A few thoughts about Redskins quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III and the Redskins’ offense before Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns:
1. Cousins plays confidently in his own physical ability and in what he sees in the defense. We saw this in the preseason and in Week 5 against Atlanta. This can result in high-risk, high-reward throws. He completed some difficult passes outside the numbers during the preseason that resulted in big gains but weren’t necessarily the coaches’ preferred reads.
So if Cousins is going to sling it and not play tentatively, the key to success is him making the correct reads and having good instincts.
“We talk about playing on instincts, but instincts are developed over time,” Cousins said Wednesday. “I wasn’t born to play quarterback. I worked at it and worked at it and worked at it to the point where you can then play on instincts and you’re making the right decisions instinctively. So that has taken time. That’s when I say I’ve grown a lot since May, it would be developing myself to a point where I can play without having to think. Which I think even back in the Atlanta game, more so than the Ravens game, obviously I’m still having to think more than a 10- or 12-year veteran, but even from Atlanta to the Ravens game, I’m having to think a lot less and I’m able to just react and play.”
2. The Redskins run their outside zone scheme out of the pistol, so don’t be surprised to see Cousins in that formation Sunday. The pistol snap can help get the ball to the running back faster than if the quarterback takes the snap from under center. The Redskins undoubtedly spent the week in practice determining what Cousins is comfortable with.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Redskins run any zone read to keep the defense honest. Cousins has to keep it only once or twice for that, and he’s capable of getting a few yards as long as he’s comfortable reading the defensive end. It’s a risky proposition, though, because timing and feel involving the mesh point develops over time, and Cousins and Morris haven’t worked on it for long, if at all.
3. Griffin moved well while practicing rollouts and throws about two and a half hours before the game. Head athletic trainer Larry Hess, general manager Bruce Allen and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur were among the team officials who participated in or closely watched his workout.
After Friday’s practice, I leaned 70/30 toward Griffin playing. But offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan got to the heart of the matter on Thursday when he said: “Robert is going to be able to show us he can move well. It’s more is his knee stable enough and can he protect himself in there and is there a risk of a further injury.”
Deactivating Griffin is the right move if there’s significant risk of him doing further damage to his knee. We’ll never know how his knee would have held up this week in a game. So maybe we can’t say for sure whether starting Cousins is the right move, but it certainly is the safe move.
It’s a strong indication of Mike Shanahan’s belief in Cousins’ ability. Also, it’d be fascinating to know who would have started at quarterback today if the opponent were, say, the New York Giants.
4. One veteran on Friday said the identity of the Redskins’ starting quarterback for Sunday’s game was the most closely guarded secret they had ever seen in professional football. Looking back on the week, it’s interesting we were allowed to write what we saw Griffin do during the brief periods of practice open to reporters. There was nothing dishonest about that. He moved well – there’s no question about that – but reporters were not privy to the determining factors, such as stability of the joint and long-term risk.
I’m sure we’ll get to repeat all the speculation again next week. Fun times!
5. Expect Alfred Morris to carry a heavy load today. The Redskins’ offense thrives on play-action, and establishing Morris is essential because Griffin won’t be back there to help suck the linebackers forward.
6. If Rex Grossman gets to play, expect him to sling it. He knows his next NFL game could be his last. He would go out throwing.
7. Here’s Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on his pupil, Kirk Cousins. A recommended read.