- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kirk Cousins understands the way “water cooler” talk works and the narratives that come with it. After a 30-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, the Redskins quarterback was hammered for going 23-for-40 for 240 yards and an interception.

But Cousins — currently third in the league in passer rating behind only Alex Smith and Tom Brady, despite that Week 1 dud — prefers for the season to finish before people jump to conclusions.

“Let’s let the dust settle and see where we are at Week 17,” he said.

With the Redskins heading to Philadelphia for a primetime Monday Night Football rematch with the Eagles, Cousins might be, statistically at least, having the best season of his career.

Through five games, Cousins has a quarterback rating of 106.2 and is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, his best since taking over as the Redskins’ starter. Cousins also has a career-low interception rate of 1.3 percent.

“I don’t think anybody peaks out in Week 1,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I think you’re going to see steady improvement and the teams that improve the most and limit the mistakes are the teams that are going to keep advancing.”

Cousins has limited his mistakes. He has just one interception since the Eagles game, a long desperation pass on third down against the 49ers. The running game has helped balance the offense, which has led to more manageable situations for Cousins, too.

Gruden is quick to point out his team didn’t give Cousins enough time against the Eagles in Week 1.

According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the quarterback’s average time to throw was just 2.39 seconds — tied for fifth-worst in the league. After five games, Cousins’ average throw is released in 2.62 seconds.

The Eagles sacked Cousins four times.

“It wasn’t just blitzes,” Gruden said. “It was four-man pressures with [Brandon] Graham and those other guys. They have Fletcher Cox. They have a very good pass rush, very strong defense.”

Cousins said Wednesday he was pleased with the way the offense has developed.

There are areas, though, where Cousins can still get frustrated. NFL Films’ “Sound FX” captured the quarterback yelling at one of his teammates to hurry to the huddle against the 49ers. In another moment, Cousins was concerned over the offense losing its rhythm midway through the game.

Cousins remained poised and delivered a game-sealing touchdown on a 7-yard run.

“I feel like I’ve been in the league for quite some time now and I’ve been able to see some of the things guys like Peyton Manning and Alex Smith and all those guys do,” said tight end Vernon Davis, who is in his 12th season. “He definitely fits that mold when it comes to that kind of quarterback.”

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Cousins is doing a better job at finding playmakers like running back Chris Thompson.

“He has done really nice job of staying on the field whether it be a third down conversion or just utilizing his personnel,” Pederson said. “I feel like that has been his strength. He’s not the one that has had to put the team necessarily on his shoulders. He can spread the ball around.”

While the game might not rest on Cousins’ shoulders, there is additional spotlight considering the Eagles rematch will be on “Monday Night Football” — where the quarterback is 0-5.

The record, like his contract, is another narrative people like to talk about.

“I think that’s a misleading indication of what’s going on,” Cousins said. “With that being said, I would love to be 1-5 on Monday Night Football after Monday night. So that is certainly the goal and hopefully over the years we can get that record up. It’s prime time and we want to play well in a big game.”

Lanier’s progression

With Jonathan Allen on injured reserve with a foot injury, defensive lineman Anthony Lanier will take his place on game day. Lanier has been with the Redskins since 2016 as an undrafted free agent, appearing in four games last season.

Since then, Lanier has made considerable strides in the weight room. His teammate, Ziggy Hood, estimated Lanier’s gained 20 pounds, going from 270 to 290.

“You put your mind and dedication to the weight room, it changes you,” Hood said. “It teaches you how to work. How to listen to your body. Take the weight room and put it out there for field use, then you start to develop into a good player. Not a great player, but a good player.”

The Redskins like to rotate their defensive linemen and have relied on them to generate interior pressure. Gruden said Lanier has a good burst off the line of scrimmage and should be ready to play.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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