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Need to Know: Redskins’ Cousins needs to improve performance under pressure

Jul 13, 2016, 5:35 AM EDT

Cousins sacked vs. Eagles

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, July 13, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 185 days ago. It will be 61 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Franchise tag contract deadline 2; Preseason opener @ Falcons 29; Final roster cut 52

Cousins needs to improve his passing under pressure

They say that pass defense starts with pass rush. The flip side of that coin also is true; a passing offense starts with pass protection. This was especially true for the 2015 Redskins and is likely to remain vital this coming season.

All quarterbacks are less effective when they have pressure in their faces. In 2015 putting pressure on Kirk Cousins made a huge difference in his effectiveness compared to when he had no pressure.

According to Football Outsiders, the Redskins’ passing offense was the fourth most effective in the NFL when Cousins was able to stand in the pocket unmolested (as calculated by FO’s DVOA metric; see the post for details). But the offensive DVOA dropped from 69.0 percent all the way down to minus-110 percent when he was under pressure. That drop of 179 percentage points was the second biggest among all quarterbacks who dropped back to pass at least 200 times last year. Brian Hoyer of the Texans had the biggest drop, 190 percentage points.

Fortunately for Cousins and the Redskins the quarterback wasn’t under pressure very often compared to the rest of the league. The pressure rate was 20.5 percent; only four quarterbacks faced pressure less often. As a result of the protection and his ability to get the ball out quickly Cousins was able to enjoy a very productive first season as a starter.

But there were still 119 pass plays out of 569 total (21 percent) where Cousins was under pressure and performing at a severe disadvantage. One of the knocks on Cousins has been his inability to make plays off schedule, when things break down. This stat reflects that to an extent, although it should be noted that both Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, two of the games most noted improvisers, also ranked in the bottom half of passing under pressure compared to not being under pressure. Still, it’s something that Cousins to work on.

The FO article accompanying the stats doesn’t go into every QB in detail but they do a paragraph on Cousins:

Opposing teams only managed to get pressure on Cousins 20.5 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in football, which certainly helped him put up a career year. Washington’s weak schedule (25th-ranked by DVOA) also played a part in his drastic improvement, so it will be interesting to see whether Cousins can keep up his level of play against tougher competition.

That last sentence is particularly interesting and perhaps why the Redskins seem to be willing to gather another year’s worth of evidence before they decide how much they are willing to pay him on a long-term contract.

The more Cousins can close the gap between how he performs with and without pressure the better off he and the Redskins will be.

In case you missed it 

  1. redskins12thman - Jul 13, 2016 at 5:56 AM

    As you point out, the offensive line is vital to Cousins’ continued success and the team faces a tougher schedule this season — six games outside the division in particular: Steelers, Bengals, Vikings, Packers, Cardinals and Panthers; division games are always tough. The offensive line did a very good job in pass protection in 2015 but wasn’t as strong in the running game. The offensive line must continue to do well when passing, and improve in helping the run, for the Redskins to have a good season. Even though Cousins struggles when under pressure (as do other quarterbacks), he does seem to anticipate pressure better than RGIII did. How did Cousins in 2015 compare to RGIII in 2013 and 2014 when both were under pressure?

    Even if Cousins performance dissipates this season, I cannot envision a scenario where he doesn’t return to at least compete for the Redskins starting quarterback position in 2017 and 2018.

    • bangkokben - Jul 13, 2016 at 10:39 AM

      “How did Cousins in 2015 compare to RGIII in 2013 and 2014 when both were under pressure?”

      Both were in the bottom three of the league according to the article inferred from the paragraph on Bortles. However, what is important is how someone does without pressure. Why? Because that constitutes the vast majority of snaps — nearly 80% for the Redskins. Being in the top five (fourth) is remarkable. The fact that both QBs were so low could indicate that has something to do with offense, how its coached to a young QB, or simply because both QBs were inexperienced. If it’s inexperience, the hope is that he can learn from it and improve although there is no real way of practicing those situations.

      • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 13, 2016 at 12:07 PM

        Without pressure, the better half QBs, if not, more should do well in the NFL. I’m not sure how that cannot be expected. Under pressure is far more criticle because tight games against high caliber teams is when that pressure will normally come. I agree Cousins as a first year starter was playing with a learning curve and its to be expected that he’d struggle against it. I just hope he can improve in that category this season.

        Under pressure, what is most important is the turnover ratio. Some QBs can perform poorly under pressure but still get by if they avoid giving the ball away. I’m not sure how Cousins faired in that category but it doesn’t take away the improvement he made overall in not turning the ball over during the season.

