Ryan Fitzpatrick, the ultimate 'Just a Guy' QB shows what Kirk Cousins can become

Before buying into the narrative that the Jets have the better QB, realize that Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins are the same guy. One just had more help Sunday.

Part of (all of?) this week's Redskins discussion involves the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. More specifically, whether his play against the New York Jets was simply bad or Beverly Hills Cop 3 terrible. Cousins was certainly the worst QB on the field Sunday.

Here's the thing: Kirk Cousins is Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not like Finkle is Einhorn, but in terms of skill, style and usage.

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That was the take of the head coach-turned-analyst Brian Billick during the early minutes of Sunday's 34-20 loss. It turned out that way. Cousins attempted 43 passes compared to 26 for Fitzpatrick.

Yet when I asked around this week to various friends, colleagues and randoms, everyone universally prefers Fitzpatrick to Cousins. Not just this past week, but also all the weeks going forward this season. 

My contention? That Billick threshold. Leave everything else the same but switch the quarterbacks, the Jets still win big. Why? Because Cousins is Fitzpatrick.

The 32-year old Fitzpatrick does have the experience edge over Cousins, 27, who has made 74 fewer career starts. Yet the argument so many are making this week that Cousins is stuffed crust pizza awful or at best is just a guy looks weird when noting  Fitzpatrick, the ultimate "just a guy," at the exact same point of his career.

Through 20 games with 15 starts, Kirk Cousins basic numbers are as follows: 24 touchdowns, 27 interceptions, 4-11 record

Fitzpatrick started 15 of his 19 games over his first four seasons with the Rams and Bengals. Stats in those games: 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 4-10-1 record.

Fitzpatrick didn't have a campaign with a positive TD-to-INT ratio until his sixth NFL season. Cousins did that in two of his first three NFL seasons.

Including all five games this season, Fitzpatrick is 37-56-1 as a starter. He's never had a season with a winning record.

Yet here he is now 4-1 with the New York Jets. How do we explain the change? Because "Just a Guy" needs help, needs to be situated where his flaws are hidden, his talents can shine and in Fitzpatrick's case, he doesn't throw more than needed.

That couldn't be helped when playing with suspect to bad teams for most of his career. In New York's four wins, he's attempted 24, 34, 29 and 26 passes, combining for seven touchdowns and four interceptions. In the one loss, he threw 58 passes and three interceptions. 

Cousins averaged 29 passes during the first two games this season. Then left guard Shawn Lauvao suffered a season-ending injury. Then the running game, which was tops in the NFL, disappeared. Over the next four games, Cousins averaged 42.5 passes. The Redskins lost three of those games with Cousins throwing two interceptions in each outing.

The Jets put their guy in strong position for success against the Redskins by rushing for 221 yards compared to 34 on 17 carries for Washington.

Fitzpatrick's two touchdown passes went to Pro Bowl caliber receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Cousins threw numerous wayward passes in the loss. No excuses, that's a fact. So is not having DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed and three starters on the offensive line. 

Here's another one: One of Fitzpatrick ugly tosses, a near worm-burner headed in the direction of Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland, ended up in Marshall's hands. The veteran receiver recognized the wounded duck headed his way and didn't slip making a play on the ball. He didn't just catch the pass, but turned up field and raced 35 yards for a touchdown.

Fitzpatrick was the better QB on Sunday, no doubt. That doesn't change his journeyman stripes. Throughout most of his career, Fitzpatrick didn't enter training camp as Plan A. That includes 2015. Neither did Kirk Cousins. 

Ahead of the 2012 season, Fitzpatrick's last as Week 1 starter before this year, NFL writer Andy Benoit wrote the following about the QB and head coach Chan Gailey in his Bills season preview for the New York Times. Much of it applies to the current situation in Ashburn:

Fitzpatrick simply does not appear to have the talent to be an elite quarterback. His arm strength is just O.K. His accuracy runs hot and cold. Because he mixes these traits with a gunslinger’s mentality, he can be somewhat prone to mistakes. ....A coach can only work with the players he has. Give Gailey credit for recognizing what Fitzpatrick truly is and adapting his offense accordingly. Gailey ... realized that Fitzpatrick’s limitations do not extend to the mental side of the game. Unlike most so-so-armed passers, Fitzpatrick reads the field fairly well. Because he tends to play fast when his pocket quivers, he is better reading things before the snap than after the snap. ...But Fitzpatrick isn’t the only limited player. A big reason Buffalo got figured out last season was their wide receiving group wasn’t very good. 

Asked Monday what gives him confidence in Cousins, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, "I’ve seen him make every throw there is to make in pro football. We've just got to get his confidence going. We’ve got to help him."

Everything about that statement is true. Cousins can make the necessary throws. He just needs help. So do numerous starting NFL quarterbacks. That's not a knock, that's just reality.

Here's more reality: Cousins gives Washington its best chance to win now AND maybe, maybe have a viable 2016 Week 1 starter. He's more physically gifted than the limited Colt McCoy. He's not attached to a horrid $16.5 million contract that becomes guaranteed for 2016 with a serious injury in 2015. 

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Overall, the offense has looked far more competent in 2015 than during Gruden's first season. With help, Cousins looks like a leading man at times. Without said help, he's just a guy.

However "just a guy" can win in the modern NFL. Just ask Ryan Fitzpatrick and the 4-1 Jets.


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