A few days after Week 3 of the NFL season concluded, the Redskins are riding high after the obliteration of the nationally touted and popular pre-season Super Bowl pick, Oakland Raiders, We must ask ourselves if the microscope is on Kirk Cousins more than ever, and is it fair?
My gut tells me yes.
Already a season clouded by the anomaly that is having to play on the franchise tag for the second straight year, an extension on his mind, and Jay Gruden back on play calling duties, Cousins had much added weight to an off-season which already included losing two 1,000 yard receivers in Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson to free agency.
The pressure of playing for a contract should be nothing new for Kirk Cousins. This is the third straight season he is doing so. To replace that production, the Redskins went out to sign one of the highly- touted, yet still unproven free agent wide receivers in converted quarterback Terrelle Pryor after his 2016 breakout season with the lowly Cleveland Browns. Not to mention the running back situation that has been rocky, and a group without true fire power since Clinton Portis retired in 2011.
There are a couple questions that come to mind during the first few weeks of their quest to get Cousins locked up long term.
-Where does the pressure on Cousins lay?
Playing in a contract year should be nothing new for Kirk Cousins. The fact this is the third straight season he is in a “contract year” clears the notion of his potential contract, or looming free agency negatively effecting his play. The past two seasons he has proved that he can play with a contract extension looming.
The real pressure lies in four parts:
- Getting this new look offense lead by the play calling of Jay Gruden in-sync on the fly.
- The expectations of building a rapport with the guy they signed to be the guy in Pryor
- the offensive line keeping Cousins’ jersey clean
- Continue to get the struggling running game (which I discuss below), going sooner rather than later.
So far there has been a mixed bag of results from the offense. On tape it looks as though the Cousins-Pryor connection has had a tough time getting on the same page (along with the passing game in general), but it hasn’t hurt their chances to win starting off 2-1 on the season. That poor rapport has allowed Chris Thompson to emerge as the leading receiver on the team through three weeks, but the rest of the passing game needs things to click fast if they want to continue to stay afloat in the ultra-competitive race to the NFC East crown and a shot for a playoff run. The pressure for Cousins is laid upon the play calling shoulders of Jay Gruden once again.
-Should there be red flags raised to Pryor’s slow start? Does the fact that the Browns let him walk and sign with another team without much resistance create doubt, or was this a classic Browns analytical move giving up talent to keep their team young?
You can’t deny Pryor’s story is a great one. Signing with the Cleveland Browns as a wideout, converting from Quarterback to keep his career alive along with low expectations of his development, it took Pryor one full season and two offseasons for the position change to click. In his first season as a starter in 2016, Pryor put up 77 catches for 1,007 yards, on a Browns team that seemed to have a new QB each week. As fans, we all expect the “shiny new toy” free agent weapon to be successful from the jump.
Through three weeks we have a mixed bag of results, but it is obvious him and Cousins are not on the same page, which can be expected. As fans we need to be realistic in our thinking of this player is changing organizations and realize that growing pains for a free agent skill position player were inevitable.
After three weeks of play, Pryor is second on the team with 10 receptions for 116 yards, but that is more credit to the lack of success in the passing game thus far. Luckily for the Redskins, they did not have to pay a king’s ransom for him (1 yr, $8 Million) which takes some pressure off of being an instant success. If he turns out to be a bust in 2017, at least you are not stuck with a bad contract for a player that did not live up to expectations. if you’re asking me, I’ll hang my hat on success for a guy that can put up those numbers while having to guess the quarterback that was suiting up to start for the Browns each week, even if he has had a slow start.
-With the loss of those weapons on the outside, do they have the running back group in place that has the ability to take some of the pressure off Cousins and the new look offense?
At the beginning of the 2016 season, Matt Jones was named the starter after having a breakout season of his own in 2015. After his ineffectiveness and injuries, he was supplanted by undrafted free agent running back Robert Kelley out of Tulane who came onto the scene with 706 yards rushing on the season, averaging 4.2 ypc, and scoring a combined 8 touchdowns rushing and receiving combined. Expectations were immediately set high for Kelley in 2017 after how pleased the team was (and fantasy owners who scooped him off waivers) with his success and production.
His rushing ability along with pass catching running back, Chris Thompson, who also enjoyed a successful 2016 campaign with 356 yards on the ground (5.2 ypc) 3 touchdowns, and and 49 receptions for 349 yards to go along with two touchdowns through the air, seemed to create a winning formula that they could rely on in 2017. During the 2017 Draft, they also picked Samaje Perine in the fourth round hoping to keep adding to the diversity of their backfields skill sets.
So far through three weeks, Only one of the three seem to be emerging. Samaje Perine cannot seem to find any open running lanes, while Robert Kelley was forced to leave the game in the 3rd quarter during their game with the LA Rams. Prior to the injury Kelley rushed 22 times for 108 yards and zero touchdowns in the first two weeks. Nothing about those stats jump out to you as really great or really bad numbers before he was injured but the hope is there after his strong rookie season. On the other hand, Chris Thompson is enjoying a great start to his season with 119 yards on the ground at a rate of a ridiculous 8.5 ypc and two touchdowns, to go along with 13 receptions for 231 yards and 2 touchdown.
If Robert Kelley can return where he left off at 4.9 ypc and Chris Thompson continues to emerge, along with the improved offensive line play we saw in week 3, this is a formula to take some pressure off Cousins and help this offense succeed putting the Redskins back amongst the Elite offenses in the NFL.
This “contract year” for Cousins is the most important yet. It is fair to question whether or not the Redskins did enough for him, In my eyes, you want to be paid like the best franchise Quarterback, you have to take what your team gives you and turn that into greatness. The rest of this season we live and die with Kirk. Despite whether the offense can finally click or not, buckle up for the ride.
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