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Redskins’ Cousins passing more often and more effectively on first down

Sep 27, 2016, 12:59 PM EDT


Kirk Cousins is having his issues this season but passing on first down is not one of them. Passing on third down, however, has been an issue.

The Redskins have run 85 offensive plays on first down this year (stats via Pro Football Reference) and Cousins has passed on 50 of them. Last year through three games Washington had 87 total first-down snaps and Cousins passed 40 times.

In this case, more is better. Here is a comparison of Cousins’ first-down passing results between this year and Weeks 1-3 last year.


If you want a sign that Jay Gruden and Sean McVay are getting more pass happy, this is it, albeit in a small sample size. But if you are going to gain 9.2 yards per pass attempt on first downs, why not try it more often? The Redskins are averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per first-down rushing attempt so running isn’t futile but if you can gain more than twice as much, passing nearly 60 percent of the time is not a bad option.

However, Cousins and the Redskins aren’t getting it done on third down. Cousins’ third-down passer rating this year is 72.5 compared to 84.9 through three games in 2015. That’s a major reason why the Redskins’ third-down conversion rate is 39.5 percent, 17th in the NFL. For the 2015 season they ranked fifth at 43.5 percent.

The Redskins should think twice before changing their approach. They are averaging 6.5 yards to go on third down; the league average is 7.3. Cousins and company are in a position to succeed; they just need to execute a little better.

  1. Trey Gregory - Sep 27, 2016 at 1:21 PM

    I wonder how much the play calling has to do with our 3rd down conversions. I’ve generally felt like it was OK but it seems like a valid question at this point. Reed and Garcon are machines at 3rd down conversions. I’m sure they get most of the coverage. Seems like a good time to utilize Davis, Paul, and even Crowder.

    Just shooting for the first down on 3rd down isn’t all that different from the red zone. It’s essentially a short field where the defense can stand on a line and the pass rush tees off. If they fix this area then we should have a pretty lethal offense.

    • chimps000 - Sep 27, 2016 at 6:51 PM

      That’s also like saying if we score a lot of points, we should win games :)

      3rd down conversions are big, and even bigger are 3rd down red zone plays. I think it was on Ross Tucker’s podcast with greg cosell last week where they were saying 3rd down red zone plays are really 4 point plays, and should have their own statistical category. I listened to cooleys podcast this afternoon and he said that the skins 3rd down conversion rate outside the red zone was good, but they are like 1 in 15 in 3rd down conversions inside the red zone. Good God. That’s the money down, the down that QBs are getting paid many millions for, and the skins are awful in that area. I personally put most of that on Cousins lack of patience, unwillingness to move in and outside the pocket to extend plays, and his robotic obedience to just throwing it regardless of whether there is pressure on him, and regardless of if his guy actually has a chance of getting the first. That is certainly correctable.

      BTW thats a great nugget from Rich. Conventional wisdom is that first down is the best passing down, one obvious reason being defenses can’t predict run or pass beforehand, they have to play both. I thought last year they were way too predictable running on first down, and were throwing away yards. But if you become too predictable passing on first down, obviously that can hurt you as well.

      Bottom line, Cousins has been playing way too tight and the team needs to get that corrected if this season is going to be successful. I can forgive missing throws, but he isn’t seeing the field well, and is panicking and dumping it off on key red zone 3rd downs instead of actually being patient and making a freaking play. I have to put some of that on the coaches, what the hell are they telling him during the week.

      • Trey Gregory - Sep 27, 2016 at 7:35 PM

        Ha. Yeah I know but that’s also what the game boils down to. Saying we need a better defense is also like saying “if we can keep them from scoring less points than they keep us from scoring then we can win.”

        I’m just saying that it is possible to win with a defense like this and many teams have done it in the past. Fans don’t need to lose their minds if we’re giving up a lot of yards and even points. All it takes is about 5-6 plays for the defense to perform exactly how they’re supposed to. It’s the offense that’s holding us back. And when I say “how they’re supposed to,” I mean how we should expect from this roster. They didn’t assemble this roster expecting to lead the league in defense. Obviously it’s best to have a top defense and a top offense but that’s very hard to achieve and that’s not reality for where we are in the rebuilding process. If the offense does it’s job then all we need are a couple 3rd down stops and 1-2 turnovers and we should win. That should give people hope.

        And yes, Cousins needs to get better. I think it’s less about play calling and more about execution. Some of the playcalling has been brilliant to me. Cousins has missed multiple, multiple touchdown throws or big plays and we still march down the field and get in position to score on most drives. If they can get Cousins to make the proper read and execute then this team will really be pretty good.

        • COSSkinsFan - Sep 27, 2016 at 10:42 PM

          Funny, but not really that third down has been such an issue for us not only on offense but defense as well. I know the article is about offense, but it’s an issue on defense as well. How many third and long situations have we given up? If we perform better on 3rd down on both sides of the ball, we’ll be hard to beat.

