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Redskins need Kirk Cousins to be great, but that's their problem

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Pick up Thompson, Perine in Kelley's absence (0:35)

Redskins RB Rob Kelley is expected to miss multiple weeks after suffering injuries to both his knee and ankle, and Matthew Berry suggests grabbing Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine as replacements. (0:35)

The debate over Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins -- his every throw results in questions of his worth -- obscures one reality. And a problem. It's not whether Cousins is great or not; it's that the Redskins too often need him to be great in order win.

There have been exceptions since Cousins became the full-time starter in 2015. But too often, it holds true. If Cousins doesn't play well, the Redskins struggle.

If he throws an interception -- just one -- they usually lose. He's thrown a pick in five games this season; the Redskins have lost four of those. Carson Wentz has thrown a pick in five games; the Eagles have won four.

Quarterback is the most important position. Cousins' contract is always a focal point, so a lot of the debate centers around whether he's worth a certain amount. That's not going to change.

More often than not -- thanks to a poor run game and inconsistent defense -- they need him to be something he isn't. He's not going to the Hall of Fame. Most aren't. If you think that means he's not worth a certain amount per year, that's fine. Pretty soon there will be a number of quarterbacks in the $25 million range who won't be in Canton, either.

The bottom line, though, is Washington has a defense that's ranked 20th in yards per game and 26th in points allowed. The Redskins have a good, young talent base, but losing Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis hasn't helped. The coaching staff is also solid. There's reason for optimism, but when will that turn into consistent results?

It hasn't helped that they've played seven of the NFL's top 11 scoring offenses -- and eight of the top 10 when it comes to yards per play. That's a brutal schedule. Look for second-half improvement as the schedule eases.

Still, if the Redskins want to be anything other than ordinary, those numbers must improve. That's true of these numbers too: The Redskins are 23rd in rushing yards per game and 25th in yards per carry.

Look at Sunday's opponent, the New Orleans Saints, for proof that just about any quarterback needs help to win. The Saints have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, yet they finished 7-9 in four straight seasons before 2017. This year? They have a running game and a defense -- and Brees -- and they're 7-2. The difference, of course, is Brees has won a Super Bowl; no one wonders how far he can lead a team.

From 2013-15, Matt Ryan's Atlanta Falcons went a combined 18-30. He's clearly shown what he can do when he has more talent around him, but he wasn't enough in other years. Since 2010, the Chargers, led by Philip Rivers, own a 54-67 record.

You can use those stats to bolster your argument for and against Cousins. That's not the point. His value is what it is, and you can pay it or not. The point is: No matter who's at quarterback, the Redskins need to create a situation where they can win more if the quarterback doesn't play great. Yes, Cousins threw a costly pick against Minnesota -- so did Vikings quarterback Case Keenum.

Cousins has posted total QBRs of 77 or higher in three of the five losses (QBR measures the impact on a game much more than passer rating). The average QBR in a win by quarterbacks this season is 65.4. In two of Washington's wins, the Redskins showed what can happen when other facets work: A strong run game led the win in Los Angeles, and the defense spurred the win in Seattle. Cousins made plays when needed.

Since 2015, Cousins has thrown a combined 44 touchdown passes to six interceptions in the Redskins' 21 wins. In the 19 losses, it's 22 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. He's never thrown more than one pick in a win. They're 6-15 in games where he's thrown one interception. Compare that to Wilson: The Seahawks are 8-9 when he throws a pick.

So for those saying Cousins alone can't carry the Redskins, you're absolutely right. Most QBs can't.

That's not to say you spend whatever it takes to keep a guy if you don't love him. So if the Redskins don't love Cousins? Simple: Don't pay him in the $25-$30 million range. Find another solution and move forward. They exist.

Then you need the defense and run game to improve. Until that happens, the Redskins will find themselves needing great play from one position. That's too much to ask on a consistent basis. And that's not Cousins' fault.