Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cousins wins and loses in Philly

PHILADELPHIA - Winning ugly beats losing pretty every time.

The Washington Redskins and new starter Kirk Cousins piled up 511 yards of
offense on Sunday but they couldn't muster one when it mattered most, losing a
shootout to NFC East rival Philadelphia, 37-34.

DeSean Jackson's return to the City of Brotherly Love and a rare bench-
clearing brawl in the fourth quarter provided the sizzle in the contest but
Cousins' first test in what is set to be an extended look as the 'Skins
starting quarterback  was the steak, at least for Washington.

And that steak was good -- real good at times -- but in the end ended up a
little undercooked.

Cousins' numbers were gaudy with the third-year player completing 30-of-48
passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns, including an 81-yarder to Jackson
which saw the former Eagles' star high-step into the end zone in an effort to
antagonize his old mates.

Heck, Cousins was 12-of-13 for 124 yards and two TDs before the Eagles offense
and his old friend from East Lansing, Nick Foles, had even taken a snap.
Cousins and Foles had once battled for the starting job in college at Michigan
State, a gig Cousins won before Foles transferred to Arizona.

That ledger is now even although Cousins tore apart the Eagles with quick
timing routes and anticipatory throws, the kind of passing attack injured
Redskins starter Robert Griffin III is not all that adept at.

Philadelphia certainly helped by not jamming the receivers in an effort to
disrupt rhythm, likely a testament to Jackson's ability to pop the top on any
defense at any time, something the speedster eventually did anyway in the
third quarter.

But, with a chance to win or at least tie the game in the waning moments
after an uncharacteristically poor punt from the Eagles' Donnie Jones, Cousins
misfired badly on three consecutive throws, letting a wounded Eagles' team,
missing four of its five offensive line starters by the end of the game, to
escape.

"He was excellent," Redskins first-year coach Jay Gruden said of Cousins. "I'm
very proud of the way he played."

Style points and pride don't mean much in the NFL, though, and the Eagles, who
couldn't run the football at all, nearly got their own QB killed on a few
occasions, and saw their much-maligned secondary sliced and diced for much of
the afternoon were the ones acting like Jordan Belfort on the Naomi afterward.

"We won the game," said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who ran for just 22
yards on 20 carries. "No matter whether it's a starter or a guy we picked up
last week, we won the game. We had enough to get it done."

By any objective measure, though, Cousins still passed his first exam with
flying colors.

Backup quarterbacks are often the most popular people in an NFL town,
especially when the starter is struggling, the exact scenario unfolding
inside the Beltway ever since Griffin ended his brilliant rookie season by
leaving FedEx Field on his shield with a torn ACL and LCL.

Quite simply RG3 has never been the same since that injury and is now
sidelined for an extended period with a dislocated ankle suffered last week in
Jacksonville. The fact that he's a movement-based quarterback with a series of
very serious leg injuries also puts his long-term future in doubt, especially
if the former No. 2 overall pick can't morph into a more pocket-based signal
caller down the line.

Cousins, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, the same year RG3 arrived in D.C.,
excelled at times as a fill-in in the past, especially when replacing Griffin
in-game.

Being the guy when teams are actually game planning for your skill set is a
different animal, though.

“It's different every week," Gruden admitted. "That's the thing about being
quarterback in this league is every defense poses different issues for you and
it's every week it's something different – you're going to see a different
blitz, a different coverage and it is something you've got to continue to be
flexible in your train of thought and your thinking and your approach to the
game."

The Eagles didn't pose much of an issue until the fourth quarter when Malcolm
Jenkins picked Cousins with 7:27 left, eventually leading to a Cody Parkey 51-
yard field goal, and Philly defensive coordinator Bill Davis' dialed up the
pressure with under two minutes to go, forcing Cousins to hurry throws that
were inaccurate.

Despite the loss and it's implications in the NFC East, Cousins' more
traditional approach to the position seems to suit Gruden's coaching style far
better than RG3. After all, Gruden rose to a head-coaching position in this
league by developing Andy Dalton, a QB with similar skills as Cousins, while
he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

"We don't expect him to go out and win the MVP or win a Super Bowl to prove
he's an upper-echelon quarterback right away, Gruden said. "We do expect him
to produce and play within the offense and not make mistakes and do what he's
supposed to do – handle the protections and play the position."

Cousins did all of that on Sunday. Now he just needs to win.
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