Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins are on different trajectories to start the 2018 season. Cousins is up. The Redskins are down.
Week 5 served as a nice example of how opposite the two parties are doing after their breakup. Cousins is like the more attractive, more accomplished member of the couple who finds a more attractive and more accomplished partner immediately. (The Minnesota Vikings were the team Cousins told the Redskins not to worry about.) The Redskins, meanwhile, had to settle for a lesser parter (see: Alex Smith) who seems like a lesser person now than when they first had a spark and traded for him this offseason.
Cousins has moved on to better things. The Redskins are stuck with Smith, and probably wishing they could get Cousins back. Somehow, the Redskins are 2-2 and atop the NFC East. If the game against the Saints proved as a barometer, however, the Redskins are aeons away from contending in the playoffs. It seems like a matter of time before the Eagles get their act together — and perhaps trade for Le’Veon Bell — and win the NFC East. Certainly, the Redskins and others have opened the door for Philly to do that. Blame for that potential outcome, in part, falls on their new quarterback.
In Monday’s 43-19 loss to the Saints, Smith completed 59 percent of his passes for 275 yards and an interception with a quarterback rating of 69.9. Smith also threw Adrian Peterson into a near-knee injury and definitely threw Chris Thompson into a rib injury. On Sunday in the Vikings’ win over the Eagles, Cousins completed 81.1 percents of his passes — over 80 percent! — for 301 yards and touchdown with a 109.6 quarterback rating.
And it’s not just the one game. On the season, Cousins has completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 1,688 yards, 11 touchdowns two interceptions with a 105.1 quarterback rating. In one fewer game, Smith has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,042 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 92.9 quarterback rating. While it’s fair to point out Cousins’ stats are inflated with that extra game, it’s also fair to say Smith wouldn’t close that statical divide in one game. Not even close.
Cousins is on a significantly better team with better pass-catchers, who complement the quarterback’s skill set. Naturally, Cousins is playing better than he’s ever played, because he’s throwing to Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, among others.
Smith, on the other hand, has not looked anywhere near the thrower he was in Kansas City, where he enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. With Patrick Mahomes taking over that offense (and looking more competent than Smith), Smith now seems like he was an impediment to the Chiefs offense — rather than a facilitator.
Smith is usually death for wide receiver production, as Paul Richardson, the leading receiver among the wideouts on the team, is 62nd among all wide receivers in yards this year. While Richardson isn’t the best-known receiver in the NFL, the Redskins clearly thought they could turn him into a household name after giving him a five year, $40 million during the 2018 offseason. Smith has not helped Richardson reach his potential, which was to be expected. Jamison Crowder, who averaged 53 yards per game with Cousins the last two years, is only at 33.5 yards per game this year. The two touchdowns thrown to receivers this year is only better than the woeful Bills. Smith has thrown only 75 of his career 187 touchdown passes to receivers in a 13-year career, earning his reputation as someone generally hesitant to push it downfield and outside the numbers to receivers (2017 being a notable exception).
Smith, touted as a game manager, hasn’t proven able to manage many games so far this season in Washington. In the Redskins’ Week 3 win over the Green Bay Packers, Smith reaped the rewards of Adrian Peterson’s insane day with 19 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns. (Also, the Packers stink, apparently.) The Redskins’ only other win came over the Arizona Cardinals, who are 1-4, an offensive abomination, and won’t enjoy many wins in the coming games. Smith is a fine quarterback. He’s usually average — he’s currently playing below average. He can win games when given the right tools. But the Redskins haven’t given him much to work with. (And Smith is getting the players he has injured.)
Thus, they need a quarterback that’s better than Smith. They need a quarterback of the same caliber as Cousins. Thing is, they just had a quarterback of that caliber — they had Cousins. The Redskins outsmarted themselves by trying to manage their way around paying Cousins long-term. And they’re so far getting burnt for it. In all likelihood, they’re going to keep getting burned.