For those who read the title of the article thinking this would be an open forum to bash the Redskins new starting quarterback, I apologize in advance.
I'm no Mike Shanahan, but I think Kirk Cousins can be successful in this league. I'm an optimist, but even I won't utter the words "Top 10 QB" in regards to Cousins like the ex-Redskins Head Coach did shortly after the quarterback announcement was made. Still, success is relative to your situation and Redskins didn't have a very good situation last year. This year has been a step forward personnel-wise but it's baby steps.
I'm on record as saying Kirk Cousins can succeed with a competent run game, defense and special teams. He won't take over a game but he can operate within the frame-work of a game-plan. Of course, things rarely go according to plan for the duration of an NFL game. Last year, Cousins crumbled under the pressure and he's going to have to show he can mature from that. With very little production from the run game and defense, when the opposing team looked like it was pulling away, Cousins would ensure it with a heart-wrenching INT. Does being the starter for 2015 vs. being Griffin's place holder change his confidence? Possibly, but more help from the supporting cast is going to be a much bigger factor. With that being said, here's a look at obstacle #1. Do you notice a theme?
If you haven't guessed the theme yet, it's 8-man fronts. On each of these run plays (which was the majority), there were either eight defenders in the box already or the Ravens were rotating an eighth man in at the snap. Aside from the two heavy formations (which called for it), this was just Ravens play-calling. Admittedly, the Ravens aren't "game-planning" for a pre-season game but Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense is going to see this a lot during the season. This is where Kirk Cousins' maturity is going to be tested. The last screen cap is the only one that differs from the others. How? It was the only time the Redskins beat an 8-man front on the 18 yard carry by RB Matt Jones. Outside of that run, the Redskins run game was stagnant.
When you're facing a quarterback who is notorious for turning the ball over, you're going to want to put the ball in his hands as often as possible. Even with a guy like DeSean Jackson on the outside, you're still going to load up the box to stop the run and force the quarterback to beat you with his arm. Something Kirk Cousins hasn't shown he can do. Until he does, defenses are going to take their chances.
Does Jay Gruden have a tendency to go away from the run? Yes. If you talk to any Gruden critic, it'll be one of the first things you hear. What some fail to mention is how poorly the running game is producing many times when he goes away from it. Far too often last year, the Redskins were behind the sticks because they weren't producing on first down, run or pass.
In order to succeed, Cousins is going to have to take what is given to him and not try to do too much. Andrew Luck once said, "You can't go broke taking a profit." Translation: Any positive yard helps. Cousins will need to continue to hit the quick hitches, the speed outs and the dump off passes to the leaking RBs as an extension of the run game to loosen up the defense. This is classic West Coast Offense. Once he does this with a certain level of consistency, defenses will have to adjust. When they do, Cousins will become as important to the run game as a Matt Jones or a Brandon Scherff.