- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A reading from the book of “The Godfather,” the testament for a generation:

In “The Godfather II,” when talking to Michael Corleone about Hyman Roth, Frank Pentangeli tells him, “Your father did business with Hyman Roth, he respected Hyman Roth … but he never trusted Hyman Roth.”

Jay Gruden does business with Kirk Cousins. He respects Kirk Cousins. But, he may not quite trust Kirk Cousins yet — at least not to win a game. The interception that gave the Atlanta Falcons a 25-19 overtime win on Sunday won’t do anything to build that trust.

Gruden admitted as much after the win over the Philadelphia Eagles the previous Sunday, when he discussing his team’s failures to score six points in the red zone.

“We do need to do a better job in the red zone, and maybe that’s pulling back the reins, or maybe that’s letting Kirk take some shots in the end zone a little bit more,” Gruden said — and that was after a win in which Cousins led his team down the field for a 90-yard, game-winning drive.

Trust. It comes up all the time between the coach and the quarterback. Remember the infamous scene in the 2008 opener against the New York Giants, when coach Jim Zorn screamed at Jason Campbell on the sideline after Campbell took a sack in a 16-7 loss, “Don’t you know that we have to trust you?”

Gruden trusts Cousins to run his offense. He trusts Cousins to manage the game and put the team in a position to win.

But when the opposing team, like the Falcons did Sunday, invests in stopping the run and putting the game in Cousins‘ hands, it is telling you that it doesn’t trust Cousins to win the game.

It trusts that if it stops the run — Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson combined for just 51 yards — that Cousins won’t make it pay through the air. With 32 attempts resulting in just 219 yards and one touchdown, it was right.

The Falcons trusted that Cousins would do what he did when Ryan Grant slipped and cornerback Robert Alford ran the ball into the end zone. They trusted he would throw an interception.

Of course, it wasn’t Cousins‘ fault. It was Grant’s fault.

Gruden said Grant slipped so many times in the post-game press conference, one would have thought it was a hypnotic suggestion.

“Our receiver slips and falls and they get a pick six,” Gruden said in one of several references. “Ryan Grant just slipped and fell. It’s unfortunate.”

Yes, Grant slipped, but Cousins‘ throw was poor, like many that he threw in Atlanta.

On Monday, it was all Gruden’s fault — not that play specifically, but the play-calling, period. He called his decision for a screen pass late in the fourth quarter “awful” — a play that ended in a four-yard loss.

“That was awful,” Gruden said. “Probably too conservative.”

Probably. Perhaps it was a sign of the lack of trust in Cousins to do more in that situation.

No one, of course, is going to say that, even though they do with their play-calling. Gruden and his staff are walking on egg shells publicly with their comments about Cousins, careful to protect the quarterback from forces both inside and outside Redskins Park that still believe Robert Griffin III should be the starter.

When asked Monday if Cousins is showing improvement, Gruden responded, “I think he is improving. He’s going to have his ups and downs, every quarterback does. Heck, Matt Ryan was 50-some percent and threw two picks yesterday and he’s been a hell of a player for a long time. You’re going to have some plays in a game or games that you’re not perfect.

“It’s a matter of keeping your team in the game, making good decisions and giving your team a chance to win at the end,” Gruden added. “He did that again. We just had the slip and fall and pick six. Overall, I think he’s showing enough to where we can work with him. People around him are getting better. The running game has got to continue to get better. We can be a very good, solid offense with him at the helm.”

He does business with him. He respects him. But when will Jay Gruden truly trust Kirk Cousins?

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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