Kirk Cousins, EJ Manuel, and Why Bad Quarterbacks Keep Getting Starting Jobs

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The Kirk Cousins Error is over as quickly as it started. (Yes, I spelled that correctly). Jay Gruden has confirmed that Robert Griffin III, not Cousins, will re-assume the controls as soon as he is mentally and physically ready.

It has not been a good audition for Captain Kirk. Cousins has thrown 7 picks in his last 3 starts. How he managed to avoid getting picked off versus Seattle is a mystery, but four picks versus the Giants and three versus the Cardinals would kill any talk of him being a better fit for the Redskins offense. No one who has turned the ball over 17 times in 8 starts should be the starter if it can be helped.

And it’s not just that Kirk has thrown a lot of interceptions. It’s when he throws them; in the clutch, when you have to have your best players make plays. It’s been that way since he was a rookie; he threw back to back picks in a winnable game versus Atlanta. Versus Denver in 2013, again in relief of Griffin, he threw two forth quarter picks, including a pick six. He threw 5 picks in 3 games as the starter and had a fumble. His passer rating was a 58.4, which ranked him in the bottom of the league amongst qualifying QBs. His interceptions this season have all come in the second half, and his stats worsen as the game goes on. His passer rating just on third down is an astounding 39.8; that’s 20 points lower than any other qualifying passer. His second half quarterback rating is 63.9, which is worse than everyone but Chad Henne.

Why, oh why, would anyone view Kirk Cousins as a viable starter? Especially any head coach or offensive coordinator?

Because a quarterback like Kirk Cousins gives offensive coordinators what they want. Or what they think they want. The same ole tired cliches about quarterbacks that have been dying slow, painful deaths for at least a decade.

You can check off all the boxes for Kirk Cousins, at least at first glance. Good arm? Check. Quick release? Check. Good footwork? Check. Accurate? Check. Played in a “pro-style” offense in college? Check. Looks great in practice with no pass rush and no pressure to perform? Check.

Someone like Kirk Cousins is a safe option. He’s the definition of what a quarterback is. He is the default player you’d create in a video game. And thus it’s easier to fool a Jay Gruden into thinking Cousins fits his system. On paper he had a similar guy in Andy Dalton.

Someone like Robert Griffin III is rough around the edges and learning. Some days he’s up, some days he’s down. Cousins gives you the illusion of consistency.

Until he steps on the field, and you watch your team go 1-5, and all those check marks require white out. Good arm? Sure, if/when he doesn’t flip out at perceived pressure and he has a good base. Quick release? Almost too quick. So quick he doesn’t let the play develop. Accurate? Not over the middle, and not on third down. Good under pressure? Puh-lease.

It doesn’t matter how many athletes like Steve Young, and Michael Vick, Steve McNair, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton or RGIII come along. The coaches and front offices that make up the NFL have convinced themselves thay a prototype of a quarterback that continues to prove itself antiquated is the way to go. And in a league where patience is low, it provides some quarterbacks opportunity to play even when they’ve failed countless times, and others left in the dark.

Take the Bills second year quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel had an inconsistent, injury plagued rookie season in Buffalo, but performed no worse than you’d expect any rookie to play. He had an uneven preseason in 2014, but his team was 2-2 when he was benched for veteran back up Kyle Orton.

Orton forced his way out of Dallas, then signed a two year deal that will pay him $5.5 million a year in average salary. With a number like that, it seemed all too obvious Orton would start if EJ struggled.

But again, there was the 2-2 record. The stats and the film don’t back up the idea that Manuel was a boat anchor holding the team back. Manuel posted a completion percentage over 60% in the teams two wins. Outside observers pounded EJ for settling for checkdowns and not trying to stretch the field, but nearly every time Manuel had an opportunity with one on one coverage deep down the field, he took it, often making good throws with good location. Was his accuracy occasionally squirrelly? Damn right it was. But the Bills have also been plagued by drops and lack of separation.

On top of that, Doug Marrone’s offense is predicated on short passes and utilization of their running backs Fred Jackson and C.J Spiller. When afforded the opportunity, Manuel has no problem hitting the intermediate throws.

So what gives? Who pulls a second year quarterback, 14 games into his NFL career for Kyle Orton?

Kyle Orton is the modern day Steve Deberg. He’s just good enough to get you beat. His career as a starter is a perfect 36-36. He’s thrown 86 touchdowns to 61; for every touchdown he throws, he throws 1.4 interceptions. His passer rating is 80.4. In going on ten seasons, he’s never been able to lock down a starting job.

He once lost his starting job to Tim Tebow. He couldn’t keep Rex Grossman on the bench.

You couldn’t grow a more genetically average quarterback in a laboratory.

But Orton is exactly the kind of quarterback that fools coaches. The idea of consistency is better than the idea of a young quarterback learning the position. Coaches still treat the games’ most important position as though they can throw any average guy into their system, and somehow a guy who’s never been able to elevate a team will become something he’s never been.

It’s why Kyle Orton keeps getting a job. It’s why Jay Gruden can entertain the idea that Kirk Cousins is a “better fit” than the more talented but more raw Robert Griffin III. It’s why his brother Jon went through half a dozen quarterbacks, failing to develop any young talent. It’s why Lovie Smith signed career back up Luke McCown to a pricey deal, rather than see what he has in Mike Glennon, who played well in his rookie season in the midst of Greg Schiano lighting the Bucs on fire.

It’s why Bill O’Brien rather hope Ryan Fitzpatrick morphs into a different player than draft a quarterback first overall, and why somehow Brady Quinn was signed to a team this offseason, and why the Jaguars stuck with Chad Henne despite clearly showing less than their first round quarterback in preseason, and why team after team passed up Teddy Bridgewater after a bad pro day for whatever scrap heap quarterback they had laying around.

The idea, or the illusion of consistency trumps the reality that most all of these guys are just guys. Every once in a while a Matt Schaub gives the general appearance of elite ability, only to fall off a cliff.

In today’s NFL, coaches are rarely afforded the benefit of time. All too often, it’s “win now, or get bent”. And so they’d rather play it safe, and try to win now, instead of trying to win in the future.

It shouldn’t take 1-5 with seven picks in three games to know that Griffin is a better long term bet than Cousins. Manuel gains little by sitting on the bench, while Kyle Orton has only improved the amount of yardage the offense puts up, while turning the ball over 3 times against 3 touchdowns. He’s won one (that he could’ve/should’ve lost if the Lions had a half decent kicker) and lost one.

Bad quarterbacks get starting jobs due to a dangerous combination of fear and arrogance. Fear that a younger, or rougher passer may not be consistently good, but they can turn consistently mediocre into great.

Mediocre is as mediocre does. Jay Gruden now awaits Robert Griffin III’s comeback to get to the hard work of developing him into a franchise QB, because Cousins sure as hell isn’t one. The sooner the Bills, and the league in general, learns that development of talent is actually better than casting retreads and guys who look good throwing in practice as potential franchise leaders, the better.

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