Mark Rypien says Kirk Cousins playing at 'elite level'

DALLAS -- The most recent Washington Redskins quarterback to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl is impressed with the guy whom he hopes leads the team to its next one.

Mark Rypien watched the Redskins play six games this season, including the season-finale win over the Dallas Cowboys. He has watched Kirk Cousins mature into a consistent passer.

"He's taken ownership of the ballclub," Rypien said. "The last four weeks, outside of maybe Russell Wilson and Cam Newton ... they're probably the three hottest quarterbacks in the game right now. [Cousins] is playing at a real high level."

Like Cousins, Rypien was not a high-round draft choice and he had to overcome doubts about his own ability. Rypien became a full-time starter in 1989 and blossomed in 1991, earning league MVP honors while throwing for 3,768 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Cousins was a fourth-round pick who showed flashes during his first three years -- and also warning signs. The same was true earlier this season when he appeared to be more confident and smart in the offense yet still alternated between good game and bad game. Cousins has thrown 29 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions while setting a franchise mark for most passing yards in a season (4,166).

"He's just making plays," Rypien said. "His maturation level has grown exponentially the last four or five weeks. You can see him grow as a player, see him saying, 'This is my team.' He's not looking over his shoulder, kind of wondering, 'What goes on if I don't play well this week or if I don't play well for two to three weeks.' He knows 'this is my team' and if he doesn't play well, he can come back and play well.

"The first six or seven games he'd play great one week, the next week he didn't play as well, played great the next week and the next week he wouldn't play as well. Now he's stringing four or five games together that put him at the elite level as far as the quarterback position."

Rypien was upbeat about the Redskins' offense. He spread his praise beyond Cousins, pointing out tight end Jordan Reed and receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

"He has a myriad of guys," Rypien said of Cousins. "You can't just say, 'If we stop Jackson, we stop the Redskins. If we stop the run game and Jackson, we beat the Redskins.' Not anymore. They have different ways to beat you now and that's a Jay Gruden thing. He's always been recognized as one of the great minds in the NFL, with his offense in Cincinnati and now showing what Kirk is doing and what the team is doing."