by Grant PaulsenBy Grant Paulsen
Kirk Cousins (credit:  Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Kirk Cousins (credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Kirk Cousins’ first start of the 2013 season was a quality audition for a backup quarterback who is hoping to get a chance to start in the NFL next season.

Throwing for 385 yards and three touchdowns will get Cousins attention, but it was the way he processed and deciphered what he was seeing and his decision making that particularly stood out on a day when the Redskins fell to 3-11 for the first time under Mike Shanahan.

Here were the five most impressive aspects of Cousins’ much-anticipated outing.


Cousins got rid of the ball quickly while making definitive decisions, seemingly eliminating some of his receiving options pre-snap on several plays. He was sacked just once and hit three times, intriguing totals considering that the Redskins had given up 24 sacks in their last five games. He seemed very sure with where he wanted to throw the ball, impressive for a neophyte making just his second NFL start.  One specific play that accentuated Cousins’ decisiveness came on a third-down conversion late in the first quarter, when Cousins found Nick Williams for a four-yard gain on third-and-three. Williams ran an out route out of a stack formation behind Aldrick Robinson, getting a free release that allowed him to get open on the sideline. Cousins had barely gotten to the back of his three-step drop before he was throwing toward an open Williams.

Ball placement

The second-year passer did a nice job throwing the ball to spots where his receivers could accelerate quickly after the reception.  Pierre Garcon amassed 129 receiving yards, 67 of them after the catch. Cousins dropped one ball into Garcon in-stride on a 53-yard touchdown after a pump-fake that got rookie cornerback Robert Alford to bite. Cousins also led Garcon well on a slant route that allowed for acceleration and 18-yards after the reception. I also liked the toss on Fred Davis’ 23-yard touchdown reception – out in front of Davis who had a pair of defenders trailing him. The accuracy on the deep ball that hit Aldrick Robinson in stride was also important, and that precision came on a pass that sailed 53 yards in the air.

Spreading the Wealth

Inexperienced quarterbacks often lean heavily on one or two pass-catchers to get them through one of their first starts. Not Cousins. Four different Redskins’ receivers were targeted at least seven times on Sunday and five different players caught at least three passes. Cousins completed a pass to nine different players, the second-highest total by a Redskins quarterback this season (10 players tallied a catch in week-two at Green Bay). Pierre Garcon (10 targets, 7 catches) was clearly Cousins’ go-to option, but Santana Moss (9 targets, 8 catches) and Aldrick Robinson (7 targets, 4 catches) were both featured extensively on Sunday as well.

Responding to Negative Plays

Cousins threw two second half interceptions on poorly thrown passes that were behind his intended targets. The two picks came on similar plays, with Robinson and Garcon running in-cutting routes in the middle of the field. Cousins did a nice job anticipating breaks and leading receivers on Sunday, which can sometimes lend to a quarterback throwing to a spot with timing rather than to a stationary target. On both of the interceptions, he threw behind receivers who would have been able to make catches on the run if he makes a better throw. Most signal callers making their second start are going to have a few throws per game they want back. But what happens after those throws? Cousins led the Redskins on a clinical 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the game to pull Washington within a point.

Post Game Press Conference

Cousins couldn’t be any more polished at the podium.  He unfairly took the blame for the Redskins’ loss – saying that if he didn’t turn the football over three times the team would have won. The Michigan State product also said that he had a chance to hit an open Josh Morgan on the two-point conversion and missed him. Having looked back at the play, Morgan was indeed open at the goal-line but only for a split second. Cousins could have found him but he would have had to anticipate him coming free and thrown the ball as Morgan broke on a quick, inside route. When asked about some of his best plays of the day – the two touchdown passes and the deep ball to Robinson – Cousins credited the play-calling of Kyle Shanahan and the efforts of his receivers. Similarly Cousins attributed the success of the final drive to Shanahan’s play-calling and the protection provided by his offensive line.

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