- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2014

Only one string of similarity exists among the five interceptions Kirk Cousins has thrown since taking over as the Washington Redskins‘ starting quarterback: they have all landed in the opponents’ hands.

They were thrown out of the shotgun and dropping back from center. They were to the left, right, shallow and deep. On the road and at home.

He threw four interceptions Thursday night when he and the Redskins were undressed by the New York Giants on national television. He’s thrown five in 114 pass attempts this season and 15 in 317 career NFL tosses.

So apparent was his fourth interception against the Giants — a deep left throw out of the shotgun — that CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz said, “This one is also intercepted. You could see it a mile away.”

Cousins trotted off following that pick. He made it all the way to the bench without a teammate offering an encouraging word. The Redskins would drop to 1-3. The season is unraveling and the play of the quarterback is in part to blame.

“Well, it’s worrisome,” coach Jay Gruden said of the interceptions. “You have to take the game for what it is. We lost the game. He didn’t play very well. He threw four picks. We understand that. He fumbled. But, he didn’t have a lot of help, either.

“There weren’t a lot of people — the defense didn’t help him out. The offensive line didn’t help him out. The receivers didn’t help him out. You know, there’s a lot of other factors that we could have had a better game, a better outing, if other people were helping him more. It’s not just Kirk. Kirk, his mistakes are magnified, obviously, but other guys had mistakes that were equally as important and devastating to the football game.”

Back during training camp at Richmond, there were not-so-subtle suggestions by analysts and others that Cousins should be playing ahead of Robert Griffin III. He had looked sharper in Gruden’s offense — which Cousins and others would say wasn’t a big change from former coach Mike Shanahan’s offense — against backups.

When Griffin dislocated his left ankle in Week 2, Cousins stepped in with aplomb. He completed 67 percent of his passes against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

The upbeat work continued early against Philadelphia. Cousins started 12-for-13 at the home of brotherly grumpiness. At that point, combined with his first game against Jacksonville, Cousins was completing 73.9 percent of his passes.

A rapid and harsh shift followed. He was just 18-for-35 the rest of the day in Philadelphia. Last Thursday, he finished 19-for-33. That 54.4 percent completion rate would put him 31st in the league among qualified passers. Overall, he’s tied with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford for 23rd in the NFL. He’s also tied for the league lead in interceptions after throwing the eighth-most attempts.

This isn’t new. Cousins played 45 games at Michigan State and threw 30 interceptions. He’s played 11 games in the NFL and thrown 15 interceptions. He’s also fumbled five times.

Though, considering he’s played only 11 games and will be starting just his third this season, the perpetual tussle between optimism and cynicism is underway. Cousins, 26, has a small body of work where he has put together potent games. Last season he threw for 381 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in an end-of-year start. Against the Eagles, Cousins picked up 427 passing yards, which was fourth-most for a regular-season game in Redskins history.

But, he’s countered those high-end numbers with abysmal days that make him appear incapable of being a long-term quarterback in the NFL.

“He’s a young guy playing the position, and a young guy playing that position at this level will tend to make some mistakes from time to time,” Gruden said. “We’ve just got to make sure he sees the throws a little bit better and his eyes are in the right spot. There’s a couple of them that he stared down the receiver and the safety just came down and made an easy pick. One of them he just had bad location on the ball to Ryan Grant, and the other one, he threw a blind one on an out route when he was throwing to Andre Roberts and the nickel was sitting right there and he never saw him — which you have to see on those throws. He’s got to get his eyes in the right spot and got to calm down.”

Good teams can navigate such a turnover- and risk-prone quarterback. Though, Cousins himself will explain he does not have the physical tools to compensate for a lack of clear reads or understanding.

“I have always said, ‘I can’t run by them, I can’t throw it through them, so I have got to know where they are going to be’ and the only way I can do that is through good preparation,” Cousins said prior to the Giants game. “You know, it’s worked for me to this point and I need to keep doing it and I can’t get complacent as I get more and more familiar.”

Cousins lamented the push he made Thursday night to bring the Redskins back. Instead of using a more incremental methodology, his desperation to close a large gap produced misguided throws. He was also trying to fix what he had previously done wrong.

“I got a little bit of mind play because I was killing us here and there,” Cousins said.

The schedule is about to become more difficult. The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks are coming to town Oct. 6 and a road trip to face the undefeated Arizona Cardinals follows.

Cousins’ play isn’t the only necessary fix, but it needs to be among the first.

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