Cousins heat­ing up again, faces stiffest test yet in Car­di­nals

Red­skins’ of­fense against sec­ondary for Ari­zona pits strength against strength

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TOMMY CHALK

Over his last four games, Wash­ing­ton Red­skins quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins has risen steadily through the sta­tis­ti­cal ranks of his fel­low NFL quar­ter­backs.

Cousins ranks sec­ond in to­tal pass yards with 3,540, only trail­ing New Or­leans Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees’ 3,587. He’s fourth in com­ple­tion per­cent­age with 68.4 per­cent. He’s ninth in pass­ing touch­downs with 20 and sixth in quar­ter­back rat­ing with 101.4.

But Cousins on Sunday faces his stiffest test yet in the Ari­zona Car­di­nals. The Car­di­nals al­low just 195 pass­ing yards per game, sec­ond-best in the NFL, thanks to a sec­ondary loaded with play­mak­ers, in­clud­ing cor­ner­back Mar­cus Cooper, safety

Tyrann Mathieu and cor­ner­back Pa­trick

Peter­son, who may have an ar­gu­ment with the Red­skins’

Josh Nor­man over who is the league’s top cover guy.

“I think [Mar­cus]

Cooper and Pa­trick Peter­son are a great tan­dem back there,” Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den said. “You throw in the fact the Honey Badger [Tyrann Mathieu] is an all-around good foot­ball player ... they run to the ball, they pur­sue, and they do a nice job all across the board.”

In Cousins, how­ever, that group faces a quar­ter­back who, like last year, seems to be get­ting bet­ter in the sec­ond half of the sea­son. From Week 1 through Week 7 last year, Cousins com­pleted 68.66 per­cent of his passes for 1,737 yards, nine touch­downs and eight in­ter­cep­tions. But from Week 8 through Week 16, he com­pleted 70.91 per­cent of his passes for 2,429 yards, 20 touch­downs and just three in­ter­cep­tions.

Cousins again is heat­ing up as the weather gets colder.

This sea­son, from Week 1 to Week

7, Cousins av­er­aged 285.14 pass­ing yards per game and threw 10 touch­downs and six in­ter­cep­tions. But from Week 8 through Week 11, Cousins has av­er­aged 386 yards per game, throw­ing for 10 touch­downs and just one in­ter­cep­tion.

“I think I’m im­prov­ing as a quar­ter­back, which is no sur­prise — you ex­pect to get bet­ter the longer you work at your craft,” Cousins said. “I think I’m just im­prov­ing by na­ture of con­tin­u­ing to work and get bet­ter.”

NFC East ri­vals from the 1960s through the 1990s, the two fran­chises haven’t faced each other as of­ten since the con­fer­ence was re­aligned prior to the 2002 sea­son. Wash­ing­ton holds a 74-45-2 edge in the series.

Cousins was still try­ing to prove he was a le­git NFL starter when he last faced the Car­di­nals in 2014, throw­ing for 354 yards and two touch­downs. He also threw three in­ter­cep­tions in a 30-20 loss in Phoenix that was just his eighth ca­reer start.

“That’ll be a game that I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber as one that didn’t go our way — didn’t go my way — and one of those games where you learn from it and you say, ‘tough times don’t last, tough peo­ple do.’ To be able to come back from this, I’ve got to choose to be men­tally and phys­i­cally tough com­ing back from that game,’” Cousins said. “I’m just glad that here we are with an­other op­por­tu­nity to go back there a couple of sea­sons later.”

Sunday’s matchup of the Red­skins of­fense against the Ari­zona de­fense pits strength against strength. But de­spite hav­ing the league’s No. 1-ranked de­fense, Ari­zona is just 4-6-1 and in dan­ger of be­ing elim­i­nated from the play­off pic­ture.

Car­di­nals coach Bruce Ari­ans ac­knowl­edged Cousins has been im­pres­sive.

“He’s been rock solid,” Ari­ans said. “He’s putting the ball on the money. He’s push­ing it up the field, not throw­ing very many in­ter­cep­tions and he’s al­ways been a gym-rat quar­ter­back that re­ally stud­ies the game. [He’s a guy] you re­ally love to coach, so [I’ve] got a lot of re­spect for him.”

Cousins goes into Phoenix this time as the ac­knowl­edged leader of the Red­skins.

Vet­eran tight end Ver­non Davis — who prides him­self on get­ting to work early — said he fre­quently ar­rives at the team’s prac­tice fa­cil­ity at 6:30 a.m., only to find Cousins al­ready there. Cousins likes to get started by 5 a.m.

“I ex­pect noth­ing but the best [from] Kirk Cousins,” Davis said. “That’s who he is. He’s just a com­peti­tor. He wants to do well, he just wants to suc­ceed, he wants to be great. He puts the time in.”

Davis goes as far as to com­pare the Red­skins’ sig­nal-caller to one of the game’s all-time greats.

“Some of those qual­i­ties that Pey­ton Man­ning has, I see those same qual­i­ties in Kirk Cousins,” Davis said.

Cousins and his team­mates are count­ing on the hard work and long hours trans­lat­ing into a play­off spot.

Cur­rently, the Red­skins con­trol their own play­off destiny, hold­ing the sec­ond wild-card po­si­tion in the NFC. With the hun­gry Car­di­nals loom­ing and di­vi­sional match-ups re­main­ing against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles and New York Gi­ants, the Red­skins face three teams that are very much in the hunt for a play­off spot in their fi­nal five games.


Wash­ing­ton Red­skins quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins faces an Ari­zona Car­di­nals de­fense on Sunday that al­lows just 195 pass­ing yards per game, sec­ond-best in the NFL. From Week 8 through Week 11 this sea­son, Cousins has av­er­age 386 yards per game.

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