        • Trey Gregory - Jul 13, 2016 at 1:24 PM

          You know, I wasn’t really worried about this pressure thing. But I also didn’t realize how drastic the drop off was. Pressure is every QBs weakness but your OLine will not always going to be 5th in sacks and you can’t drop off that bad. Maybe I should be more concerned.

          It’s a legitimate point to say Cousins was learning and developing. He should improve here with more reps. But staying cool under pressure is also an intangible. He’s probably been dealing with real pressure since high school, at least college.

          I can see it improving with confidence though. I think so many of Cousins’ problems had to do with confidence.

        • bangkokben - Jul 13, 2016 at 3:48 PM

          First of all, let me be on record as saying THAT THIS is one of those areas we need to see improvement in Kirk’s game. DVOA is a good catch all for all stats that matter so it is relevant. For instance directly before the comeback against Tampa, Cousins was immediately sacked, stripped, and the ball was returned for a TD as Moses gave up his first sack of the season. This is clear pressure.

          As you say, responding to pressure is critical — agreed. I don’t dispute this. However, when you look over the data, you can make a couple of observations. Rank the top ten WITHOUT pressure and you have a list of those QBs that had good 2015 seasons. Why? Because 75-80% of their seasons weren’t under pressure or marked by the charting services as being under pressure. Then rank the top ten QBs that faced the most pressure and you see that most of these QBs tend to hold on to the ball a little longer — they tend to be athletic, inexperienced, or both although there are a few who are sneaky athletic. The more experienced ones also appear in the top ten in handling pressure while the others do not with the exception being Jamis Winston who was in both top tens in facing and responding to pressure but lower in without pressure.

          All this to say, yes, Cousins needs growth in pressure situations but my hypothesis is that growth doesn’t necessarily have to start at the bottom. I think some of the pressure stats are because quarterbacks put themselves in those situations. Cutler will hold onto the ball longer than most QBs and rely on his arm or ability to run to escape pressure. Wilson will do the same thing. On the other hand, Cousins, Brees, Brady will chuck the ball before pressure is charted on many plays. At least that is my hypothesis.

        • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 13, 2016 at 9:30 PM

          Bang, you make many valid points here on QB success without pressure. I think my point is that Cousins lack of success under pressure correlates to the quality of opponents he played. I think we all agree there will be more quality opponents this season. Regardless, I really do feel the offense will be much improved and especially in stretching the field. Hopefully injuries don’t curtail the progress.

          So while statistically too QBs also lead in non pressure passing, it’s the close games against better teams is where Cousins season will be defined.

    • bangkokben - Jul 13, 2016 at 10:49 AM

      Specifically, 2014 head-to-head in a slightly different format:

      Qualifying QB Team Plays Pct Pressure Rank With Pass Pressure Without Pass Pressure Difference
      Yds/Play DVOA Rank Yds/Play DVOA Rank Yds/Play DVOA Rank
      8-K.Cousins WAS 216 17.6% 3 3.4 -75.2% 20 8.7 35.6% 25 -5.3 -110.9% 11
      10-R.Griffin WAS 267 29.6% 31 1.2 -155.0% 36 7.9 33.3% 27 -6.8 -188.3% 36

    • Trey Gregory - Jul 13, 2016 at 1:26 PM

      I don’t even understand why you would bring up RG3. It’s time to let it go guys.

  2. abanig - Jul 13, 2016 at 6:00 AM

    Basically, Cousins has to become more of a playmaker. Rarely did he create when plays broke down. I think he will move more in the pocket this year, make people miss and create room where there is pressure.

    I think it’s the next step in his development. It’s really the main thing he has to work on this offseason. He has to make more “off scheduled” plays as Kevin Sheehan would say.

    By the way Rich, good job yesterday on Kevin & Cooley w/ Thom Loverro. I didn’t know about that 2nd week rule for vested players. Now it makes total sense why they haven’t signed a vet running back and probably won’t until sometime in September – if their young back ups struggle.

    • sidepull - Jul 13, 2016 at 7:33 AM

      Yea he doesnt need to be a playmaker running around like Wison. If he could just manage to move around just enough to extend plays when in trouble, like a Romo, that would be an improvement that’s for sure. As much as I hate the Cowgirls, Romo who is no speedster, sure could make the pressure miss with that subtle little move of his and the defense knew he was capable of it and still missed his non running arse. I guess that “sixth sense” helps. I dont know if that’s something that is developed is it?

      • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 13, 2016 at 12:11 PM

        Cousins doesn’t have to be the playmaker that Wilson is but he has the ability to be one. The offense scheme was kept quite cinservative most the season. The need to open it up more for Cousins this season.

    • Rich Tandler - Jul 13, 2016 at 8:01 AM

      @abanig, thanks for tuning in.

