ASHBURN, Va. -- His season started slow, with two tough outings that did little to prove he deserved a huge contract. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins' last few games before the bye helped make the decision a lot tougher.
The Redskins wanted to see consistency from Cousins if they were going to pay him $20 million-plus per season on a long-term deal. He hasn’t been consistent, but he has improved. That just means the final eight games not only will decide the Redskins’ playoff fate but likely his future in Washington. To earn that big deal, Cousins still needs to show he can play at a consistently high level.
Here’s a game-by-game look at how Cousins did in the first half, rated by dollar signs (one through four) that signify how much each performance might earn him. Obviously, the more dollar signs the better. And, as you can see by the ratings, the consistency still remains to be seen. That's why the second half is crucial.
Pittsburgh: Cousins started off poorly and showed how meaningless total yards can be. He threw for 329 yards, but no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 38-16 loss. Cousins was indecisive and missed some excellent opportunities for points. He struggled in the red zone, throwing a pick there late after not throwing any red zone interceptions in 17 games last season. Not what he or the Redskins needed.
Dallas: The Redskins moved the ball all day against the Cowboys’ defense and were in position to score 35-40 points. Cousins threw for 364 yards; they weren’t hollow, either. But Cousins missed more golden chances -- a deep crosser to a wide-open Jamison Crowder among them. Cousins also threw a late interception in the end zone, the result of poor mechanics and vision.
New York Giants: Cousins helped the Redskins win on the road, so that was good. He did make some big-time throws -- a 44-yard pass to receiver DeSean Jackson in which he baited the safety with a shoulder pump to the other side. Cousins made solid throws under duress and was more decisive than in the first two games. But he still didn’t have the look of a $20 million quarterback. The numbers were good: He completed 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns; there were some missed opportunities and another botched sequence before halftime. But it was a game on which he could build.
Cleveland: More good and bad. Again. Cousins threw an interception because he stared down a receiver, but he also maneuvered the safety a couple of times with his eyes for big completions. And he extended a play in the red zone, leading to a touchdown pass to Jordan Reed. Cousins' numbers were solid -- 21-of-27 for 183 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He was better in the red zone, throwing touchdowns on three of five opportunities. Not a cha-ching sort of day, but the red zone improvement helped.
Baltimore: The Ravens were intent on forcing underneath throws and that’s what Cousins kept taking. However, the offense did have chances for multiple deep shots and failed. Swirling winds didn’t help, but that certainly doesn’t excuse it all. Plus, Cousins was intercepted deep in his own territory and only a fortunate fumble out of the end zone on the return bailed him out. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 260 yards, one touchdown and an interception. His passer rating (85.4) and QBR (46.4) reflect the mediocre outing.
Philadelphia: Cousins’ stats suggest he struggled, but this actually was his best game of the season. He completed 18 of 34 throws for 263 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But Cousins finally made a series of off-schedule plays, something the coaches had wanted to see him do. Those plays extended drives and led to points and a victory.
Detroit: He continued his steady improvement and played well in his home state. Cousins threw for 301 yards and a touchdown and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives that put Washington ahead with just over a minute remaining before the defense gave up a touchdown to lose. Cousins connected on some medium-range throws, but more impressively handled a lot of pressure in the pocket. He avoided some sacks with good recognition and throwing the ball away. Other times he was able to connect under duress. More games like this would help. He had them in position to score 27 points, but a missed field goal and fumble at the 2-yard line hurt.
Cincinnati: A strong outing preceded another. Cousins completed 38 of 56 passes for 458 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He averaged 8.18 yards per pass attempt, his second highest total of the season. The 38 completions set a franchise record; the yardage total was the second-highest. Cousins delivered some big-time throws, too, like the third-and-13 to Crowder with one minute, 58 seconds remaining while facing a heavy rush. The Redskins again blew chances in the red zone, but Cousins did lead a second-half rally from 10 points down to force overtime where a missed 34-yard field goal cost them a win. He needs more games like the last two to build a case for huge money.