verdict IS still not in
History indicates that 12 NFL starts just aren’t enough to gauge a QB’s future
What Gruden intends to give Cousins is time — time to work through the interceptions that have dogged his young career — convinced that the former Michigan State standout’s upside trumps his shortcomings, as they did in the Week 2 upset of St. Louis.
But how much time is enough? How many games must an NFL quarterback start before a coach can fairly evaluate whether he can get the job done?
Eagles Coach Chip Kelly, whose judgment on quarterbacks is open to debate after trading for the shaky-to-date Sam Bradford, insists there is no “set metric,” arguing that it differs for each individual.
Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay agrees that each case is unique but believes it takes at least one full season’s work, and possibly two, to evaluate a young quarterback.
“You go back and you look at the history of the position,” McVay said in an interview this past week. “A lot of those guys who are considered some of the all-time greats, it took them a couple years before they got
acclimated, got comfortable to where you started to see some of the issues, whether it’s turnovers or other things, shift in a positive favor.”
If a dive into quarterbacking statistics reveals anything, it’s that Kelly is correct: There is no obvious timetable.
Cousins has thrown for 21 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in his career. That ratio mirrors that of Peyton Manning, a five-time NFL MVP, at the same stage. It also mirrors that of Heath Shuler, who has become a euphemism for a firstround draft-pick bust.
Manning threw for 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in his first 12 starts for Indianapolis, which chose him with the first pick of the 1998 draft.
Shuler, whom the Redskins picked third overall in the 1994 draft, threw for 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his first 12 starts. His pro career fizzled after four seasons; Manning’s is in its 18th year.
But the NFL operates on a more immediate timetable in 2015 than it did a decade or two ago.
If Cousins has greatness that needs incubating for a full season or two, it’s far from clear he’ll get it on a team that has had 16 starting quarterbacks in the past 16 years. His record as a starter is 3-9, and Gruden’s patience is bound to wear thin if the losses mount. More likely to expire sooner is the patience of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and the team’s long-suffering fan base.
“It’s such a results-driven business — and that goes for whether you’re a player or coach,” McVay noted. “Everybody wants to see production, and they want to see it now. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.”
Said former quarterback Trent Green, now a CBS sports NFL analyst: “It used to be you wanted to develop a guy. It was unusual for a guy like Dan Marino to come in and have success like he did as a rookie. Peyton Manning had varying success as a rookie. I don’t think anybody would say [ Troy] Aikman’s rookie year was a success.
“Everything today is about instant gratification, and that has transferred to the NFL. Some [quarterbacks] are successful right away; some aren’t. Coaches aren’t given the time to turn it around. GMs aren’t given the time to turn it around. Look at the veteran guys being signed for ridiculous amounts of money; teams are so afraid of the unknown.”
Green, who spent four seasons in Washington before flourishing in St. Louis and Kansas City, twice earning Pro Bowl honors, entered the NFL as an eighth-round draft pick. Cut by San Diego after one season, he played in the Canadian Football League before Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly signed him in 1995 to back up Shuler and Gus Frerotte.
Like Cousins, his break came in his fourth season, taking over for the injured Frerotte. Green proceeded to go 0-5 as a starter, throwing seven interceptions to five touchdown passes, and was benched.
“When I finally got in there, I felt I had to justify why the Redskins had kept me around for four years,” recalled Green, 45. “I wanted to do everything in my power to prove they’d made the right decision to not only myself, but prove to my teammates, prove to [Coach] Norv [ Turner], to Charley Casserly. I was putting so much pressure on myself.”
Turner’s return to Frerotte resulted in a 41-7 loss at Minnesota that left cornerback Darrell Green in tears and Turner declaring the 0-7 franchise at “rock bottom.” After the bye that followed, Turner reinstated Green, declaring him “the best chance we have for success.”
In doing so, Turner made clear that Green would start the rest of season, with no more flip-flopping.
“It was such a weight off my shoulders,” Green said. “I felt like, ‘I’m gonna play loose! I’m gonna lead this team!’ And we ended up winning six of our last nine games.”
Like many, Green sees two sides of Cousins from his vantage point as an NFL analyst: flashes of a potential Pro Bowl quarterback, a view shared by former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, and a player whose inconsistencies undercut his promise.
But he hopes the Redskins give Cousins more time, at least eight games this season, before making a change.
“I’d like to see them give him a run, but he has got to understand: Don’t look over your shoulder,” Green said. “Just go out and play and don’t press.”
Sticking with one quarterback would help the Redskins’ offensive line, which juggled the cadences and timing of three signal callers in last season’s 4-12 debacle.
Explained Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who likens the relationship between quarterback and offensive line to a pulley-system: “As long as we’re both doing our job, it works well. Everybody comes together, and it looks good. But if we’re not holding up long enough, or if he’s holding the ball too long, then you’re gonna see pressures and quarterback hits and sacks. Obviously that’s not good football.”
Williams gives Cousins high marks for doing his part in that relationship, saying, “He has been getting the ball out, been seeing the right people, throwing it to the right people. To me, he’s doing a great job.”
Last week’s loss to the Giants, in which he was intercepted twice, represented a step back, bringing Cousins’s totals this season to 715 yards on 74-of-107 passing, with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
One of those interceptions came on an ill-advised throw across his body on a first and 10; the other, the result of a cornerback’s terrific play.
The trick for Redskins coaches is to sharpen Cousins’s decision-making without reducing him to a second-guessing mouse.
“It’s a fine line,” McVay conceded. “The one thing you really enjoy about Kirk is that he’s an aggressive quarterback that’s gonna go compete. The thing you always try to talk with your quarterbacks about is having situational awareness to where [they know] I can be more aggressive in this situation, maybe less aggressive based on the down and distance. What’s the score? It’s understanding when you take those chances. Are these smart chances?”
Gruden has shown the offense can succeed without quarterbacking heroics. He hit on the formula — a run-first, ball-control offense — in the upset of St. Louis, only to retreat from it after falling behind early to the Giants.
Meantime, Cousins, whom coaches describe as “refreshing” for his awareness of his shortcomings and receptiveness to criticism, is working to get better.
“We know he can play,” said running back Matt Jones. “He doesn’t need to prove nothing at all to us. All he needs to do is go out here and be himself.”
Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown 21 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in his career. “It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league,” offensive coordinator SeanMcVay said.