- - Tuesday, October 23, 2018

When you are the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and your football team is 4-2 after six games, coming off a win over your hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, and in control of first place in the NFC East, life should be good, right?

I mean, Jay Gruden should have a bounce in his step, a smile on his face and a song in his heart. He is the head coach of a winning team nearly halfway through the season — a season where it feels as if his job may be on the line.
But there is this one problem — he’s winning without his favorite toy, the quarterback. In fact, he is winning in spite of his favorite toy.

So how much fun can this 4-2 be for Gruden?

Logically, 4-2 with Alex Smith must feel a lot better than 2-4 with Kirk Cousins.

But in Cousins, he had a quarterback who completed 14 passes or more in a half — not in the whole game, like Smith compiled in Sunday’s 20-17 win over Dallas. Gruden’s quarterback was usually responsible for what happened in the game, win or lose. It was the focal point of the team, not an afterthought.

What good is it being a quarterback guru if your words of wisdom are background noise?

Here’s what Gruden had to say about his prize $94 million quarterback the day after the big win on Oct. 14 at home against Carolina:

“I think the critical side of me, the coaching side of me, there are some things we’ve got to clean up. Get his eyes in certain progressions a little bit quicker and maybe get off some a little bit quicker. Sometimes he hangs on too long giving guys too much of a chance where he needs get off of them, get to the next guy. But for the most part, I thought he improved from last week to this week and there is still some improvement to do for everybody across the board. I like where he’s at. I like that he’s buying in and he’s learning.”

Here’s what Gruden had to say about his prize $94 million quarterback the day after the big win Sunday at home against Dallas.

“He’s missed some throws uncharacteristically, for sure. Some of it is he’s felt a little pressure, hasn’t gotten his feet set from time to time. But, he has made some great throws under duress. Escape the pocket a few times getting out of trouble. Only took one sack yesterday which is good, [offensive] line did a pretty good job for the most part. So, there are things we can all improve on. Receivers, tight ends, backs, and we will.”

Looks, progression, get rid of the ball quicker, fixating on receivers, missing throws, getting feet set — other than all that, Smith has been fine.

This has been the sanitized version of Gruden’s assessment of his quarterback.

I’m guessing it may a little tougher behind the scenes.

I’m guessing it’s driving him crazy. And the craziest part of it? They’re winning.

And they may keep winning without Gruden’s favorite toy, the quarterback, being the reason for their success.

That’s got to be a little maddening.

After all, he didn’t seem particularly thrilled with Cousins, even when he was throwing the ball 48 times a game and completing 35 passes for 425 yards, when the quarterback was everything about the Washington Redskins.

Gruden was passively critical of Cousins a number of times, including this from a year ago: “I think there is going to be a point in time where he (Cousins) is going to have to give some receivers some chances that maybe look a little covered, but give them a chance to uncover or give them a chance to make a play. That’s probably the one area that we can force the issue on a little bit to give these receivers chances down the field.”

This following the little back-and-forth from a Sports Illustrated article, when Cousins told the magazine that if he played quarterback like Gruden wanted, he would throw 20 interceptions per year. To which Gruden responded, “He’d throw 60 touchdowns, too.”

That was Gruden uncensored, revealing his true feelings about turnovers and production. For all this talk about Smith and his gift for protecting the ball, for Gruden, the juice is always worth the squeezing.

So far this year, Smith isn’t squeezing drops — much less a glass of juice — out of the quarterback position for his coach. So how much fun can Gruden really be having?

⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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