- - Sunday, October 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

When Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was getting sacked in the fourth quarter — not once, but twice, with a pass attempt to DeSean Jackson that fell short  — on a key series with the game at stake, Robert Griffin III was standing on the Cleveland Browns sidelines perhaps thinking two things:
“I wish I had my cell phone. I want to tweet something inspirational.”

And:

“This is the guy you benched me for? I could have done that.”

The Redskins (2-2) won for the second straight week — a 31-20 victory at home (yes, finally a home game that actually felt like a Redskins home game) — but, for the second straight week, the win was a gift from the opposing team.

Last week, the Giants melted down with penalties and a late fourth-quarter interception by two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning to give Washington their first win, a 29-27 victory at MetLife Stadium.

On Sunday at FedEx Field, the Browns (0-4) melted down with two second half fumbles — one near Washington’s goal line to give away at least three and possibly seven points — and an interception by rookie quarterback Cody Kessler.

And, just like the week before, Washington made the most of the turnovers, and used the running game that had been nearly forgotten in their first two games —losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys — putting the offense in the hands of running back Matt Jones, who rushed for 117 yards on 22 carries, with 79 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter.

Here’s what is missing from that winning equation the last two weeks: the quarterback, Kirk Cousins.

His line Sunday — 21 of 27 completions for three touchdowns and quarterback rating of 116.5 — doesn’t tell the true story about what Cousins contributed to both of these wins.

What may be a better indicator of Cousins‘ contributions are the images of the receivers wildly waving their arms or showing disgust when open — Pierre Garcon last week and DeSean Jackson on Sunday — only to be missed or sometimes invisible to the Redskins starting quarterback.

You can dress up those three touchdown passes any way your want — Cousins did not play well Sunday.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden dressed them up as well as he could.

Describing the two touchdowns passes to tight end Jordan Reed, Gruden said, “I think Kirk made a great play off schedule in the second one. You know, it was a three-man rush. They covered up our initial concept. He bought time, two hands on the ball and kept his eyes down the field. Jordan did a great job of getting open.

“The first one was just a coverage that we saw the safety on Jordan one-on-one,” Gruden continued. “Jordan ran a great route, Kirk threw a great throw, and the line gave him great time. So those were two good plays for us.”

A lot of great there — so much so that when Cousins, trying to explain his RGIII-like collapse in that fourth-quarter series, referenced all that greatness as well.

“The first one is one where I would say I could easily be better on,” Cousins said. “You know, I’m rolling out of the pocket trying to find somebody off schedule and make a play and then obviously throw it away, and that balance of hanging on, hanging on and, okay, now I’m going to throw it away. That was one of those times where you hang on for too long and you don’t feel the guy behind you and he gets a sack.”

Here’s the great part, though. “The same thing happens on the touchdown pass,” he said. “I’m rolling to my left, hanging on, hanging on. I feel someone behind me, but I’m saying I’m going to hang on and we end up scoring a touchdown. So that’s one of those things where obviously in hindsight you say that one was good. The one with the sack was bad and the key is always going to be as you extend those plays and hope to avoid the sack, and that was a play where it wasn’t possible.”

Well, I would beg to differ. There is always throwing the ball away. I’m sure in those quarterback meetings over the years when Redskins coaches were trying to teach RGIII to do that, Cousins must have been paying attention.

Here is what was obvious about that series — in the fourth quarter, with a four-point lead and your maligned defense just causing another turnover on a Browns fumble to give you the ball at midfield, it was as bad a series as you can have as a quarterback without throwing an interception.

Cousins had one of those — their first possession of the second quarter, a turnover that allowed Cleveland to score four plays later on a pass from Kessler to Terrelle Pryor, tying the game at 14-14 — a game that opened with Washington dominating the first quarter, with Washington possessing the ball for nearly 12 minutes of the quarter and running up 115 yards to Cleveland’s 37 and taking a 14-0 lead.

It had the feel of a Redskins romp against a winless Browns team in the making. But Cousins doesn’t seem to have that feel right now, the feel he had last year, when he set a franchise record with 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns.

If he regains that feel, this Redskins offense will put up a lot of points. If this team hopes to have a successful season, given its defensive limitations, Cousins will have to get that feeling back.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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