Kissing Cousins


As I said earlier this week about Sam Bradford, Washington QB Kirk Cousins is still young – he’s 27 – and he’s only played the equivalent of one season’s worth games in the NFL.

But holy moly, how people were singing his praises at the end of the preseason, for his superior command of the offense, in contrast with RGIII who, injuries aside, was deemed by many analysts not to be in Cousins’ league in terms of preparation, etc.

Then came last night, when Cousins looked bad against an unimposing Giants defense. Cousins’ final stats, especially his 315 yards passing, were all padded by more or less meaningless fourth quarter drives, so the overall performance – a weak 69.8 passer rating for the game – was worse than the final line suggests. And I can tell you this – Cousins can’t blame his line. The Giants’ non-existent pass rush barely laid a finger on the guy until late in the game.

On that basis, suddenly football analysts woke up this morning to the shocking possibility that Cousins might not be that good and even, heaven forfend, that perhaps he shouldn’t be starting over RGIII (let’s leave Colt McCoy out of this).

So, while RGIII stands on the sidelines in street clothes, let’s do a little compare and contrast.

Cousins has played in 17 games in his career. He’s thrown 514 passes, completed 61% of his passes and has a lifetime QB rating of 78.3. In today’s NFL, if you’re under 80 in a season, you ranked somewhere between 25 and 30 among the 32 or so qualifying QBs. In other words, you’re not good. Remember, too, that the traditional passer rating probably overvalues completion percentage and undervalues a QB’s ability to avoid interceptions. Cousins, as it happens, has thrown a lot of interceptions so far in his career – 23. That’s about one in every 23 attempts, which put him more or less at the bottom of the league on an annualized basis. As Mike Greenberg pointed out this morning, that’s a worse rate than Jamarcus Russell. Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, is widely regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, washing out after three ignominious seasons with the Oakland Raiders. As it happens, Russell also threw 23 interceptions in his career – in 680 attempts.

Well, what about RGIII? Weirdly, the former Heisman Trophy winner has also thrown 23 career interceptions. However, it’s taken Griffin 1063 attempts to reach that figure, more than double the number of attempts it’s taken Cousins to get picked 23 times. Even leaving aside Griffin’s historic 2012 rookie season, when he had the lowest interception rate in the NFL, Griffin in 2013 and 2014 combined was picked off 18 times in 670 attempts. In his career, RGIII has a higher completion percentage, a higher yards-per-attempt average and more or less the same TD rate as Cousins. Add it all up and Griffin’s career QB rating is 90.6, substantially better than Cousins’. And even if you remove Griffin’s ridiculously good rookie performance, his QB rating is still easily better than Cousins’. RGIII is, of course, the vastly superior rusher, though he’s also fumbled more than Cousins.

I don’t claim to know what’s going on in the Washington lockerroom. Maybe RGIII’s teammates really can’t stand him. Maybe he does have issues with maturity. But if you were just a casual listener of NFL analysis, you might be surprised to learn that, in terms of performance, there’s really not much of a comparison between the two QBs. And that even during RGIII’s injury-influenced decline over the past two years, he’s still been better than Cousins has shown to be so far.

You want to talk about whether RGIII can ever be *great* again, after the extinction of the spread offense from the NFL, or whether the team was unwise to have sold the family jewels to acquire the right to draft him – fine.

But you’re going to have hard time convincing me that certain kinds of quarterbacks aren’t on shorter leashes than others, or aren’t being held to higher standards than other kinds of quarterbacks, who are more “relatable,” or more “team-oriented.” Or whatever other descriptors you want to use to talk about “intangibles” that are, in reality, quite tangible.


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