While it is generally assumed that you need elite quarterback play to succeed in the NFL, one only has to look at Jay Gruden’s old stopping grounds in Cincinnati to see this to be untrue.
Sure it helps your chances of being a playoff team if you have Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady under center, but plenty of teams are making it to the postseason with just average QB play. In Cincinnati, Andy Dalton has done enough to lead the Bengals to the playoffs for four straight seasons and has the team poised for contention once again. While he has his limitations and that has hurt the Bengals chances once they are in the playoffs, Dalton’s level of play is something that should be attainable, yet has been lacking for the Redskins.
Last year the Redskins QB play was nothing short of dismal as three different starters were used and all were ineffective in their own right. Robert Griffin III struggled to move the offense with any sort of consistency, and his sacks and turnovers were prohibitive. Kirk Cousins showed promise moving the football and did a nice job avoiding sacks, but couldn’t avoid the pressure of compounding his mistakes. He collapsed spectacularly late in some games and it resonated with him throughout his tenure at QB.
Colt McCoy was the best at avoiding turnovers (both fumbles and interceptions), but his lack of arm talent limited the offense and he took way too many sacks. This year these issues have to be minimized and avoided as much as possible regardless of who is under center.
With Kirk Cousins getting the starting nod the pressure will be on him to cut down on his turnovers and not struggle late in games. The good news is that at least statistically Cousins showed some major promise in some key areas. While there is no doubt that his 4.4% interception rate from last season is unsustainable for a starting quarterback a lot of his other numbers were pretty promising.
Cousins 4.9% TD rate would have had him in a three-way tie for 12th in the league with Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer. That doesn’t wholly balance out what would have been the league worst interception rate, but it does show some positives.
Perhaps the most promising sign from Cousins’ stats last season is viewing his various Yards per Attempt numbers.
If Cousins had enough attempts to qualify his 8.4 ypa would have finished tied for 2nd in the league with Aaron Rodgers. Now while yards per attempt is a useful stat, on it’s own it has some serious flaws. Clearly Cousins was not a top 3 QB last season despite his ypa numbers, and in fact the entire Redskins offense clearly inflated these numbers as all three of the Redskins QB’s would have finished in the top 5 in ypa had they qualified.
What ypa does do is it gives us a starting point to dig deeper into these numbers, and thanks to Pro Football Reference we can do just that.
Pro Football Reference has adapted the classic yards per attempt into three additional statistical categories based off of yard per attempt that includes a fuller picture of a quarterback’s performance. The first of these is AY/A or Adjusted Yards gained per pass attempt. What this does is add in touchdowns and interceptions to the equation to try to see how effective these yards were.
Interceptions are worth 2.25 times what a TD is worth so it will hurt high INT rate guys. Cousins AY/A number is 7.4, which despite the addition of interceptions is still pretty good in the league. Had he qualified he would have tied for 10th in the league with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.
The next stat PFR created was NY/A, which stands for Net Yards per pass attempt. What this does is add sacks into the equation, both adding the number of them to the pass attempts, and the yards lost to the passing yardage numbers. What this essentially means is it becomes a net yards per dropback (excluding any scrambles that don’t result in a sack).
Cousins given his exceptional low sack rate does extremely well here. His 7.74 number not only would have led the NFL, but he was 0.06 ahead of the next QB (Aaron Rodgers), which is a big gap. Now this stat removes the TD and INT percentages measured in the last stat, but it’s pretty interesting giving the company that Cousins is keeping here. Only six quarterbacks managed a rating over 7.00, and those were Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andrew Luck.
The final stat PFR created is basically just a combination of the previous two called ANY/A or Adjusted Net Yards per pass Attempt. It factors in touchdowns and interceptions the same way, but now compares them to the overall number of dropbacks and measured vs the net yardage after factoring the yards lost from sacks. Cousins comes in with a 6.77 rating, which would have been tied for 9th in league with Drew Brees. The only quarterbacks above Cousins are the six others with a NY/A above 7.00 as well as Tom Brady and Carson Palmer. That is pretty good company to keep with the only real outlier being Fitzpatrick.
Now this is not to suggest that Cousins is a top 10 QB or that he’s an elite signal caller like many of the names on that list. The sample size is small, and while those stats are extremely informative it can lead to the appearance of outliers (Fitzpatrick). What it does show that this passing offense has the potential to be effective this season if they can get Cousins to play that way over 16 games.
While on their own Cousins’ interceptions are definitely worrisome, there is at least some evidence to suggest that they weren’t as detrimental to the offense as people believe. Cousins was still able to move the offense and pick up points. If he can maintain moving the football like he did and cut down his interception rate by even a moderate margin, this offense could be fun to watch, and effective enough to be playoff worthy.
Steve is the founder of Fanspeak.com. Click here for the Fanspeak power rankings.