, effectively putting the game out of reach. But not before Cousins threw one more interception.

If you’re paying attention, you know how this goes. After somehow keeping to close versus the Seahawks (thanks to three touchdowns getting called back), Cousins faced the Cardinals. The story was the same; with a ten point differential in the second half, Cousins threw his first pick. The Redskins defense held. Kirk threw his second pick on the next drive. The defense held again. A positive occurred when Cousins actually put together a drive to get the game within 3 after throwing a touchdown to Garcon, but after the Redskins defense held yet again, Cousins threw his third, and worst, interception.

He got benched after throwing another inception in the first half the following week.

But none of this is a new phenomenon. People have argued that Cousins simply hasn’t played enough games to form an accurate opinion on him. To that I say, Cousins’ first ever interception came in the fourth quarter of a close game versus the Atlanta Falcons, when Cousins entered the game in relief of an injured Griffin. He threw two picks and one touchdown just in that game.

“Okay, but he was a rookie in that game! What about Baltimore! What about Cleveland!”

Fair enough. But Kirk threw an interception in the Browns game as well (albeit in the first quarter, and he played well the rest of the game).

Cousins threw six second half interceptions in 2013, despite only starting two games. He threw a pick six in relief of Griffin versus the Denver Broncos (though to be fair, Griffin coughed up two interceptions in the game before exiting due to injury.) He threw two second half interceptions in his start versus the Falcons, one of which (naturally) helped to put the game away. “Throwing picks in the second half of close games” is just what Cousins does; it’d be funny if it wasn’t aggravating, and if a host of people weren’t trying to convince themselves and the world that Cousins was something more than what he is.

Even Rex Grossman, that infamous, loveable turnover magnet, has his 60 interceptions more evenly split (33 to 27) between halves.

It’s not just that Cousins throws interceptions; it’s that he throws interceptions at the worst possible times. It’s part of why the idea that Cousins throwing interceptions was more favorable than RGIII get sacked was so bonkers; if RGIII gets sacked, it tends to be spread through the game. Even Griffin’s 23 interceptions are split even between halves. All of Cousins turnovers are bunched into the most important part of the game, and almost all of them contribute to close games getting put away early.

Cousins threw a miserable interception early in Sunday’s game, but bounced back to lead a touchdown drive. After his second interception, Cousins couldn’t get back on track, and the Redskins lost another close game.

Turnovers are game losers. There’s a direct link between wins and losses and turnovers; if you throw all of your interceptions when you need to play your cleanest, most mistake free football, you’re going to lose a lot.

Cousins played a “C” game for him on Sunday, but his “C” games quickly devolve into “F” games. When you ask anyone to pick names of quarterbacks who threw so many interceptions earlier and then turn their career around, all you really get as answers are future Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning. (For the record, Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, and has never had a 20+ interception season again.) Cousins is not that guy.

The “quick decision making” that means he doesn’t get sacked is the result of reading a defense pre-snap, and not adjusting post-snap. He’s a quarterback that’s only productive in as much as he knows where the ball is supposed to go, and he’ll throw the ball there 8 times out of 10, regardless of the coverage. He “understands” the offense, but he doesn’t understand the offense. He can likely tell you what coverage a defense is in and where the ball is designed to go on any given play, but he can’t process information quickly enough to move on to a different progression.

Far too often, Cousins first read is his only read. And if a well coached, smart defensive back keys in on the play, then it’s basically a loss. That’s what happened on Cousins’ second interception of the afternoon, a play that has been weirdly pinned on Pierre Garcon.

Bryce McCain sees the corner route to Garcon coming, is patient, and makes a great play. Cousins had decided to throw that ball regardless of the coverage; if he had been patient, he would’ve seen the DB playing the route. Instead, Cousins underthrew the ball, and threw it inside. In slow motion, it’s kind of amazing that Garcon manages to get a hand on it, and he actually does almost manage to knock it out of McCain’s hands before he can pin it to his shoulder.

But somehow, the play has been pinned on Garcon for not outbodying a guy who knew the route was coming, and not the quarterback he threw it without a hesitation.

That is what Cousins is. It’s easy to be successful in a preseason game, when no one is game planning or watching film and the pressure isn’t on. But the NFL has enough tape on Cousins to know what he can and can’t do. And if you can’t trust Kirk to deliver for you in the clutch, when you know that your football team isn’t very goody, then just why in the hell is he starting anyway?

Jay Gruden called an extremely conservative game last week, almost as if he was trying to prevent Cousins from making the big mistake. He did it anyway, twice.

The Redskins next face the St. Louis Rams. The Rams boast a defensive front that would keep the best offensive linemen up at night. Cousins is going to need more than his quick release to win this game, particularly if the Redskins can’t get the running game going early. One expects another super conservative game plan.

What I don’t expect is a “W”, because Cousins has never shown himself capable of reacting well to the big moments when he has to be bigger than himself. Even with Rex Grossman, as crazy as it sounds, I never quite felt like we were out of it as long as we kept the game close.

With Cousins, he’s earned none of that faith. Until he learns to focus and cancel out the noise and make smart decisions when it counts the most, the Redskins will be in for a long, turnover prone season, full of missed opportunities. And it’ll become more and more apparent that Cousins is, at best, a functional back-up in the NFL, and at worse, not consistent or mentally tough enough to play in the NFL at all.

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