WASHINGTON — Kirk Cousins, on paper, didn’t have a terrible game in Monday night’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He didn’t throw a touchdown and was hit with two interceptions, but he completed 30 of 43 passes for 329 yards, and the second interception was somewhat controversial — the ball appeared to hit the ground, but it came at the end of the game, with the result already decided, and it was never reviewed.
That’s not a game that screams Hall of Fame, but it was also far from the worst game an NFL quarterback had in Week 1. The Steelers are also one of several teams expected to contend for the Super Bowl this season.
Rather, that game and last season’s lone postseason appearance — a loss to the Green Bay Packers — lead Toomer to think the Redskins “might have made a huge mistake” with Cousins.
“What was your expectation for the Skins offense, and what did you see Monday night that you liked and didn’t like?” Paulsen asked Toomer.
“I thought that they looked like they might have made a huge mistake with Kirk Cousins,” Toomer said of the Redskins. “He looked like a quarterback that either he didn’t have enough time, the gameplan wasn’t correct, something just looked off. The only real weapon that they had was outside with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and I don’t think they utilized them enough. Jordan Reed didn’t look like the same dominant tight end that he was last year. Maybe it was the first-game jitters, maybe Pittsburgh is just that good, but they look like they need a lot of work done, because that game was not as competitive as the score was, and the score wasn’t even close.”
Rouhier noted the Redskins’ tendency to beat themselves — Washington committed nine penalties to Pittsburgh’s four, and promising drives often stalled as Washington moved into Pittsburgh territory — and Toomer added that Washington wasn’t taking enough chances.
“I think DeSean Jackson needs to be a bigger part of this offense,” the former receiver said. “I think he needs to stretch the ball down the field. As he does that, I think the rest of that passing game will go. And I think you might have the wrong quarterback. You might need a guy that can get the ball downfield consistently, you might need a guy that’s gonna take some chances and not be afraid to make mistakes. Because when I see Kirk Cousins … I just think he’s one of these guys that just doesn’t want to make mistakes.”
This is, of course, interesting criticism of a quarterback who had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns entering the 2015 season. In fact, he didn’t begin to shed the “interception-prone” label until midway through last season.
Toomer then mentions talking with former Giants quarterback and current broadcaster Phil Simms. Simms told Toomer that quarterbacks who don’t throw many interceptions aren’t taking enough chances.
Simms, who made two Pro Bowls in his 14-year career, threw 157 interceptions to 199 touchdowns in his career. He also led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 1987, when he had as many touchdown passes (3) as incompletions, and he didn’t throw an interception.
“I think that’s where, to me, Kirk Cousins falls in. He’s not taking enough chances. I know they want to hold onto the ball, I know they want to make sure that he doesn’t make the big mistake, but is he hamstringing himself by not taking enough chances, and hamstringing this offense by not trying to go downfield deep with DeSean Jackson.”
Paulsen asks Toomer to elaborate.
“These are pretty big declarations on four quarters of football,” Paulsen said. “Did you feel the same way when he had a 3-1 touchdown-interception ratio last year and 102 quarterback rating and put up Pro Bowl numbers? I get that Monday night was that kind of game, but were you saying that in December? Are you making all these judgments off this one game, or was last year a fluke in your opinion?”
“No, I don’t think last year was a fluke,” Toomer answered. “But I think when I saw him in the playoffs, that’s what was their shortcoming, and that’s why they couldn’t go to the next level. I think their team is fine. They have a team that can win. They have a good enough defense, they have good enough receivers and running backs. But I think they need a quarterback that’s going to open up and make the game-winning plays instead of not losing the game. And that’s where I think his shortcomings are. I’m not saying he’s a terrible quarterback, I’m just saying when I look at the Redskins and I see their situation, I see a team that needs a playmaker at quarterback. I don’t know if they have that.”
“Is there anything that’s improvable in that way?” Rouhier asked.
“Definitely. But the Redskins obviously don’t believe that, because they gave him a one-year deal. If they really believed in him and said ‘This is our guy,’ I think he would open up the entire quarterback position, I think he would be a different quarterback. Better or worse, I think he would be a quarterback that would take more chances. And I think that’s what he needs to do, and maybe that’s what Washington needs to do. Maybe Washington needs to say, ‘You know what? This is our guy, this is the best we’ve had in a couple of years in terms of consistency and running Jay Gruden’s offense.
“Maybe they just need to settle with this guy for a little while. Give him maybe a Colin Kaepernick-type long-term deal where they can get out of it after a couple years. I’m sure Kirk Cousins wouldn’t complain about getting another big payday next year, and I think it might give him some stability to just relax and play the game instead of playing not to make mistakes.”
Toomer later continued, wondering if Cousins can beat the league’s best teams.
“I was mildly impressed with him last year, I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s really made a switch,'” he said. “But then, when he goes up against the team that they went up against in the playoffs, when they go against the upper echelon NFL teams that don’t beat themselves, like in the NFC East, those are the teams that you’re going to have to go out and beat. I look at Kirk Cousins and I’m like, he has all the tools, I just don’t know if he’s mentally — I don’t know if the team supports him enough. There’s something missing there in his aggressive nature. Does he have it in him? Obviously, he throws a lot of touchdowns and doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions.
“Going back to when I talked to Phil Simms — sometimes when you don’t throw interceptions, maybe it means you’re just not trying hard enough.”
The full call is available below.