How Kirk Cousins is leading Washington to NFC East title
Very quietly, in a disastrous NFC East, the unlikeliest of teams has dragged itself to .500. With remaining games at Philadelphia and Dallas, Washington has a chance to close out the year with a winning record and host a playoff game—with Kirk Cousins at quarterback.
If there was one team from the NFC East most did not expect to be contending this season, it was Washington, and despite never stringing more than two wins together this season, they never slipped more than two games below .500, either; and in this division, that was enough to remain within reach, and now sit in first place, almost by default.
This is still not a good team, but they have some standout performers this year, and some units playing way above expectation.
Additions along the defensive front have been a big help to the defense, and each of the highest five snap-earners on the D-line have positive PFF grades at this point in the season. Kedric Golston, the next man in that list, reduced to a rarely seen bit-part rotation man, was even able to come up with some big plays in a key goal-line stop for the team against Buffalo.
Ryan Kerrigan has been the team’s biggest source of pass-rush once more, but unlike years past, he has not been alone. Trent Murphy has notched five sacks of his own, and five different players have at least 15 total pressures for the season.
A year ago, this team was 23rd in our defensive pass-rush grades, but this season, they have jumped into the top 10, currently sitting at eighth.
That added pass-rush has complemented the play of Bashaud Breeland, who has become a formidable cover corner, something the Redskins have been looking for for some time, as DeAngelo Hall’s play has declined. Breeland has allowed just 54.3 percent of passes into his coverage to be caught this season, and he is our fifth-highest graded corner on the season.
On offense, Washington’s offensive line has been hit and miss. In truth, they are three, maybe four-fifths towards a good unit, but the center position has been a problem all year long. Kory Lichtensteiger, a player who has graded well at PFF in the past, had been little more than a disaster in his snaps, and they didn’t get much if any of an upgrade when they were forced to turn to Josh LeRibeus. The pair have combined to surrender 32 total pressures (at a position where there are players that have surrendered single-digit total pressures for the year) and been even worse in the run game.
The real key, though, is that Kirk Cousins is beginning to look like he has the potential to become something interesting. Amid reports that he has already convinced Washington that he is worth signing to a big-money contract, PFF is a little more cautious than that; but we have seen some excellent play from him, notably this week against Buffalo.
Cousins earned his highest grade of the season in Week 15, and completed 87.5 percent of his passes when throwing from a clean pocket. Encouragingly, he also threw two touchdowns and had a passer rating of 141.4 when under pressure.
This team is far from the finished unit, but for the first time in a long while they are clearly heading in the right direction, and a couple of well-placed additions could really help Cousins become a legitimate NFL quarterback.
They have put themselves in pole position to win the NFC East, but to do so, they need to achieve something they haven’t managed all season long—string more than two wins together.