- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ASHBURN — The future seemed uncertain for Kirk Cousins a mere two weeks before the season was set to begin. There he was, wrapping up his fourth preseason, again relegated to backup duty — albeit better than in the third-string role he had at the conclusion of the previous season.

Everything changed once Cousins was anointed the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback on Aug. 31. Cousins, for once, had a defined role, one that carried considerable responsibility. There were no caveats to the promotion, no injured players to replace. The offense would be his to run, and the Redskins would go only as far as he would take them.

Cousins was honored as the NFC player of the week on Wednesday, becoming only the fifth Redskins player to take home the award twice in one season. The first honor arrived on Oct. 28, following a come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; on Sunday, the Redskins defeated the New Orleans Saints, a game in which Cousins had a perfect 158.3 passer rating and threw for 324 yards with four touchdowns.



Once dogged by incredibly inconsistent play — Cousins had thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes entering the season — he has strung together a series of solid performances in the Redskins’ last three games. Now, questions about his future aren’t necessarily centered around where he’ll be playing, but rather how long he’ll be in Washington with his rookie contract set to expire in March.

“I appreciate the question, but I feel like it’s best for me to focus on week to week and understanding that in this league, things change and happen so fast that I’ve got myself in trouble when I start to think I can look down the road and predict things,” Cousins said. “I just take it one week at a time, one day at a time, and I’ve learned to handle it that way because when you look any further than that, you’re going to get all kinds of things that you never may have expected.”

Cousins had started nine games before this season began, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for an average of 281.8 yards per game. He won just one of those starts — his first, at the Cleveland Browns in 2012 — and his second victory, against the Tennessee Titans last year, happened only because he was replaced by Colt McCoy after the first half.


SEE ALSO: Kirk Cousins named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for second time


Through nine starts this year, Cousins’ numbers have improved greatly. He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes, including 33 of 40 against the Buccaneers and 20 of 25 against the Saints, to rank fourth among quarterbacks who have started at least seven games. He has thrown for 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions, with just one in the past three games. Only his total yardage has dipped — and that’s because the change in offense has emphasized shorter, quicker passes.

“I think the difference is the consistency and the fact that [the starts] were together,” Cousins said. “I think it’s a much different routine and a much different rhythm than when those starts are coming at sporadic times that are unpredictable. You’re able to build a rapport with your teammates, with the offense, with the coaching staff, with the system. It lends itself to developing much more quickly than when those starts are sporadic over a long period of time.”

For Cousins, the victory over the Saints was made easier by the performance of his teammates. The running attack, long stagnant, gained 209 yards against one of the league’s worst run defenses. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, out six weeks after tearing his left hamstring, caught his first deep ball in his second game back, moving the chains 42 yards on the opening drive.

“He’s letting people around him do the work for him,” coach Jay Gruden said. “[Sunday was] a great example, hitting the checkdowns and the guys are running for 15 or 20 yards, hit a screen pass, finding his outlets. He’s taking shots when he needs to. … He’s just making good decisions. That’s what that position is all about.”

For much of the season, Cousins has referred to the comfort of being able to play without a leash, as opposed to the finite timeframe he has been handed in recent years. The ability to go from one practice to another, one game to another, and make adjustments that could pay off in future situations, he believes, has been beneficial.

“He’s never been handed the keys to a team, and I think that’s a culture change to a person,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “You go from not just playing in spots [to], ‘This team is yours. This is your team and you know, as well as you play, as far as we go.’ That’s a bit of a culture change. He just had to deal with it the first few weeks, and I mean, now, he’s way more comfortable. He got his feet wet. He’s just more comfortable in being that guy. I think that’s the difference.”


SEE ALSO: Redskins running back Silas Redd suspended for substance abuse violation


• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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