LANDOVER, Md. -- The success of the play really began a long time ago, going back to games when Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins could have extended a play. Instead, he would throw a ball away, perhaps not sold on his own ability to do anything else. Coaches bemoaned times when Cousins had an opening, only to waste an opportunity.
They let him know. He kept it in mind. And now he’s making it work.
Cousins hasn’t suddenly turned into Russell Wilson or Carson Wentz. But he is using his feet more. And that resulted in one of his best plays in a while. So said his coach, Jay Gruden, after the 20-10 win over the New York Giants.
On a third-and-goal from the 15-yard line late in the third quarter, Cousins slid to his right as Jason Pierre-Paul applied pressure from that side. Cousins nearly tucked the ball to run, but instead he quickly brought it -- and his eyes -- back up. That’s when he hit receiver Jamison Crowder on the move in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
The Redskins weren’t going to look great all the time on offense against the Giants. They’re missing too many key parts to keep humming with that level of efficiency. But it helps when Cousins can make this sort of play.
“It was huge,” Gruden said. “Early in his career he might have stepped up and looked toward the ground and then look right toward the sideline. This time he stepped up and got his eyes down the field and kept them down there as he was moving. I thought it was one of his better plays since I’ve been here, quite frankly. It was a big play.”
Cousins has already run 33 times this season -- one shy of matching his career high. He has had success doing so, averaging 4.27 yards per carry; he averaged 2.82 yards last season and 1.83 the previous year. It’s not as if Cousins is a magician when running with the ball, but he has added another dimension to his game.
“These last few games he’s been a lot more mobile,” Crowder said. “It’s really helping us out.”
Coaching can’t make a guy more mobile. Experience does -- but it’s also a mindset. Cousins was always a guy who stayed in the pocket. He’ll never be confused with an Aaron Rodgers. But you don’t have to be super athletic to be effective on the move.
“You can work on it and throw bags at people’s feet and yell at them and scream,” Gruden said. “But until you actively go out and do it a few times, it’s hard to simulate. So it was big for him to get it done. He had great throws other than that, but I loved that one.”
Crowder did his part on the play, running a corner route. But then the Giants’ defensive backs, perhaps not anticipating an off-schedule play, broke down. No one plastered on Crowder as Cousins scrambled, enabling him to work back to an opening in the middle.
“I look at it as we’re playing in the backyard when you’re a young kid and guys just run around and find an open area,” Crowder said.
But it’s important to do that in the red zone. The more it becomes a regular occurrence, the more it helps Washington.
“It’s very important,” Crowder said. “Look at a lot of games in this league and in the red zone a lot of plays aren’t made on-schedule. A lot of guys get outside the pocket and they score on scramble plays. So it feels good to get in the end zone on a scramble play. That’s how a lot of plays shake out in this league.”
Cousins also has been sacked 25 times, one less than his previous high. He plays behind a line that usually protects him well, but Cousins said this statistic stems from holding the ball longer. He’s not taking longer before throwing: his time before the pass of 2.42 seconds is a career low. But there are times Cousins will try to extend a play only to get sacked.
“The longer I play, I’ll get a feel for how to move and escape,” Cousins said. “Part of the reason you make that play is that you take six sacks. I didn’t take six sacks last year. I didn’t take six sacks a game in 2015. If you’re going to make those kinds of plays, you’ve got to be willing to take a sack here and there. That’s been a big difference this year. I’m taking more sacks and probably not forcing the ball into coverage or throwing those scary throws as often as I have in the past.”
With a depleted lineup, it’s another way for Cousins to make plays. The Redskins need everything he can deliver.
“It opens up different opportunities when he scrambles,” Crowder said. “A lot of times the defensive backs don’t cover for a long period of time so if you extend plays, the DB’s get lost and you can find open lanes and you hope the quarterback finds you.”