The big problem isn't so much that Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was bad. He wasn't. He also wasn't great. And when it mattered in the fourth quarter, it was a cumulative effort that killed the Redskins' chances for a win.
After watching Cousins' performance again, it was clear he did some things well. He wasn't great, though, and absolutely can -- and must -- play better. It also was clear that if the Redskins want to "manage" the game then they need someone to bust through for a long play now and again. Every team wants those players, of course. The Redskins have one in DeSean Jackson, but he's now lost for three-to-four games and as much help as he provided downfield last season, he still only caught 56 passes and the offense ranked 26th in points scored. No matter the quarterback, the Redskins were always going to need plenty of help from the supporting cast.
But a few things jumped out about Cousins' game good and bad:
Decisiveness: Cousins' strength all summer and even last season was getting rid of the ball on time. More often than not he hit the plant step and the ball was out. It's a big reason Miami only recorded one sack. The Dolphins were in position to record two more late in the game with blitzes, but Cousins recognized the blitzes and the ball was out. However, one led to an interception and the other was incomplete. More on those in a minute. Don't be surprised if the Redskins call for more quick throws Sunday vs. St. Louis considering the Rams' defensive front. The Redskins lessened the burden on the protection with quick throws and Cousins did his part by not holding onto the ball on longer-developing play-action tosses.
Ten points: The Redskins had good field position and ran the ball well. It should have resulted in more points. In some ways, it felt a lot like last season's opener when Robert Griffin III threw for 267 yards (29-for-37) and the Redskins only managed six points. They kicked themselves after that one as well and found positives to build upon. That's not to say Griffin should be starting -- not based on the body of work. But it is to say Cousins has to produce more -- when you're the starter, more is expected. He's not alone, though. The Redskins need to find a way for some quick strikes minus Jackson.
The interceptions: The first one resulted from a scramble, with Cousins starting up in the pocket and taking his eyes downfield then locking onto Jordan Reed. The better move in hindsight, for Reed, would have been to simply stop running. But Cousins did not see the defender either and that's his responsibility. The second interception was a 50-50 ball on which the defensive back made a terrific play. I don't mind Cousins taking a shot -- it's what you do with your top receivers. Also, there's room to the outside for Pierre Garcon and Cousins, with a blitzer in his face, might have had to throw a little early. I wonder if that allowed the corner to read the play better and not fall for Garcon's plant step to the inside -- because that did not create any extra separation. The ball was perhaps a touch inside, giving the corner a chance for the pick. Cousins also was looking at Garcon from the snap. Just like sacks, interceptions aren't always one person's fault -- but often there are things each person involved could have done better.
Fourth and 7: Not blaming Cousins for the incompletion on the Redskins' last drive. If Reed cuts in front of the safety, as he's supposed to do vs. that look, then there's an excellent chance it's caught. Cousins can't wait to see if Reed breaks right -- not with pressure in his face. This was a case of a quarterback having to trust that his target read the play properly.
Play that bugged me: Was the one before the interception. Cousins threw a deep out to Reed that was broken up thanks to safety help. Neither the play design nor the execution did anything to fool the safety. Cousins looked at Reed the entire way and no route from the three receivers to the other side were going to occupy the safety's attention. So the safety was free to read his eyes, broke early on the ball and made a play. He was running before the ball was out of Cousins' hand. Otherwise, Cousins would have had Reed one-on-one with a corner and it becomes a jump ball. Reed excels in those situations -- as on the fade route for a touchdown.
Throws I liked: The 25-yard toss to Reed. Cousins used play-action, turned, took two steps, planted and threw a nice ball over the top of the linebacker and in front of the safety. Cousins threw one pass away in the red zone that was the right move; on a boot to his right no one was open. He didn't force it and threw it away. Next play: touchdown. Also liked a 21-yard pass to Garcon on third-and-5 in the first half; Cousins saw the corner squat on the underneath route and he dropped a pass over him to Garcon.