    • Trey Gregory - Jul 13, 2016 at 1:30 PM

      I don’t know if he HAS to take that step. There have been plenty off of QBs who were basically statues in the pocket. Most recently Peyton and Brady come to mind. If he can get the ball out quickly, be accurate, read defenses, and avoid turnovers then we should be good.

      • Rich Tandler - Jul 13, 2016 at 2:30 PM

        It has nothing to do with mobility. It’s step away from the pressure, reset, throw. If you look at the chart in the linked article you’ll see that Brady and Manning are both in the top 10 when it comes to declines in performance under pressure.

        • Trey Gregory - Jul 13, 2016 at 5:12 PM

          Maybe I was a little confused as to what we were talking about in this particular thread. When Bang said off schedule plays I took that as rolling out or scrambling and making a play.

          If we’re talking about stepping up or moving in the pocket, then absolutely. I think that’s a huge part of the game.

      • abanig - Jul 13, 2016 at 6:06 PM

        That’s definitely true but Cousins is capable of it. What statues like Brady & Manning had though was elite pocket presence and they moved around/up & down in the pocket to create passing lanes and avoid the rush.

        All young Qbs must improve in those areas, including Cousins.

  3. smotion55 - Jul 13, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    Thanks as usual Rich : This stat is the most revealing of where he is as a starting QB and how much he should and or will get paid in the future. I now see why they might not want to take a leap of faith and a pocket full of cash for him yet.. Still think it is a Snyder move and they are stuck on stupid on this matter.. There is no other alternative in the near future and as hard as he works at his craft the right thing to do is sign him unless they absolutely know that the resentment Kirk has for Snyder can’t get resolved.

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 13, 2016 at 12:18 PM

      I agree Rich hit on a key component on why the team hasn’t yet made the move to invest long term with Cousins.

      I’m not sure where you came up with Snyder is holding back the team from signing Cousins. I’ll bet it is mostly Scot. Snyder has always had an open wallet for players. I don’t think that had changed one bit. What has changed is his involvement with player decisions.

      I know Snyder is a convenient evil to place blame on just about anything related to Redskins drama but this notion of Snyder again intervening is more soap opera than reality.

    • sidepull - Jul 13, 2016 at 12:32 PM

      I also must have missed the article or statements made by Cousins in regard to the resentment Cousins harbors for Snyder. News to me.

    • Trey Gregory - Jul 13, 2016 at 1:37 PM

      You guys obviously haven’t been paying attention. Ever since we hired McCloughan he can do no wrong. So if something goes poorly (a bad draft pick, a bad cut, contract issues, whatever) it gets dumped on Gruden and Snyder and all the praise is levied onto McCloughan when things go right.

      Scot McCloughan is the most infallible man to ever walk the earth. Jesus has a poster of him on his wall and the currency in heaven reads “in Scot we trust.” Didn’t you know?

      For a man who has so much control over his franchise (Snyder) it’s amazing that others get so much credit when things go right. Snyder is either pulling the strings or he’s not guys. Make up your mind.

      • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 13, 2016 at 9:17 PM

        I got a kick out of the Jesus comment. It’s quite true what you say here on many posters. I also contend that if Snyder is holding back the team on a long term signing then why do that now and not force Gruden to start RGIII last season. And why not force Scot to retain RGIII this year. And why allow Bruce to place a Feanchise Tag on Cousins?

        The point is there are series of events that transpired where Snyder could have intervened to thrawt Cousins future here. Instead, he waits for Cousins to improve for the better half of the season while leading the team to a NFC East Cahmpionship and playoff before stepping in and declaring “enough with this Couisns business” we need to focus on other QBs for a future here!”?

        • Trey Gregory - Jul 14, 2016 at 3:17 AM

          Yeah I completely agree about Snyder. The reality is that Scot McCloughan is one of the best things to ever happen to him. It shouldn’t be so inconceivable that Snyder learned over two decades of losing and is ready to let a real GM run the team. I also think McCloughan would get out real quick if Snyder returned to his old ways.

          To my point about the McCloughan worshippers: I think the guy is a great GM. I hope he finishes his career in Washington. But even the best GMs make mistakes. And McCloughan has made plenty of mistakes in the past. It’s getting absurd when fans break out pitchforks if you question anything he does. We have the luxury of hindsight. It’s OK to use it. I’m not saying I could do better, just that some things become clearer after the fact.

          And I don’t think you can credit McCloughan for the team’s success while bashing Gruden. Gruden has helped this team in many ways and it’s time to get over his first season and recognize that. Just, at the same time, realize McCloughan is making the roster and Gruden is coaching the players he gets. Nothing drives me crazier than when someone lauds McCloughan for the roster then bashes Gruden for “keeping” some bum on the team.

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