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Kirk Cousins excels in fourth quarter, but downfield throws still an issue

ASHBURN, Va. -- Taking a look at some passing numbers by Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, with some analysis included (all numbers courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information):

Net yards per attempt: 6.46 (league average, 7.38). There are a couple reasons for this. One, they’re throwing a lot of short passes (their 178 attempts on such throws are third most in the NFL) in part because their run game isn’t working. Cousins has completed 85 passes to running backs or tight ends (fifth most in the NFL among quarterbacks who have played seven games), but two who are ahead of him in this category? Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. Also, without DeSean Jackson for six games, the Redskins didn’t have a consistent deep threat. Cousins has completed 31 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage (before Sunday, that only ranked him 10th among quarterbacks who have played seven games). His inaccuracy downfield contributes to the lower yards per attempt. So, too, does the fact that the Redskins only get 4.14 yards after the catch (29th).

Passing attempts 20 yards or more: Cousins has attempted 31 passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That’s tied for sixth most in the league. But he’s completed just seven, which is tied 26th. His completion percentage is 22.6; the league average is 36.6. That inaccuracy was a factor in several games -- Atlanta and the Giants games in particular -- and it must improve. Last year, Cousins was much better in this area -- he completed a combined 7 of 11 passes to Jackson and tight end Niles Paul. But with Paul out for the season and Jackson having missed six games, they’ve found no success. Last season, Cousins completed 2 of 10 such passes to Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts combined.

Fourth-quarter success: In his past four games, Cousins has a 95.7 passer rating in the fourth quarter. That includes two game-winning drives (against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay) and a game-tying one in Atlanta. The average passer rating in the fourth quarter is 92.4. During his last four games, his 6.11 yards per pass ranked 29th. Against the Bucs, for example, he attempted 11 passes on the final drive -- nine traveled six yards or less (including seven of the nine completions). It was a classic case of taking what the defense gives you -- but the 17-yard completion to Jamison Crowder required excellent touch (and a good grab).

Passing on first down: Cousins has an 89.8 passer rating on first down, completing 69.1 percent of his throws. The league average rating on this down is 91.2. Of his 97 pass attempts on this down, 54 have been for five yards or less. Again: extended handoffs due to run game failures.

Third downs: The problem with the Redskins’ offense is that they face too many third downs -- and too many that are obvious passing situations. In fact, Cousins’ 82 pass attempts on this down are fourth in the NFL (his 56 completions rank second). He has an 84.4 rating; the league average is 84.5.

Sacks: Cousins has been sacked once ever 34.6 pass attempts (eight times out of 277), which is better than last season. But he was good in this area in 2014 as well, getting sacked once ever 26.6 attempts. But he's been under duress more this season -- once ever 5.9 pass attempts compared to once every 7.6 attempts a year ago.

Red zone: Cousins has posted a 112.2 passer rating in the scoring area (fourth in the league; league average is 91.5) with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Cousins has completed 65.8 percent of his passes, but he has yet to throw a touchdown pass outside of the red zone (his longest scoring toss this season has been 13 yards). In fact, in Cousins’ career -- for all the interception issues -- he has yet to throw a pick in the red zone (in 75 pass attempts). He’s tossed 19 touchdowns.