As the Redskins head into free agency after nearly clinching a playoff spot for the second-straight year, we will look at some of Washington’s key players and grade their 2016 performance.
Player: Kirk Cousins
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Preseason buzz: In Cousins’ first full season as a starting quarterback last season he threw for the most yards in Washington Redskins single-season history and won the NFC East. With expectations near the same for 2016, Cousins broke his own single-season passing yards record, but no playoff berth came in the second go-around. This time around, Cousins was playing on a franchise-tag, with Washington essentially asking him to replicate 2015.
Ended 2016 like: Cousins threw for 4,917 yards in 2016, 751 more than 2015, but his completion percentage dipped 2.8 percent to 67.0 and Cousins threw four less touchdowns and one more interception. Cousins finished third in the NFL in passing yards, but only 13th in passing touchdowns.
With a similar stat line to last season aside from a few numbers, how Cousins handled big moments and the team’s success broke the tie in whether Cousins had a better season than last year. Ultimately, a loss to the New York Giants in Week 17 cost them a playoff berth.
Season high: Although the Redskins did not leave Dallas victorious on Thanksgiving Day, Kirk Cousins dazzled with a second-consecutive three-touchdown, zero-interception performance. Cousins amassed 449 yards on the day, completing 77.36 percent of his passes, the highest rate in any game this season except for Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns. It was much more impressive doing this against the first-place Dallas Cowboys, as Cousins made throws on the run, downfield, and from sideline to sideline.
With little help from the Redskins’ 21st-ranked running game and 28th-ranked defense, Cousins kept the game close on the road, hitting four different receivers for over 60 yards in the process. Following his mid-season success, Cousins threw five touchdowns and five interceptions in the final five games of the season.
Season low: One of the biggest things to watch with Cousins entering the season was if he could improve on his decision making and reading through his progressions. Being able to process information quickly is always demanded at the quarterback position, but playing on a franchise tag, Cousins was even further underneath that microscope.
It looked like Cousins was regressing in Week 2 against Dallas when he locked onto Pierre Garcon and threw an interception on third and goal with 10 minutes and change left. Garcon was visibly furious after the play, and understandably so when it was the Redskins who had a three-point lead at the time. Not having to force the issue and under no pressure, Cousins tossed a pass over the middle to Garcon on a crossing route that was too easy for safety Barry Church to grab. Dallas scored a touchdown on that possession and went on to win the game.
Some of the thorns in the side of Cousins’ season included Week 17 when Washington could barely manage double-digit points, or when they had sluggish starts against the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions, failing to score 10 points or more in the first two quarters.
Cousins inconsistencies in the red zone left plenty of points on the board in 2016. In 2015 Cousins completed more than 64 percent of his passes in the red zone, but connected on 47.5 percent in 2016. With the numerous weapons Cousins had at his disposal in 2016, along with the fantastic pass blocking that allowed him to get sacked merely 23 times (fourth-best in the NFL), Cousins and the Redskins 12th-ranked scoring offense should have put up more points.
The positives came scattered all throughout the season, as Cousins put up an impressive line, despite his lack of red zone success. Cousins’ play silenced questions surrounding him after an 0-2 start, he outshined Aaron Rodgers in primetime in Week 10 and threw for the 15th-most yards in a season in NFL history. He was also the fourth-youngest player to total over 4,900 yards passing. Cousins commanded the third-best offense in terms of yardage (403.4) and threw for 300 yards or more in eight games.
In today’s NFL, Cousins is old for a quarterback coming out of his second year as a starter, but with quarterback-protecting rules and some quarterbacks still playing well into their late 30s, Cousins still has plenty of green grass ahead of him. In the two years with Cousins under center, the Redskins have had their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-97.
2017 expectations: Cousins may lose a wideout or two in free agency, but an improved running game or defense could be the best thing to help Cousins. A great play-action passer, the Redskins offense struggled at times when they became one-dimensional and the play-fake had no credibility. As long as Cousins stays in D.C., consistency and stability will remain in the Redskins offense for years to come.
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