Last season, the Washington Redskins finally distanced themselves from the Robert Griffin III era and decided to put all their chips on Kirk Cousins, the player they selected inthe same draft as Griffin that many felt would eventually end up as their starter.
Cousins delivered with one of the best seasons of any quarterback in team history. He set the Redskins' single-season record with 4,166, passing yardage, previously set by Jay Schroeder (4,109 in 1986), and tossed 29 touchdowns, second in Redskins' history to Sonny Jurgensen's 31 in 1967. Cousins was accurate as well. His completion percentage of 69.8%, was tops int he NFL and is second in team history behind the legendary Sammy Baugh, who completed 70.3% of his passes way back in 1945 when the ball was round.
When the Redskins could not lock up the impending free agent Cousins to a long term contract last February, he was 'forced' to play under the one-year franchise tender salary. To date, the two sides have yet to agree on a deal, but don't feel sorry for anyone here.
Cousins' 2016 salary is $19.993 million, the highest base of any quarterback in the NFL. The Redskins aren't particularly in a hurry to cave to Cousins' demands and they have the leverage to slap the tag on Cousins next year if a deal is not reached.
So far, the arrangement has worked out well for both parties. Through 15 games this season, Cousins has 4,630 passing yards, second behind only future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. He has completed 67.3 percent of his passes, and has thrown 24 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. He has earned his salary.
The Redskins, the defending NFC East champs, can get back to the postseason with a win Sunday over the Giants. They have benefited this year from Cousins' explosive use of his offensive weapons which include WRs Desean (The Giant Killer) Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder, Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed and receiving back Chris Thompson. In addition, guard Brandon Scherff and LT Trent Williams were named to the Pro Bowl.
"They might have more weapons than anyone that we've faced so far," Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said this week. "Every week, we put up the players that we need to stop. This week, the list was really long. Usually, you have three or four, but this week we ran out of room on the page. They're scary good on offense. We have to figure out a way to slow them down enough so that our team can win a football game. They can move the ball and score points."
The Redskins are currently ranked third in the NFL in offense. The Giants, 11th in overall defense. Cousins has had considerable success against these Giants after a rough start to his career, winning the last two meetings and registering QB ratings of 114.4 and 106.4 respectively. He can beat them and they know it.
"Kirk's playing at a high level," said Giants head coach Ben McAdoo. "He's seeing the field, moving in the pocket well, we know he can make all the throws."
These Giants are not the same Giants that Cousins beat in Week Three, however. Their defense has been basically lights out the past two months and even without Pro Bowl CB Janoris Jenkins, will give the Redskins all they can handle Sunday. They cannot better or worsen their playoff position this week but have vowed to come to D.C. to "play to win."
"We've got to be ready for whoever we play," Cousins said this week. "We've got to be ready for their best and their best is certainly guys like Janoris Jenkins. The last thing you want to do is be caught off guard and be expecting something else and then they're playing their best players. We'll prepare to face any and all players on their defensive roster and that way we'll be ready for whatever they throw at us."
Cousins is averaging over 308 yards passing per game this season. He's in for a big challenge this week. The Giants have allowed only two 300-yard passing games this season: Week Nine against the Eagles and the other in the Week Three loss to Washington. Both games were at home. They have yet to surrender a big passing performance on the road.
"They were good when we played them Week Three and they were all playing hard and playing well," Cousins added. "I just think they've been able to develop that continuity over a longer period of time now. Obviously there were some new pieces at the start of the season, so they have that many more weeks to play together and play under the same scheme. It's got to help them and it's got to make a difference for them this late in the year."