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 28, 2016 at 12:12 AM

          Absolutely. One of the main reasons people say pass D is more important than run D and pass offense is more important than pass defense is because 3rd down is the money down. If you can succeed there then you stand a good chance of winning.

          And our passing offense should be stellar and we shouldn’t be giving up first downs on 3rd and long with this zone scheme. Guys seem to just not be executing properly. It’s a talent issue.

    • bangkokben - Sep 27, 2016 at 8:40 PM

      Perhaps they need to be a little more aggressive on third down. Call plays that have deeper options and target those options. I imagine the book on the Redskins is that they try to get just what they need.

  2. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Sep 27, 2016 at 2:37 PM


    • Trey Gregory - Sep 27, 2016 at 4:08 PM

      Yeah and they signed Sullivan. Which could be great if he stays healthy. Or a disaster if his back gives out. Either way, we’re probably in the market for a new starting center in 2017.

      But hopefully this ends the “Trent Williams for LG!” campaign. We should just quit if Long, Lauvao, or Kouandjo can’t adequately play LG.

      Watch our run game improve with a better power blocker at center. It will happen even if it’s just a slight uptick. What I’m really curious to see is if pass protection gets better, worse, or stays the same. It’s been good overall but there are a handful of plays where I think Cousins throws for a first down if the DT didn’t get such good pressure inside.

      • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Sep 27, 2016 at 4:26 PM

        “Inexperienced Kouandjio likely starter for #Redskins on Sunday.” – Rich Tandler

        We’ll see. Both the Kouandjio brothers were good enough to start for Alabama. But Cyrus is now 3rd tackle on the depth chart for the Bills, and Arie hasn’t played for us here.

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 27, 2016 at 4:44 PM

          I have very low expectations for Kouandjo. I’m honestly not even sure if he belongs in professional football. He’s looked bad in preseason. Just bad. As we all know, being a good college player doesn’t necessarily mean they will be good in the NFL. Especially when it comes to Bama. The entire team is usually significantly more talented than the opposition. Not too hard to look good when you’re surrounded by studs, have a superior coaching staff,

          But maybe he proves me wrong. Moses was underwhelming in preseason but has played better in actual game action. We will see. Or maybe not if Sullivan can start soon.

        • chimps000 - Sep 27, 2016 at 6:58 PM

          Im with you trey- kouandjio has looked terrible, and really he looked just like his scouting report described him coming out of alabama. Not athletic. This isn’t go to go well.

      • redskins12thman - Sep 27, 2016 at 5:51 PM

        Cousins is missing some wide open receivers for bigger gains, but at least he is connecting with most pass attempts and did not have a turnover versus the Giants!

        We were in the market for a center this season (2016); it just didn’t materialize.

        Lauvao is injured. Kouandjio has been a disappointment. I think the Redskins were hoping Kouandjio could challenge for starting LG spot; instead, he’s to be used only if no other choices.

        Kouandjio, Paea, Reyes, Jeron Johnson and Chris Culliver have been the biggest disappointments of late.

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 27, 2016 at 5:59 PM

          Goldson and Knighton don’t crack your list?

          Anyone who says McCloughan isn’t trying to address the defense is wrong. I counted the other day and I think it was 21-22 moves (free agents or draft picks just on defense in two years. Most of them just haven’t worked out.

          I know Lauvao is injured. But he’s not expected to be out long is be? What’s his status anyway? My point was just that he should be back and we still have Long and Kouandjo.

        • redskins12thman - Sep 27, 2016 at 6:24 PM

          At least they contributed on the field (relative to these other players)?

        • redskins12thman - Sep 27, 2016 at 6:25 PM

          Lauvao is like Breeland … week-to-week

        • chimps000 - Sep 27, 2016 at 7:05 PM

          Lauvao and Kory seem to always be hurt. We need new players at both positions, unfortunately. I would have rather we grabbed an OL or DL than a WR in the first round, to beat that dead horse. I’m not a scout, maybe there were no great big boy prospects at that spot besides Nkemdiche who i wanted, and who may flame out who knows.

          D Jax is too elite/game changing to let go, and no way is garcon worth the money we are paying him now to be a possession WR who we hardly give any targets to.

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 27, 2016 at 7:26 PM

          I think Garcon’s targets are the unfortunate side of having so many talented receivers more so than his value. People loved bragging about how we have such a deep receiving corps (including TEs) but there’s just not enough balls to go around. It will, however, be really nice to have all these guys if someone gets injured.

          I disagree that DJax is too talented to let go. He’s getting old. It’s best to cut ties with these guys before they decline than after. As in, better to do it too soon than too late and be on the hook for a contract without the production. That’s the Bill bellichick way. It also bothers me that he showed up “in the best shape of his life” in a contract year. Where was that commitment when a new contract wasn’t on the line? We talk about creating a winning culture: I think letting DJax go is a step toward that.

