LANDOVER, Md. -- What the Washington Redskins needed to happen is for Kirk Cousins to play well, show that he deserved consideration for a permanent job. That way, even if they went back to Robert Griffin III, the Redskins would be in good shape at this position.
They would have a solid backup plan if Griffin fails to develop.
But that isn’t what happened. And now that Griffin is about to return -- it’ll be this week at Dallas or the following week at Minnesota -- so, too, are the questions about the future at this position. It’s a two-decades-plus question the Redskins felt they had solved in 2012 when they drafted both Griffin and Cousins.
Instead, Cousins hasn’t proved he’s anything more than a guy capable of making a terrific throw (see the lofted pass to tight end Niles Paul in the first quarter) and a terrible one (see the interception thrown right to linebacker Wesley Woodyard). Which one will he ultimately be -- how much can he really change? And Griffin still needs to show that he’s not only the quarterback for the foreseeable future, but also a guy who can be the sort of big-time player they need at the position.
The Redskins coaches have not abandoned their belief that Cousins could be a quality quarterback. The problem they’ve had is that he can’t shake his mistakes, which leads to other issues. It’s about youth, yes. But is it only youth? When he threw his interception Sunday, he hung his head, a sign of damaged confidence and that led coach Jay Gruden to having little choice but to bench him after halftime.
“Sometimes he takes poor plays a little too hard,” Gruden said.
“When he’s playing well,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said, “he’s a great player but when his confidence is shaky, he’s not quite the same.”
The Redskins needed Cousins to at least show he could be a legitimate alternative. Of course, it’s really about Griffin anyway, but the Redskins still aren’t sure the direction he will take -- or when.
For now, Colt McCoy could be the best option until Griffin is ready. McCoy provided exactly what Washington needed in Sunday’s 19-17 win, capped by a 22-yard Kai Forbath field goal. For a guy who had not taken a first-team rep in practice, and who threw one pass last year and 17 the year before, McCoy was fantastic. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
But, beyond the numbers, he played with a poise that a guy like Cousins should emulate. Or even Griffin. McCoy threw long only twice -- both times to receiver DeSean Jackson. One of which was completed, then overturned by a penalty. The second one resulted in a 22-yard pass interference penalty that set up Forbath’s field goal.
McCoy did his job and nothing more. More than anything, McCoy avoided turnovers -- the No. 1 plague on this offense the past two seasons. He didn’t try to do too much; McCoy is a coach-in-waiting and provided a lesson to Cousins and Griffin. To stay sharp, McCoy routinely stayed after practice to work with practice squad receivers, getting in work on his throws. He has a good grasp on the offense. It’s a luxury to have a guy like him as a No. 3 quarterback and it saved the Redskins Sunday.
But McCoy is not the solution as a starter and nobody is pretending otherwise. He’s not a guy who routinely threatens defenses. He plays with moxie, but lacks a big-time arm. However, if teams want to play tight on Washington’s receivers, the Redskins do have players like Jackson who can win in that situation.
They needed a win and McCoy led them to one. What they really needed, though, was for Cousins to play well in a win. They needed to see Cousins recover from a bad play to string together a number of good ones. If he had done so, it would have given Washington a soft landing spot should Griffin fail. Instead, the Redskins are back to where they were a while ago, wondering what the future holds at this position.