Cousins appears to be what Jay Gruden has desired all along for his offense: a game-manager that doesn't overextend himself, and can be trusted to throw deep down field. If Andy Dalton was Gruden's 'Red Rifle', why can't Cousins be the "Blonde Bomber"?
In Cousins' four starts in the NFL, he's thrown at least one interception, with a record of 1-3. The three losses were a sad coda to a miserable 2013 season, with Robert Griffin III controversially shut down by outgoing coach Mike Shanahan. In those three defeats, Cousins posted a QB rating of 64.48, with four touchdowns, five interceptions, and a horrid 53.08 completion percentage.
To Cousins' credit, he performed well off the bench against a wet-behind-the-ears Jaguars defense, completing three passes while under pressure, and taking only two sacks. For the day, Cousins completed two thirds of his passes (22 of 33) with a couple of long touchdowns, and zero picks.
An injured RG3 is less a story this week than the return of DeSean Jackson to Lincoln Financial Field. Jackson's gone as far as to text buddy LeSean McCoy and inform him of his intention to play, despite leaving this past Sunday's game with his own injury, a shoulder sprain. Jackson's lone completion, for 19 yards, came on the play where Griffin busted his ankle.
Further on the injury front, tight end Jordan Reed is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, still dealing with a hamstring injury. Behind him on the depth chart, you'll find that Niles Paul has come in handy, hauling in 12 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown over two games. Already, he's shattered his career high of 152 yards set in 2012.
Cousins will have to deal with an Eagles pass rush that doesn't hound the edges so much as the Jaguars do, but instead tries to gatecrash the middle with Mychal Kendricks (who remains day to day with calf spasms), and other assorted linebackers and safeties. Though the group failed to garner a sack of Andrew Luck on Monday night, Luck did have his share of fluttering incompletions, en route to Indianapolis going four of 12 on third down.
Counting the utter shutdown of Chad Henne in the second half of Week One's battle, the Eagles' defense has held opponents to a mere six of 26 on third down for the season, currently the best percentage in the NFL (23.08%).
Bill Davis' defense does employ edge attacks from Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Trent Cole, and in the case of a four-man front, the explosive Vinny Curry. Opponents are completing barely over 57 percent of their passes, so while the Eagles aren't cleaning up with sacks, they're getting the three-and-outs that Nick Foles and the up-tempo offense covet (particularly in the second half).
Tyler Polumbus, the Redskins' right tackle, has been the weakest part of pass protection so far for the line. Yes, Polumbus had to put up with J.J. Watt in Week One, but Jacksonville flooded him out this week as well. That's generally the side that Barwin runs in with his patented leaping bat-downs, so Davis' defense will have an avenue for disrupting the right-handed Cousins' line of vision.
Alfred Morris et al vs. Eagles Run Defense
If Morris is going to be effective on Sunday, he may have to play the opposite of how Indianapolis' running game attacked: through the middle. Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson found daylight with outside bounces and unbalanced lines that flushed the ballcarrier through the weak side as often as the weighted ends. The Redskins haven't shown that they're willing to be as flashy with their set-ups, instead relying on Morris' power in traditional schemes.
Morris has been mostly effective this year behind center Kory Lichtenstieger, particularly on pulls and sweeps. Sticking behind center has neutralized both Watt and the Jaguars' edge-rushers, creating space between the defensive tackles. Morris also finds space behind left tackle Trent Williams, running three times around that end to the tune of nine or more yards in 2014.
The Redskins will employ both back-up running backs, veteran Roy Helu and rookie Silas Redd. Helu primarily spells Morris when he needs a few plays off, while Redd's just as capable, running for 41 yards in the blow-out win on Sunday.
It will be imperative for the Eagles to have Kendricks against a team known for its heavy run doses, as Casey Matthews looked typically godawful in relief on Thursday (inactive first-round pick Marcus Smith, an outside linebacker, is taking lots of inside reps this week). Kendricks has developed a great nose for meeting backs on the edge, with Fletcher Cox notching his 2014 resume with two tremendous performances. Cox and Kendricks at their best are the catalyst for the Eagles' run-stopping supremacy, even if the unbalanced lines didn't make that apparent on Monday.
DeMeco Ryans has been a key to the vivid run-stopping, blowing up the momentum of a number of running plays (namely against the Colts), and attacking the line with the timing needed to take away holes and lanes. The edge-rushing has actually served the Eagles better against the run, particularly when Cox and Cedric Thornton disrupt the blocking schemes.
Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.
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