Cousins heating up again, faces stiffest test yet in Cardinals
Redskins’ offense against secondary for Arizona pits strength against strength
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.