          And i love the Doctson pick. WR is a premium position and qualty WRs cost a lot. Doctson allows us to let the aging and expensive (not too expensive but still) receivers go and still have a fantastic receiving corps. I don’t think anyone will complain if this kid becomes the next AJ Green.

          Crowder, Doctson, and Reed are a great group for the top 3 targets. Then that’s where Garcon comes in. I expect DJax and Garcon to both be let go for cap/age reasons but IF Garcon is willing to take a big pay cut to stay then he’s a steady veteran presence and a great possession receiver who keeps that quality depth a thing for us. I just don’t see Jackson taking the discount but could see Garcon doing it.

        • redskins12thman - Sep 27, 2016 at 9:21 PM

          I’d like to hold onto Jackson and Garcon until we find someone better. We have three decent WRs, adding Crowder in the mix. Let Doctson, Grant, Ross, and three other WRs demonstrate that they deserve more playing time over Jackson, Garcon and Crowder before making the changes.

        • chimps000 - Sep 27, 2016 at 10:54 PM

          trey- totally disagree on WR being a premium position- there are so many talented WRs coming out now, you can get one in the later rounds, its a lottery. The best one in the game, Antonio Brown, was a 6th rounder. The elite big guys, there are only so many of them, harder to find an elite one late in the draft, although of course there are some here and there.

          Again, its the George Young planet theory, there are a lot of super athetic guys who are around 6 foot 200 pounds, not many super athletic guys who are 6’5 275 pounds…

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 28, 2016 at 2:05 AM

          I thought the planet theory was more about nose tackles. Or guys of that body type. The ones with great mass and strength who are still very quick and athletic. Because there’s literally hundreds (maybe thousands?) of world class athletes 6’5 or taller playing professional basketball across the globe.

          But we might be mixing definitions on premium position. I was talking about importance to the team more so than how easy it may or may not be to find them. Look no further than the franchise tag numbers to know the positions NFL teams value the most. WRs are 3rd only to QBs and DEs. There are some wrinkles in that argument (left tackles get the same franchise tag number as a right guard and 3-4 OLBs get the same as 4-3 OLBs). But even if you just look at some of the biggest contracts, WRs are up there.

          QBs are obviously the most important. Because the passing game is the most important. But there’s two sides to the pass. The throw and the catch. Theoretically the better your receivers are, the better the passing game is. As many WRs are there are out there, there’s still the top guys and the bottom guys. And teams want the top guys. Tom Brady was drafted in the 6tb round too. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to make 6th round QBs your strategy moving forward.

          This really isn’t my opinion. I’m going off something that’s been pretty well established by the teams for years. Just like QBs, offensive tackles, and edge rushers. WR isn’t a position you want to mess around at. There’s always outliers (Seattle). But that doesn’t make it a trend. Be it in 2017 or 2018, we’re going to lose both of our top 2 WRs (probably 2017). And we will need a cheap but good receiving corps if most of our salary cap is wrapped up in the QB, LT, OLB, and CB. You have to draft cheap replacements at premium (meaning expensive) positions when half of your salary cap is wrapped up in 4 players. We will all be happy to have Doctson when Garcon and Jackson leave after the season.

        • chimps000 - Sep 27, 2016 at 11:00 PM

          and D Jax is really elite… I know you don’t like him, but if the QB was playing at a higher level it would be even more apparent.

          He hasn’t shown any signs whatsoever of slowing down, but i agree that when he does, his value drops tremendously. He gutted it out last game while banged up and had a big impact- he is one of the best 3 players on offense with Trent Williams and Jordan Reed, and one of the best four on the roster with Norman.

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 28, 2016 at 2:19 AM

          Jackson is one of the top talents on the team. I’ll accept top 4 after those other 3. But that just means we don’t have a lot of elite talent on this team, not that he’s elite.

          I’ve gone on about the reasons I don’t think he’s elite. I like him as a WR. I think he’s very, very good. But ask non-biased parties outside of the Washington fan base and media to list the elite receivers in the NFL and I don’t think DJax cracks the list. Of course that depends on your definition of elite. I’ll go along with it if you want to say he’s top 10 (reluctantly) but he’s not in the same class as guys like AB and Julio.

          And his game completely depends on his speed. He will be 30 next year looking for his last big deal. And speed goes pretty quick for some guys after 30. As does durability and he already gets hurt a lot. He’s going to want a 5 year deal with 2-3 years of guaranteed money so that it’s really a 2-3 year deal. Why, oh why, would McCloughan want to sign a 30-year-old injury prone WR to a 2-3 year deal for bigish money when he has Reed, Crowder, and Doctson already locked up for that period of time? Especially with all the other needs this team has. We could get that DT you want in free agency with that money instead of using it on a receiver who will probably go on IR a year into the deal. Like I said, it’s better to cut ties too soon than too late with these guys. You don’t want to get caught holding the bill after they leave. Let the Dolphins deal with that.

