Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels provides five takeaways from Kirk Cousins's press conference at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun Co., Va.
1. In his third year as a starter, Cousins feels more comfortable taking on a teaching role for younger players.
Understandably, quarterback Kirk Cousins, in his third year as the team's starting quarterback, has a much better grasp of how the Redskins offense works compared to just a couple of years ago. Because of that, he's become a better teacher for the younger players still learning the system.
And there are a lot of them to teach. With so many injuries and new players joining the team over the last few weeks, Cousins has taken on the role of catching up many of his teammates with assignments and verbiage.
"Two years ago, I'm a first-year starter playing with very experienced receivers, Pro Bowl-type receivers, and that's a different dynamic than being now in my third year starting and working with younger players," Cousins said. "I enjoy that opportunity to communicate and lead and teach and share experience. It's hard to help coach on the field if you haven't been there before and learned from already having been out there. I'm just going to draw on my previous experiences as a young player and try to impart that to the guys around me – if they need it. A lot of them don't, but I'll speak up when necessary and enjoy that opportunity and that part of quarterbacking."
Particularly against the Giants on Thursday night, with just two days of walkthroughs adjusting to new center Tony Bergstrom and running back Byron Marshall, helping everyone be on the same page was paramount. Cousins said that he didn't have to coach up his linemen as much as it might seem, but his knowledge still proved valuable for those still learning.
"Pretty much at all the other positions, guys knew for the most part what they were doing," Cousins said. "Arie Kouandjio had been here before for a while. Tony Bergstrom has been around the league and he's a professional, so guys knew what they were doing. It was a short week, but handled it well and I'll continue to just give tips and reminders as we leave the huddle whenever I can." 2. Off-schedule plays require multiple parts working together.
One of the more exciting and crucial plays in Thursday's win over the Giants came on the game's first touchdown pass, a 15-yard off-schedule throw to Jamison Crowder. It's a play – scrambling and scanning the field simultaneously -- that Cousins has tried to develop over the past couple of years and one that might not have happened without the experience he and Crowder have acquired together.
"It's a great play, but rarely does a player get that open, especially on third-and-15," Cousins said. "I think it goes back more to maybe I don't break the pocket or try to scramble, maybe I just throw it away or take a check-down. I don't know. There are probably other plays I would point to that are different from 2015, maybe where I've chosen to take off and run. I've done that a little more this year that I didn't do in the past. A few more opportunity balls down the field to some receivers that I probably wouldn't have thrown in the past."
Cousins admitted that it's challenging to practice these kinds of scramble drills in simulations, but that with more opportunities, the more in sync he might get to be with his receivers.
"Not only then do I not get a lot of practice at it, but our receivers don't," Cousins said. "For example, I sprinted out to my right on a third-and-goal play at the end of the first half and I would have loved for Ryan Grant to know to work back. He was running basically the opposite direction I was, which makes it a hard throw – an unrealistic throw – and I really wanted him to stop and run back and trace me in the pattern I was running. We just so rarely do that in practice, it's hard to then say to Ryan, 'Hey, do that in a game,' and suddenly just flip a switch and know to do that. How would he know to do that? So, it's something that I think we need to practice more."
3. Teams game plan differently for the Redskins' offense based on who is playing.
It's only been a month since the Redskins last faced the Cowboys, but both teams will have significant differences in their personnel this Thursday. At least on the defensive side of the ball, Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee's status is still up in the air, and Dallas has been a different team without him for the last four games.
Meanwhile, the Redskins have missed tight end Jordan Reed for four games with his own hamstring issues, and teams have changed their game plans based on his presence or lack thereof. The absence of Trent Williams and Chris Thompson, among others, has also changed the way the defense prepares.
"There's no doubt that I believe in that last few weeks that our personnel that we've put on the field affects what our opposing defensive coordinator is calling," Cousin said. "I had heard through the grapevine that the Saints had one game plan if Jordan Reed was up and that had a different game plan if Jordan Reed was down. So I do think that what teams are going to do against us is going to vary based on who they think can beat them and who they aren't as worried about and they're going to plan accordingly. Based on who we bring into the game, based on who they bring into the game, I think personnel will affect those schemes quite a bit.
4. Cousins wants to leave the game on his own terms.
With the elite quarterbacks of the league still playing well past their primes, close and into their forties, Cousins hasn't thought about how long he would like to play so much as the way in which he will leave.
Check out these photos of the Redskins preparing for their Week 13 game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
"It's a dream of mine to be able to leave this game on my terms where I could still do it, but I say, 'No, I'm good,'" Cousins said. "And that goes back to taking care of yourself, eating right. That's why I invested in a hyperbaric chamber. That's why I have a lot of people praying for me. You want to have those things around you that give you that chance."
For quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees, being able to play that long at a high level has given Cousins a goal of wanting to finish his career without a sense of regret or independence.
"They've set the bar really high and I hope that the next wave of young quarterbacks, guys that are my age or in their 20s, can hopefully repeat the process in the next wave of guys and that we can still be there for a long time," he said. "I'm certainly going to do everything in my power – during the season, in the offseason, in my lifestyle, the way I operate – to make sure that I'm out there and can play for a very long time and provide a good return on investment."
5. Cousins won't grade himself differently during the final stretch of the season.
Maintaining the same perspective has been one of Cousins's virtues over his career with the Redskins. His mindset doesn't change based on the magnitude of circumstances or particular games. As the Redskins head down the stretch still vying for a potential playoff spot, Cousins doesn't look at these final games any differently than he has the others.
"I always look at the 'why' behind a poor play, a poor performance and sometimes the why isn't, 'I have to get better.' In a win, sometimes the why is I have to get better. We have to do some things," Cousins said. "I'm always looking at the reason behind a poor finish or whatever it may be. I just look at it right now as we are in a position that we really have these one-game… We have got to go 1-0 each week.
"If we do that, we do have a chance at the end of this season, but we can't put ourselves in that position at the end of December unless we win this week," Cousins added. "So there is really no point in looking beyond this week and that's where I am going to focus. If we can go 1-0 each week, then we will put ourselves in a good position down the stretch. Yeah, do everything we can to make sure we finish strong. We always talk about starting fast and finishing strong and we have an opportunity here to finish strong and if we do we could put ourselves in a great position. It starts Thursday night in Dallas and we have no reason to look any further."