ASHBURN, Va. -- The New York Giants claimed that Kirk Cousins' eyes gave it away, that it explained his four-interception game and that it’s something he must correct to take that so-called next step. If only it were that simple. As usual, it’s not.
For the most part, coaches have been pleased with Cousins’ eyes -- they're not staring down targets, moving the defense. Coaches have told him that as well. He could improve at manipulating defenders, although he definitely hurt Jacksonville with this tactic last week. Like the Jaguars, Seattle -- Monday's opponent -- focuses heavily on reading a quarterback’s eyes.
“If you stare down receivers against these guys, you’re going to throw more than four picks -- you’re going to throw about 11,” Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the Seahawks. “So we’ve got to make sure he does a great job with his eyes because that’s one thing Seattle does unbelievable is all eyes are on the quarterback, and they drive and they do an excellent job of rallying to the ball. So he’s got to do a good job with his eyes and be decisive with his throws and accurate.”
That’s not to say that Cousins' eyes have been the primary issue, especially on his interceptions. Of his five picks this season, only one can be directly attributable to him staring down a target the whole way. The rest have been a combination of mistakes that were evident in games last season, too. Cousins must correct his decision-making as much as get his eyes in the right spot and make better throws.
Against Jacksonville, for example, Cousins was praised for his ability to maneuver the defense with his eyes. It was evident on a handful of plays when defensive backs couldn't anticipate his passes, leading to open targets.
“Eye control, discipline with your reads and your progressions are all going to be a big part of being able to move coverage and get guys open, and that is one of the deals that is kind of the game within the game,” Cousins said. “So I think that is something that as a more experienced quarterback as I go and as I play I am going to get better and better at, and that should serve me well going forward as I get more experience.”
His interceptions this season have been due to a variety of reasons:
Against Philadelphia, Cousins overthrew a tightly covered Niles Paul, who clearly never anticipated having the ball thrown in his direction. Cousins missed him by 5 yards, and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, playing deep middle, showed his speed. He broke on the throw and made the pick. Cousins looked left off the snap -- to a two-receiver side -- but Jenkins held firm in the middle. Cousins could have manipulated him more, perhaps, but this was not about his eyes. The pass shouldn’t have been thrown.
Against the Giants, Cousins went to the wrong player -- a rookie wideout, Ryan Grant, against Prince Amukamara on third down. The play, typically, is supposed to go to the other side, where he had Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Again, this wasn’t about Cousins' eyes -- when a corner is in man coverage, he’s reading the receiver, not the eyes of the quarterback. It was a bad decision compounded by a bad throw.
Also against the Giants: Garcon wasn’t open; also, Cousins had the outside third of the field to work with yet put the ball too far to the inside, giving Giants safety Quintin Demps more of a chance to make the play. His eyes were OK initially, although he again could have manipulated Demps better. Cousins did not stare Garcon down at the snap, but he did look to him early in the route. But Demps did not break on the ball until it was thrown; like Jenkins, he covers a lot of ground.
Misreading the coverage
Also against the Giants: The Redskins anticipated man coverage, but Giants corner Trumaine McBride dropped to zone. With a rusher in his line of vision, Cousins threw blindly and with little zip because he could not step into the throw. This was as much about a pre-snap dissection and poor anticipation of the coverage.
This was a youthful mistake, as Cousins pump-faked to his right, but his eyes never left Jackson running down the left side. Giants safety Antrel Rolle stayed on the outside half by reading his eyes and made an easy pick. This was absolutely the one time Cousins’ eyes got him in big trouble.