Jay Gruden would like to see Kirk Cousins throw downfield more, but knows that decision, or non-decision, ultimately falls on his quarterback.
The Redskins coach on Thursday was asked about comments Cousins made to Kevin Van Valkenburg for ESPN The Magazine:
“If he does have a weakness, it’s that he’s too much of a perfectionist,” Gruden says. “He wants everything to be perfect. Unfortunately, I can’t get guys 30 f—ing yards open all the time. There are going to be some tight-window throws he’s going to have to throw some days. I’ll call some of these in practice, and if it doesn’t look exactly the way I drew it up, he’ll [say], ‘I don’t know if I like that. I can’t call it in a game.’ I’m like, ‘Bud, c’mon.'”
Cousins chuckled when told of Gruden’s comments. “If I played the way Jay is suggesting,” he says, “I’d throw 20 interceptions a year, and I wouldn’t last. I know my limitations.”
This is really a question of philosophy. Do you throw the ball up and let your receivers make a play, which comes with a higher degree of risk, or do you play it safe, sticking to shorter, more controlled throws?
106.7 The Fan’s Craig Hoffman asked Gruden to clarify his position: “Kirk had a quote in a story that came out last week that if he played the way you wanted him to play, he’d throw 20 picks a year –”
“He’d also throw 60 touchdowns a year,” Gruden quipped.
“How much are you pushing him to push the ball down the field more, versus wanting him to be comfortable and confident in the throws he makes,” Hoffman asked. “And knowing there is a chance –”
“I always tell him, ultimately, he’s got the ball to make the decisions,” Gruden interjected. “We just call the plays and try to get him progression reads and man-to-man, take your shots with the matchups that you like.”
“But ultimately he’s the one that’s going to make the decisions of what he feels good about making throws,” he said. “I think there is going to be a point in time where he’s going to have to give some receivers some chances that maybe look a little covered, but give them a chance to uncover or give them a chance to make a play.”
“That’s probably the one area that we can force the issue on a little bit to give these receivers chances down the field,” he said. “Other than that, man, I think he’s playing great, and when the ball is complete, I never criticize. We just always talk about other options possible for the next time we call it. That’s all, but he is doing good.”
It’s noteworthy Gruden was willing to offer this criticism of his quarterback at this point in the season. It’s a measured criticism, but a criticism nonetheless. The Redskins are 3-4 and trying to fight their way back into a division race. Perhaps Gruden feels it’s an ideal time to open up the offense, for Cousins to start taking more chances.
If Cousins is the overly careful end of the spectrum, a name like Rex Grossman comes to mind as being the other extreme.
Gruden was also asked for his review of Cousins’ performance against Dallas, specifically how Cousins fared at keeping his eyes downfield versus keeping them on the rush.
“That’s a skill that you really can’t coach,” Gruden said. “You try to do individual drills, throwing bags at their feet and have them jump over hurdles and all this crazy stuff. But really, at the end of the day, when it comes to game time when you have actual pressure — inside, outside, you step up, back around, whatever it is — obviously you want to have the quarterback, once he flushes, to keep his eyes down the field for the big plays, for the throwaways or what have you.”
“Some quarterbacks look at the ground until they get totally free,” Gruden said. “Some guys can do that as they’re scrambling, looking downfield. It’s just an art form for some of these cats and Kirk is getting better and better at it.”