Right on Target: Same as it ever was for Kirk Cousins


As the stream of cars wound their sad treks back across the Potomac, before the last wayward beer can had been tucked away by a janitor’s broom, it had already begun.

Callers were lighting up local airwaves and unloading their frustrations about what they had just witnessed. The event in question – a 30-17 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles – was just the latest catalyst in a long series of them that if you lined up, would stand in identical tandem like a row if dominoes.

A few callers positioned themselves as cautious objectors, piggybacking the age-old narrative, “it’s too early to tell.” Their voices were few, however, and were quickly drowned out in sea of vitriol. The freshest blood carries the sharpest odor, and the home opener-debacle gave off more than a cursory whiff.

A disproportionate percentage of that anger focused on the game’s most-visible position: quarterback. Add in the protracted and still-ongoing saga of his contract status and it’s not hard to track the path Kirk Cousins has taken to becoming the District’s favorite whipping boy.

His Sunday performance (23 of 40 for 240 yards, with a touchdown and an interception) appears pedestrian, compared to his lofty, 2016 echelon. However, it’s closer to the norm than one might think.

First, let me be the 3,000th person to say that football is a team game, and the Skins’ offense was out of sync all day. It was obvious from their first play from scrimmage: a missed connection on a deep post route. If intended-target Terrell Pryor gets a better jump off the line, he’s going for six, instead of ending up with the ball splashing harmlessly off the turf in front of him.

It was one of the better chances they’d get, all day. The Eagles D-line was in his face for much of the rest of it. After taking just 23 sacks all of last season, Kirk absorbed 4 on Sunday. The Redskins lost 40 yards in the process.

Trailing in the fourth quarter, needing sustained drives and points, he delivered neither. The final drive was more like a whimper: six plays for a meek 24 yards.

And, after all that practice spent running the two-minute drill, him and Coach Jay Gruden looked lost as ever, opting for short dump-off passes to the middle of the field that defenses purposely give teams in order to burn off some more clock.

Incidentally, this performance came against an Eagles secondary that experts have ranked consistently among the league’s bottom-dwellers in terms of talent. And, they failed to exploit the injury to cornerback Ronald Darby, one of the Philadelphia unit’s few standouts.

It’s tempting to write things off as a bad week for the offense. However, it’s also easy to point out the outing followed a pattern that has defined the quarterback’s career.

The thing about Kirk is that he’s great when he has time to throw and guys are open. He’ll read his progressions and hit open targets more often than not. When he’s under the threat of pressure, he tends to get frazzled leading to more quick and inaccurate throws.

The Eagles got to him early, knocking him down a few times. He finished those first, three series going two for eight. After that, he stopped looking downfield, opting for shorter routes that played into the Eagles’ strengths.

The best plays were the result of good running and poor tackling after the catch – such as the 29-yard catch and run from Chris Thompson, who scampered into the end zone after eluding half the Eagles’ secondary. Plays like that helped prop up Cousins’ overall line.

And, it could have been worse.

He got away with a few, classic Kirk throws. The most egregious was a juicy lob to Pryor that should have been easily picked off by Nigel Bradham. The Eagles linebacker read the route the whole way but dropped the ball, saving the Redskins from having to defend another short field.

Cousins has fallen into that trap, again and again, over the years. Instead of throwing receivers open, he has the maddening tendency to wait until the gaps have already formed. By then, it’s often too late; NFL defenses are too smart.

Throws like that have reared their ugly head throughout C0usins’ career. At this point, it’s safe to say they’re just part of his toolkit. And, he has many positive instruments in that box. Does that make him Drew Brees? – Probably not. Is he closer to the Ryan Fitzpatrick’s of the world? – Not necessarily.

He’s Kirk Cousins. He is who we thought he was.

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