During his weekly press conference late Monday afternoon, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was asked about the play of Kirk Cousins and the areas in which he could afford to improve.
Gruden wasn’t bashing Cousins by any means, but rather keeping it honest. While he praised the quarterback for leading an offense when trailing in the second half and soaking up valuable experience throughout, he also mentioned a few times where Cousins may have misread the pocket and rushed his throws — sometimes flinging a pass a bit too early when he could’ve (should’ve) waited that extra second, half-second longer in order to allow his receiver to get open.
Had the final outcome been different, perhaps it wouldn’t be the case. But because the Redskins lost on Sunday, Cousins’ brilliant performance of more than 400 yards and three scores is cast in the shadows of a couple poor throws in the final eight minutes of the game.
- With 7:34 left to go in the fourth quarter, Cousins drops back and attempts to drop one into Niles Paul down the right seam. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins is playing single-high, reads Cousins’ eyes, and comes up with an outstanding diving interception.
- With 1:52 left to go in the game — on what would be the Redskins’ final possession — Cousins fires a pass left in the area of Pierre Garcon and misses him. After creating separation off the line, Garcon clips the top of his route with a nasty head-fake, slants in, and presents Cousins with a nice target. The ball sails behind the receiver.
Gruden didn’t go into specifics in terms of what throws he believed were the rushed ones and which pockets he thought Cousins could have done a better job at feeling. But given the timing and results of these two throws, it’s safe to assume the coach went back and took a hard look.
Looking first at the interception…
…the Redskins run curl routes with outside receivers DeSean Jackson (bottom screen) and Pierre Garcon. Andre Roberts will work the left seam from the slot position, and tight end Niles Paul will get out from his inline position and work down the right seam.
Meanwhile on defense, safety Malcolm Jenkins makes his way back to the single-high look before the snap.
The above shot gives you an idea of the timing and angles behind the pass. Cousins has reached the peak of his drop, has planted his back foot, and is attempting to fire the pass.
You can see Jenkins has already given himself a great jump on where Cousins will ultimately go with the ball, and Paul (a tight end, remember) has yet to gain any separation from the defensive back in coverage.
Last week we saw Cousins freeze the Jacksonville defense by looking one way, selling the linebackers and/or safety, then resetting his feet and going elsewhere with the ball. A move like that would’ve been perfect in this situation, maybe taking a second longer to pump fake, thus moving Jenkins out of position, then repositioning his feet and firing down the left seam in a (typically) better matchup between a speedy receiver (in this case, Roberts) and a defensive back.
But does Cousins have time for a pump fake? Can he sell the safety enough with the amount of time his offensive line is giving him?
From the above screenshot, the answer would seem to be yes. But that’s easy for the chubby guy behind the computer to say.
With Cousins at the top of his dropback from this angle, you’ll notice Jenkins anticipating and beginning his path to the soon-to-be-throw. And also from the view of this angle, Cousins is investing a lot of confidence in his tight end to get behind/around the defensive back between the time of his release, and the ultimate landing position of the pass.
A couple other things to notice here, including left guard Josh LeRibeus who was subbed in for the injured Shawn Lauvao. Although LeRibeus appears to have decent position in this shot, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox is winning that battle.
Did Cousins feel the pressure from Cox up the middle and feel the need to fire? Or could he have shifted feet one time and fired left side?
Also, notice No. 29 for the Eagles on the left of the shot — that’s the guy covering Andre Roberts. Judging from his chase-like position, Roberts would appear to have a leg up on Paul in regards to beating his coverage (Roberts’ position in shot No. 2 shows this as well). If Cousins wanted to place a well-timed ball down the seam, Roberts would seem to be the ideal matchup in this situation.
Again, this an easy look and measure by yours truly. In game action, everything and everyone is moving at about 100 mph. Cousins needs to make decisions quickly and get the ball out even faster.
This throw, however, could be one Gruden was asking for another half-second out of Cousins to hang in there, adjust his feet, and take a safer shot elsewhere with a better chance for positive results.
And next a look at the final pass of the game for Cousins…
…taking a look at Pierre Garcon (a pass-gobbling monster in this game) on sort of a dig route on the left side.
Garcon receives press coverage off the line, and the safety making his way back will protect against anything deep on that side of the field.
Garcon cleanly and easily beats his man off the line, so his next bout is with the safety. His head fake outside gets the safety moving in that direction, in turn opening up his actual angle to the inside. Mr. Reliable shows up yet again, and prepares to give his quarterback a nice target on fourth-and-the-game.
In the shot above, the ball is already out of Cousins’ hand, seemingly at the sign of Garcon’s initial move at the top of his route.
The pocket seems a bit congested, but with another half-second or so, Garcon is running into wide-open space and the safety on his side of the field wouldn’t have a shot at making a play on the ball.
This seems like a rush job by Cousins. It’s the final minutes of the game, your team is down, and it’s the final play to stay alive and you get a little antsy. Instead of anticipating where your receiver’s going to be, you throw it to where he is, and at that point it’s too late.
While this may or may not be a throw in which Gruden talks with Cousins about pocket presence and timing, the fact remains that if Cousins can throw the ball at all from this pocket, then he could’ve delivered a better pass.
Coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’. And again, couch quarterbacking is way easier than the real thing.
All said and done — and despite the loss and these couple of errant throws — there were good things to come out of the Redskins offense last Sunday, including Kirk Cousins.