That headline is not a typo, and it is not hyperbole. Some context may be required, so please read on. All will be explained. (All photos courtesy of Redskins.com)
Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in completion percentage. Fans chide this metric as inconclusive, because even Tim Tebow could theoretically be that efficient if the right plays were called.
People who believe this are idiots.
Cousins’ 69.2 completion rate is currently a top-10 all-time number. Yes, top-10 all time, a mere two percentage points behind Drew Brees’ record-setting 71.2 percent in 2011. And yes, you heathens, Cousins throws his share of screens and dinks and dunks – but look a little deeper, please.
In today’s NFL, every quarterback throws short and mixes in screens. It’s the norm. This is how the NFL works now, trading inefficient long throws for yards-after-catch and surefire drag routes. To say that Cousins is an Alex Smith level of game manager is to fundamentally misunderstand the trends pervading the NFL in 2015.
There’s another hugely important thing to consider when discussing Cousins’ efficiency: he’s not being handcuffed by his coaching staff. If you think Cousins completes his passes at a high clip because he’s not throwing that much, you’re in for a surprise. He’s the most efficient passer in the NFL while throwing the 10th-most passes and completing the sixth-most. So it’s completely correct to say that Cousins is performing at an elite level of efficiency while handling a top-10 usage rate.
This isn’t a 15 for 20, 180-yard player, folks. Cousins has completed at least 20 passes and thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season, while averaging 254 yards through the air. That’s in addition to a top-15 rate in yards per attempt, proving that he isn’t shoveling the ball two yards down the field on every throw. You could theoretically say that he is having the most statistically efficient season in Redskins history.
“But David, he throws too many interceptions! How can we depend on a quarterback who turns the ball over that much?” Okay, that’s a fair point…if it held any water at all. Do people even consider the value of progress these days? Through six games Cousins threw eight picks, which is deplorable. But in his last seven games, he’s thrown three. THREE. Sure, a few bad decisions got lucky but that’s how playing quarterback works in the NFL. Since his last two-interception game against the Jets in Week 6, he’s thrown for 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Shut up with your turnover-mongering. He seems to have figured something out.
You know what else is incredible? His consistency. We’re not talking about a guy who completes 45 percent one game and 90 percent the next. This is a guy who constantly pours in throws at a 65 percent clip or higher. In only two games this year has he had a completion percentage under 60, and I can’t even count one of those because his receiver dropped seven passes.
“David, you say Kirk Cousins is a top-15 quarterback. I call bullshit. I can name 20 quarterbacks that are clearly better.”
No, you can’t. Here is a list of the quarterbacks that have been clearly, inarguably better than Cousins this season:
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson
You can make cases for a number of other quarterbacks, but that list of 11 are the only ones that have DEFINITELY had a better year.
Ryan Fitzpatrick? Cousins has more yards, more completions, and a better rating. Ryan Tannehill? Same deal. Matthew Stafford? Very similar numbers, not clearly better. Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor…it is clearly arguable that Cousins has been better than all of them (and in Taylor’s case, simply because of usage rate).
The point is this: whether or not you believe Cousins is one of the 15 best quarterbacks in the NFL, the one thing that no one can deny is that there’s a legitimate conversation to be had. Taking things like fourth-quarter performance into consideration, I’d definitely put Cousins in that second tier, just outside the top.
His team is not helping him
When the Patriots are hampered with injuries and Tom Brady has a bad game, everyone is quick to point out that it’s not Brady’s fault. Same for Aaron Rodgers and any other number of quarterbacks.
Why does Kirk Cousins not get this treatment? Cousins has one reliable receiver – ONE. His name is Jordan Reed and he is a tight end, not even a guy who lines up on the outside. DeSean Jackson was hurt half the year and is really only good for a bomb and one or two screens, Pierre Garcon is a shell of himself and can’t get separation, Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Andre Roberts, and Rashad Ross are hardly NFL caliber at this point. Frankly, Cousins has very few reliable options to throw to.
In addition, he operates in an offense with a running game that can only be described as running through quicksand. Young quarterbacks rely on play-action; Cousins, whose numbers off play-action are superb, simply can’t benefit from that as much because of the flagrant ineffectiveness of the ground game. It’s not just ineffective, it’s often non-existent.
One reliable receiver, one sometimes-good receiver, and literally zero running game. Yet he leads the NFL in completion percentage and is putting together arguable one of the best seasons in the sordid history of Washington quarterbacks. Please, all of you, especially you RG3 proselytizers, take this into account.
The best the franchise has to offer?
What is the best statistical season a Redskins’ quarterback has ever put together? It is a question that has no ready answer, because there has rarely been a season in which a Washington quarterback did anything remotely memorable or spectacular. Remember: we’re going stats here, not wins or losses or overall impact.
Robert Griffin’s 2012 comes to mind, though the tailored scheme from Mike Shanahan and his rapid decline certainly puts a damper on the thought. That being said, outside of what Sammy Baugh did a long, long time ago, this was probably the most complete season a Redskins quarterback ever put together in all facets up until this year.
Joe Theismann’s 1983 season included 3,714 yards and 29 touchdowns with a 60 percent completion rate…but that was an era where he only completed 276 balls. Cousins already has 314 completions, meaning that he’s used far more than Theismann ever was.
Jay Schroeder has the all-time franchise record for yards with 4,109 in 1986, but he also completed 51 percent of his passes and threw 22 interceptions. Hardly a competitor.
The fact that Jason Campbell’s 2009 (3,618 yards, 20 touchdowns, 64.5 percent) is even in the conversation shows the lack of solid play under center for this franchise.
By yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage, the best seasons in franchise history would produce a stat line of 4,109 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 69.2 percent of passes completed. Cousins is on pace to throw for over 4,100 yards and the completion percentage belongs to him.
In the uninspiring lexicon of Redskins quarterback history, Kirk Cousins might be putting together the most statistically accomplished campaign.
Keep that in mind the next time you chastise him for making a poor decision.
To those offended by this post, I promise you this: Cousins is not perfect at ALL and I will be publishing something later this week discussing his biggest issue that could hamper his future viability as a franchise quarterback. We cover all sides here at Next Year, D.C.