        • snyderisanidiot - Sep 27, 2016 at 11:32 PM

          D-Jax forces the defense to account for him. For this reason, he can change the entire dynamic of a game himself. For that, I say keep the injury prone one trick pony Desean. I like the dude.

        • Trey Gregory - Sep 28, 2016 at 2:27 AM

          I like the little guy too. I think I’ve given the impression that I don’t because I’ve spent so much time saying I don’t think he’s quite as good as some fans think he is. But I still like him plenty.

          It’s just that small/speedy guys aren’t the only ones who change the dynamic of the defense. Those lengthy guys who are a tick slower but 5 inches taller threaten defenses too. They still get down the field but don’t need the separation to catch the ball. They can catch it over the DBs head or outmuscle the DB for the ball. But a defense is still threatened and will keep a deep safety over the top. Alshon Jeffrey is slow but threatens defenses. Jerry Rice was slow but definitely changed the dynamic of the defense. It’s just that those bigger guys are also redzone threats, can win jump balls, catch tough passes across the middle on 3rd down, and generally work the sidelines better generally speaking (I know AB is short and amazing but he’s the exception and is built thicker than DJax).

          Doctson was really an awesome draft pick and people are going to love him once he gets up to speed and becomes a starter. It probably won’t be until next year and then he’s going to be threatening defenses plenty and catching balls 3 feet over DBs heads in the end zone to make people forget all about that speedy “one trick pony.”

        • chimps000 - Sep 28, 2016 at 8:38 AM

          My interpretation of the planet theory is just that human attributes (size, strength, athletic ability, intelligence etc) generally follow a bell curve. There just aren’t as many 6’5″ guys who are huge and athletic as there are 5’10” guys who are athletic, and its not even close. Its a key reason why I like to get Oline and Dline in the first 3 rounds, while at RB and WR there are just a lot more talented guys who can be found later in the draft, by sheer numbers.

          QB is similar, in that there are very few humans who have all the tools to be successful. If you look around the league, you see that Brady is a major outlier for falling to the 6th round. Most guys were high picks.

          Sure, the WR position has become more valuable with the rule changes favoring passing offense, but they are easier to find in later rounds in the draft, and they are still less valuable and paid less than pass rushers (whether pass rushing DTs or DEs or OLBs in a 3-4) and than LTs, and I’m curious where they stand with elite RTs, because the value of RT has skyrocketed in recent years with teams moving their elite pass rushers all over.

          Look at the Pats model. They invest heavily in terms of money and picks in the Oline and front 7, they have spent very little draft capital and money in WRs (outside of one guy here and there like Gronk), and have done very well with a great QB and great coaching. They have gotten great production out of lower round WRs who they don’t pay all that much.

  3. redskinsnameisheretostay - Sep 28, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    3rd down conversion are far better indicators about how good a offense is in the NFL. 9.2 per pass on first down appears outstanding until you realize how using averages on sample size data can deceive. I don’t have a play-by-play account of each attempt. However, I do know if you launch 2 first down passes at say 16 and 18 yards while having two attempts at 2 yards each will still have the offense challenged with 2 out of 4 2nd and long attempts. The point is something about the 1st down numbers doesn’t ring accurate when a team has a record of 1-2, 18th in points scored, and 16th in total first downs.

    The Redskins are currently 5th in total offense in yards; so I have to wonder if they could become tops in the NFL if/when Kirk hits his stride and there is better balance running the ball.

  4. Calvin Person - Sep 28, 2016 at 1:20 PM

    Tell me this ! Why dont we use more TE sets in redzone ?! We have Reed Davis & Paul only one thrown to in redzone is Reed . We never run playaction ! Its always a empty set formation . We lucky Kirk fumble didnt turn into a fumble return for 6 . Run more & PA the team will score 6 instead of 3 !

    • Trey Gregory - Sep 28, 2016 at 2:00 PM

      I’m with you here man. I’m sure Reed gets a lot of attention down there. But there’s a reason for that, it’s because he’s so good. But if they put 2-3 guys on Reed then who’s coving Paul and Davis?

      They need a special “big” Redzone passing package. I’m sorry but Djax is almost useless in the Redzone and shouldn’t be on the field. Use 3 TEs. Split one (probably Reed) out wide with Garcon opposite (replace Garcon with Doctson when he’s ready) then have Jones or Thompson in the backfield. Get the biggest targets we have out there and make some plays. You could draw up 5-6 different plays from that formation and randomly rotate through them so the defense doesn’t know what’s coming. Archives

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