There were some good things and plenty of bad to be taken from the game. But ultimately, this game had more to do with Kirk Cousins’s performance than anything. A couple of other areas stand out as well.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. The good of Cousins — It’s not easy to sit and watch for 14 weeks and then be thrust into such a high-pressure role and execute at a high level. But Kirk Cousins came out and put on an impressive first-half performance in his first start of the year. He also did well in the final three minutes as he marched his team downfield on a potentially game-winning drive. Cousins did a good job of making quick decisions, which enabled him to get the ball out of his hands quickly. This comes from good preparation and trusting his eyes and pulling the trigger with anticipation. A quarterback has to see something, know what he’s seeing and then has to go with it with confidence. A receiver may not always look like he’s open, but the passer must have faith that his guy is going to get to where he’s supposed to be, and then put the ball in the right spot. Cousins also had good ball placement, leading his receivers on a consistent basis. Only a couple of times did he throw the ball behind a target. Hesitation leads to missed opportunities. It also can result in the pocket collapsing around him. Cousins managed to keep those instances to a minimum as he was sacked only once and hit just three times. He reminded everyone what this offense can be again with a confident, decisive passer at the helm.
2. The bad of Cousins — Cousins lost his effectiveness in the second half, when in the third quarter, he completed only 3 of 8 passes for seven yards and an interception. He got off to a better start in the fourth quarter, completing 3 of 4 passes for 41 yards, but then threw his second interception. Things improved on the final drive, where Cousins completed 10 of 13 throws for 80 yards and a touchdown. He showed that he needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball, as he fumbled once and threw two interceptions on plays where he seemed to misjudge the coverage. In the first half, he had an errant pass that should’ve been picked off as he and his receiver appeared to be on different pages. There also was one throw that was a little behind Pierre Garcon, who deflected the pass and almost saw it get intercepted. Cousins had a couple of missed opportunities that he missed on had he seen some receivers a little quicker. One of them — and he noted this after the game — was what could have been a completion to Josh Morgan for the two-point conversion. Cousins went instead to Garcon, and the pass was deflected, sealing the game for Atlanta. Considering Cousins had hardly played in the past two years, you can understand why his performance wasn’t perfect. Kyle Shanahan possibly could’ve helped Cousins some by sticking with the run a little more in the second half. After Alfred Morris had 11 carries for 75 yards in the first half, but he had only seven for 23 in the final two quarters. But the straying from the run has been a familiar trend of the season.
3. Cousins’s future — So what did that that showing do for Cousins’s trade value? The questions came flooding in after the game. They went something along the lines of “So, can we get a first-rounder for Cousins now?” It’s way too early for that. Mike Shanahan can say he believes Cousins is worth a first, but that doesn’t mean anything. A team still needs to see a lot more from Cousins before being willing to pay that price. Tony Dungy said it best: “I like Kirk Cousins, but we can’t get too excited. We have to remember he was playing against a patchwork secondary, and some of the same problems with the Redskins showed up today, all of the turnovers … but Cousins played well,” the former coach said on NBC’s Football Night in America broadcast. He later added, “I wouldn’t think first-round pick. I like Kirk Cousins right where he is, as the backup quarterback in Washington.” There’s also another element in play here. Because we still don’t know if Robert Griffin III can get back to last season’s dynamic form. Should the Redskins hold onto this promising backup in case Griffin doesn’t pan out, or gets hurt again?
4. Orakpo’s performance — Brian Orakpo continued his strong second-half showing, recording a sack and a half against Atlanta to bring his season total to 10. This is the first time he’s hit double digits since his rookie season in 2009, when he had 11. Orakpo also had a season-high eight tackles (tying a career high) and was solid in pass coverage. This is the type of effort that the Redskins need from the guy who was the 2009 13th overall pick and carries the distinction of being the team’s top pass rusher. That’s the type of effort Orakpo needs as he heads toward free agency, hoping to earn a big contract. It’s hard to say what type of value Orakpo carries. He was quiet for the first half of the season, mustering just three sacks in the first eight games while averaging 3.25 tackles a game. In the past six games, Orakpo has recorded seven sacks while averaging 5.3 tackles a game. Is that the guy that the Redskins will be getting going forward? Or, is this a performance solely fueled by an impending payday? Orakpo attributes the surge to an improved comfort level and feel for the game. After spending the bulk of last season sidelined by injury, Orakpo said it took him longer to get his groove back than he anticipated. But since the halfway point, he says he has started feeling like his old self and now has been able to play with more explosiveness. Orakpo has a chance to put up career numbers with two games still remaining. The only problem is, these impressive performances will have come in essentially meaningless games. The Redskins must decide if Orakpo is worth a long-term contract, or if they’re better off working out a short-term deal with him — if he would take it — or if they should let him walk. The problem with that is, talented pass-rushers are hard to come by, especially when you don’t have a first-round draft pick to snatch up a replacement.
5. Shanahan’s future — By digging their way out of a 14-0 hole and avoiding a blowout loss, the Redskins could’ve bought their head coach another week. It’s hard to say what’s going on in Daniel Snyder’s head, but there are some within the organization that believe a blowout loss in Atlanta could have earned Shanahan his walking papers. The Redskins came close to winning despite displaying many of the same problems that we’ve seen in many games this season, and Shanahan said he drew encouragement from his team’s performance. Shanahan remains at the helm as of now, but ultimately, his situation remains unchanged. This is such a fragile situation that it’s hard to see how Snyder can bring Shanahan back another season, despite the messages being leaked from both camps — one saying there’s a chance the coach could return, and the other saying Shanahan has no desire to quit (of course not, with $7 million on the table) and wants to return. The Redskins have lost six straight, and it’s hard to envision them pulling off wins over the Cowboys or Giants. A 3-13 finish would mark the worst of Mike Shanahan’s career, and the worst finish by the Redskins since Norv Turner’s first season in 1994. Bringing Shanahan back after an 0-8 collapse also would be hard to sell to the fans. There’s also the damage to relationships. Shanahan has offended Snyder with the negative reports that many believe have been leaked by the coach or his camp. Shanahan has damaged Robert Griffin III’s trust in him. Could they really kiss, make up and have a quality working environment next season?
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.
● Mike Shanahan meets with reporters again at 3 p.m Monday.
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The Takeaway: Cousins’s play is something to smile about