Short answer to the above question: No. Robert Griffin III’s the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins for the forseeable future, and anyone saying otherwise is either a.) trying to be controversial just for the sake of being controversial, or b.) hasn’t seen Kirk Cousins play extensively and don’t understand that, as good as Cousins has the potential to be, he’s still not close to RG3. At least not yet.
But that’s not really the point of this article. (See, I can do the thing where you write a crazy headline to get more views too.) The point of this article is to evaluate the positives and negatives of Kirk Cousins game, what he does well, and what he needs to improve on.
It still confuses me that Kirk Cousins got drafted after Brock Osweiler (drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round) and Nick Foles (drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round.) Cousins has solid footwork and fundamentals, a good arm and he’s smart as all get out. Unfortunately, he’s also prone to baffling decision making and bouts of squirrely accuracy.
One of the things Cousins sought to work on in his senior year as the starting quarterback for the Michigan State Spartans was to work on his throwing base and step into his throws. Arm strength doesn’t really come from you arm; quarterbacks get the power on their throws by setting their feet, throwing from the hip and stepping up and through the throw, following through with your left arm (or right arm for left handed quarterbacks). One of the quarterbacks with the best fundamentals in the league is Drew Brees; it’s awesome watching him throw the ball. Coming out of college, Brees was thought to have a weaker arm, and teams thought he’d be too small to see over linebackers and throw it deep.
They were wrong.
At 6’1″, Drew Brees throws a perfect, 79 yard deep throw to Devery Henderson for a touchdown. He takes a three-step drop after taking the shotgun snap, sets with a wide base, and throws from the hip up over his head. The guy who supposed had a weak arm has become one of the most accurate deep passers in the NFL.
Here we can see what made RG3 such a special quarterback in the mind of Mike Shanahan. Footwork wise, this is much more of a catch-rock-and-throw, the basics are still there; wide base, set your feet, with your shoulders pointed towards the throw, step into it, follow through with your left arm. RG3 throws a perfect deep throw to Kendall Wright.
While Kirk didn’t throw a ton of deep passes, you can still see those fundamentals in play; this season was probably Kirk’s best in terms of pure mechanics passing mechanics.
On this out breaking pattern to number 82, Cousins comes out of the play action fake. He flips his hips, turns his body and shoulders towards the throw with his feet set, then comes up from the hip and puts the ball right on the money.
This deep pass attempt showcases a little of what Kirk Cousins can do when throwing deep. Michigan ran a run heavy, play action style offense (sound familiar). Cousins playfakes to his running back, pump fakes, then launches one deep. It’s one of those plays where you risk taking the shot even if it’s not going to complete it, but when still see the base fundamentals that intrigued him for Mike Shanahan.
And then there was the crazy Hail Mary at the end of the half versus the Wisconsin Badgers.
Kirk is also very good with his ball handling skills. Below we see a gutsy play on 4th and 1. It’s a fake toss bootleg (again, look familiar?). Kirk does a great job of selling the toss, then booting back to his right and throwing a perfect pass to B.J Cunningham.
Of course, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows with quarterbacks. Going back to the Big Ten Championship game, you can see one of the big differences between Kirk Cousins and RG3; decision making.
Here we have a play that ends well, but could be much, MUCH worse. Cousins comes off the play action pass with a bootleg and locks on the B.J Cunningham. He fires with three white jerseys around his man, and Cunningham makes the play. But, as cliché as it may sound, those kind of passes get picked off in the NFL.
Probably Cousins’ worse game from the season was versus Georgia in the Outback Bowl. A few weeks off seemed to set his mechanics back some, as he didn’t step into the throws the same way, and he had a LOT of passes that could’ve been picked off, and still threw three interceptions in the game. Here we see one that should’ve been picked off…
Gruden said it perfectly; there’s no way a ball should be thrown into that many red jerseys.
And here’s an interception from later in the game.
Right here is an example of the kind of coverage Cousins is going to have to learn to decipher in the NFL. The Bulldogs send number 19, Sanders Commings, on a corner blitz. Cousins technically makes the right call; he knows he’s got a rusher coming unblocked. But he doesn’t see and doesn’t anticipate the safety in zone; he wants the hot route but the hot isn’t there. The better play might’ve been to his tight end who was open in the middle after the secondary shifted to cloud exactly where Cousins threw the ball; the middle linebacker came off the tight end to cover the receiver on a drag, leaving the tight end open and looking for the ball.
Cousins presents a big upside, but is he ready to be a starter? No. Even if this tiny clip, you can see from a footwork perspective, even though he’s good—better than others drafted before him—he’s still a hair slower than RG3.
What Kirk is, is the perfect guy to train to be a back-up, like Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck were for Brett Favre in Green Bay. It’s hard for most quarterbacks to finish a 16-game season, but under the tutelage of Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan, Cousins presents more upside than even a guy like Matt Schaub did coming out of the University of Virginia. He’s got a better arm and is more athletic.
In a perfect world, Cousins may never see the field. But it’s rarely a perfect world. And who knows; maybe he doesn’t have to ever start a game. But if he comes into the game as a relief pitcher at the end of games and performs well enough, he may be able to fetch us a decent draft pick, or at the very least secure himself a very good contract.
Robert Griffin III’s the starter. Kirk’s the back-up. But with some time and some season, Kirk could become a very viable players elsewhere in the NFL. But ready to start right now? Not quite.