CINCINNATI -- The day Jay Gruden foresaw more than three years ago has finally arrived.
Quarterbacks want to be like Andy Dalton.
Cue the soundtrack to an early 1990s commercial anthem: "Sometimes I dream... that he is me..."
In this story by ESPN colleague John Keim on Wednesday, we found out that Kirk Cousins is doing something some other quarterbacks might soon admit to doing. He's trying to play like the Cincinnati Bengals' fourth-year quarterback, who has his team off to a 2-0 start and has started to prove that he might be worth every penny of the six-year, $115 million contract extension he signed back in August.
Built similarly to Dalton and blessed with athleticism and mobility a lot like Dalton's, Cousins is hoping that Gruden, the Bengals' former offensive coordinator who now is Washington's head coach, can get him to taste some of the same success that Dalton has experienced at the start of his career.
"I'm not 6-5; I don't run a 4.3," Cousins said. "I don't have an arm that can throw it 90 yards. If I don't have good command and if I'm not making good decisions and if I'm not doing a great job of managing the game, then I'm not going to be playing very long."
Check, check and check. The same things could be said for the 6-foot-2 Dalton, who ran a 4.87-second 40-yard sprint at the 2011 combine. When he doesn't make good decisions, Dalton struggles. And for whatever reason, those struggles seem to get magnified more for him than when it happens with other quarterbacks.
That was regularly the case under Gruden's guidance, but so far, Dalton hasn't shown any signs of poor decision-making under current Bengals coordinator Hue Jackson. In two games under Jackson's direction, Dalton hasn't thrown an interception and he hasn't been sacked. He also has performed as well as he has without his top two receivers and one of his top pass-catching tight ends.
None of this, however, is to insinuate that Dalton was pitiful under Gruden. Last season, Dalton had five 300-yard passing games, including one four-game stretch of such contests. He also completed a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes.
"We don't expect Kirk to go out and win the MVP next week or win a Super Bowl to prove he's an upper-echelon quarterback right away," said Gruden, who is starting Cousins this week after the quarterback rallied Washington to a victory over Jacksonville after Robert Griffin III's ankle dislocation last week. "We do expect him to produce and play within the offense and not make mistakes and do what he's supposed to do. We expect him to be effective."
"They're drop-back quarterbacks and they're both very good, competitive, smart players," Gruden added. "But Andy's done it. Andy's proven it. He's won."
Dalton still hasn't won a playoff game, but he's anxious to scratch that task off his to-do list.
For now, Cousins' objective is to simply be like Dalton.
"If I just do what [Gruden] tells me to do and stay patient, trust the process, keep working, good things are going to happen," Cousins said. "He has a proven track record. ... I watched him have a lot of success with Andy Dalton."
"... Like [Andy], if I could be like [Andy]."