- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Over his last two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins’ quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for 720 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.

It has been one of Cousins’ most prolific stretches of the season, and the production mirrors a streak the 28-year-old quarterback had during at a similar point in the season last year.

From Game 1 to Game 8 in the 2015 season, Cousins threw for 1,954 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, an underwhelming start for a quarterback who was given the green light to be the franchise quarterback. But from Game 9 until the end of the season, Cousins threw for 2,212 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Coincidentally, Cousins’ last two games marked Game 8 and Game 9 on this year’s schedule, and considering last season’s numbers, it would be reasonable to conclude that Cousins seems to get more comfortable as the season progresses.

Cousins doesn’t view it that way. Each week, Cousins is looking to improve on the next. Ideally, he doesn’t want to start slowly — but he is always looking to improve.

“I’m always getting better,” Cousins said. “I mean, it’s not like I’ve played 10 seasons. I’m still very new relative to many other quarterbacks in this league. So I’m just trying to grow and learn every game, and I think each game I take another step forward and gather some experiences and gain some understanding of how to play the position and keep getting better each week.”

To Cousins’ credit, the first half of his 2016 season was significantly better than his start last year. For 2016, from Game 1 to Game 7, Cousins has thrown for 1,996 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. And his upcoming matchup against the Green Bay Packers in Week 11 doesn’t just mark Cousins’ 10th game of the season, it represents Cousins’ 40th-career game.

“I think, much like any other job, as you perform it longer in the same role, you’re going to get more comfortable and say, ‘OK, I’ve been there, I’ve done this, I can do this,’” Cousins said. “[Being] a quarterback in the NFL is no different. Just to continue to gain experiences and go out to practice each day and each week and go through different challenges to just keep getting better. People want to think it happens so fast, and say ‘he either is or isn’t,’ but that’s just not how life works. It’s a process. It’s a journey. As long as I continue to get better, that’s really what I want to do.”

This season, Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards, firmly ahead of established quarterbacks like the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck, the New York Giants’ Eli Manning and his Week 11 counterpart, Aaron Rodgers. He’s seventh in overall completion percentage and 13th in touchdowns.

Cousins is a meticulous student of the game. He takes the time to reach out to other quarterbacks around the league to develop relationships and he studies quarterbacks, noting how they react in particular game scenarios, their tendencies and whether their results.

One of those players happens to be Rodgers. Cousins doesn’t know the Packers quarterback well, but said he admires the perennial pro bowler’s approach of the game.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Cousins said. “He has the highest passer rating in the history of the NFL. I’m a guy who just wants to study him and learn from him.”

That study is paying off with better all-around play, says coach, Jay Gruden.

“I think it’s a combination of things, really,” Gruden said. “I can’t limit it to one thing. I just think his command over the defense — his ability to call plays and get to the line [and] use the snap count. Theres are so many things that a quarterback has to do pre-snap that he’s handling much better than he did when I first got here. Then his confidence to throw the ball and distribute the ball to the right people and not forcing the issue. His interceptions have gone down tremendously. He’s protecting the football in the pocket. There’s so many things that he’s doing better that you just can’t point to one.”

“He’s going to continue to get better,” Gruden said. “He can still improve in a lot of areas, in a lot of areas. I’m excited about his progress, but the biggest progress that I think he’s made is his comfort level, his leadership and his ability to distribute the ball properly.”

That will come in handy in the latter half of the year. With the Packers on their immediate radar and with the division-leading Dallas Cowboys quickly following on a shortened Thanksgiving week, the Redskins enter a critical point in their season. And at 5-3-1 record, each game carries more and more meaning.

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