So Kirk Cousins will be the Washington Redskins‘ starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Coach Mike Shanahan decided to shut down Robert Griffin III to avoid the risk of injury going into the offseason. Many believe that Cousins and Griffin are just pawns in a chess match between Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder, but we wont get into that. I’ve said all year that Griffin needs reps against a live defense to help sort out his mechanical issues. But recently he’s shown little signs of improvement. While nothing can beat the experience of playing real games, maybe Griffin is better off sitting and focusing on the offseason with a new coach. Maybe not. Either way, this is a good opportunity for Cousins to showcase his abilities to any potential suitors in the offseason.

Griffin may have the higher ceiling of the two, but Cousins is further along in his development and knowledge of NFL defenses. He should be, he’s played in more NFL-style systems in college, whereas Griffin grew up in uptempo, spread schemes. You could see just how much further along Cousins is when you watch the all-22 coaches’ film from the Chiefs game this past Sunday. He’s much better at reading defenses and making quick progressions because he knows how to diagnose certain coverages and knows where the ball needs to go. Here’s an example:


Cousins has the same route combination on both sides of the field. They are designed to manipulate the defense with having an option to go deep or underneath depending on the coverage.


The first thing Cousins does, before he even catches the snap, is check the other safety. He knows there is one deep, but checks where the other safety is going. The safety charges down towards the line of scrimmage as he rushes to his zone. That knowledge, combined with the pre-snap look of two corners playing off the line of scrimmage and a single deep safety, tell Cousins the coverage is likely to be Cover 3 (a three-deep zone).


As Cousins knows it’s Cover 3, he doesn’t even look to the deep corner route by Santana Moss. He knows there will be a corner sitting in zone coverage who will pick him up. So instead he looks underneath to Pierre Garcon. There is a defender looking back and watching Cousins closely, ready to break on the ball if he throws it.


Cousins quickly works back to Joshua Morgan running a post route on the other side of the field. Knowing that against Cover 3, post routes can be very effective, Cousins pulls the trigger and completes the pass for a first down.

This kind of play is something we rarely see from Griffin. Diagnosing the defense quickly, knowing where to go with the ball and making swift progressions aren’t things we typically see on video from Griffin, certainly not this season. That’s not to say he’s not capable, just that he’s not there in his development yet. Another example of Cousins being further ahead developmentally than Griffin comes in the protection:


This play came in the first half. Griffin was dropping back to pass against a blitz from the Chiefs. They are overloading the left side of the offensive line, sending four rushers to that side. Neither Griffin or center Will Montgomery see the blitz coming.


That leaves Roy Helu Jr. to pick up two rushers, a tough task for any blocker, let alone a running back.


Griffin is sacked before he even has a chance to begin his throwing motion. But if you notice, right guard Chris Chester is left without anyone to block. Washington actually had enough blockers to pick up that blitz, but because they didn’t see it coming, they didn’t adjust the protection.

Now look at this similar blitz when Cousins was in the game:


Granted, this is only a four-man rush from the Chiefs instead of the five-man rush we just saw. But they are still overloading to one side of the line. This time they attack the right side of the Redskins offensive line, and send a corner blitz in the process.


But Cousins sees it coming. He makes a call of “39’s the Mike”, meaning number 39 on the Chiefs defense (circled in blue) is the Mike (or middle) linebacker. He walks up to his line and makes sure they are aware of that. That adjusts the protection to slide the line towards the right side in order to pick up the blitz.


This time, they have enough blockers on the correct side to pick up the blitz. The Redskins’ line actually does a good job passing players down the line to help spread out and neutralize the rush. Cousins has a clean pocket to throw from and finds his target.

Again, this isn’t something Griffin isn’t capable of, he just hasn’t been asked to do it as often. Cousins, at this point in his development, does a better job reading the defense and adjusting his protection accordingly. Griffin appears to leave the protection setting to his center Montgomery for the most part. It’s rare that you see Griffin call the Mike and slide his protection. This has perhaps led to a few of the sacks and hits he’s taken this year. If Griffin can spend the offseason learning to set his own protection, then he will probably find a much cleaner pocket, much like Cousins did on the play above.

While these few plays have been impressive from Cousins, he isn’t without his faults. He has a slight tendency to lock on to targets and telegraph his throw to the defense. We did see this against the Chiefs.


This is one of the more basic, staple plays of the Redskins offense. They run one of their variations of the double-stick concept. Essentially, both the tight end Logan Paulsen and slot receiver Moss run quick out, or stick, routes. Washington actually gets a solid look to run this play. The linebacker covering Paulsen has a lot of ground to make up.


But from the moment the ball is snapped, Cousins locks on to Paulsen and stares him down.


That allows the linebacker to read the play the whole way and break quickly on the ball, nearly intercepting it.

This is something Cousins has done since college. We saw it in the Cleveland game last season as well. It’s not something he does on every throw, but from time to time he’ll tip off the defense of his intentions. From Cousins’s standpoint, he needs more of the positive plays that we saw above than these locking-on plays in these final three games. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Cousins looks better than Griffin has for large parts of the season. Griffin’s mechanics have been out of sync all season. Cousins doesn’t have the same footwork issues that Griffin is dealing with after knee ligament injuries. Footwork begins the throwing motion; If a quarterback gets that right, then it sets all the rest of his mechanics in the right direction. This should make Cousins more accurate and give him better timing on his throws than Griffin had. It will be interesting to see if Cousins is able to make the most of these three games and raise his trade value.

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

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What’s ahead:

●  The Redskins begin practice at 11:50. Coordinators Jim Haslett and Kyle Shanahan, as well as coach Mike Shanahan, are scheduled to speak with reporters afterward.

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