<
>

Numbers say Kirk Cousins must improve under duress

play
Cousins' performance in Week 1 cause for concern? (1:18)

Tim Hasselback and Matthew Berry on Kirk Cousins stating you should be worried with 'new talent' in front of him this year. (1:18)

ASHBURN, Va. -- The play should have resulted in a touchdown, or, at the least, a first down. Instead, it served as another reminder of an area Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has struggled: throwing under duress.

So rather than connecting with Jamison Crowder against an all-out blitz for a likely touchdown, Cousins threw a high pass that was intercepted. As coach Jay Gruden said Monday, it was similar to an interception he threw against Arizona last season.

"It was the same exact route and the same exact outcome," Gruden said. "When you have a free hitter in your face, you have got to do a good job of drifting and trying to make a good throw. The ball just got away from him."

It's not as if Cousins always falters in these situations. Sunday, he delivered a ball under duress to running back Chris Thompson, who then turned it into a 26-yard catch and run for a touchdown earlier in Sunday's loss to the Eagles. On a bootleg, he had safety Malcolm Jenkins in his face and righted himself to make a good throw. He also stepped up and pivoted to avoid another free rusher, then completed a pass.

But according to the stats, it is an overall area where Cousins must improve.

"Those are the plays you look at and say, 'I've got to be better,'" Cousins said after the game of his interception.

Here's how he compares to other quarterbacks in the NFL when throwing under duress the previous two seasons. (The definition: if a quarterback must slide to avoid pressure, or alter his throw or if the defender has a clear line on him).

Some stats from ESPN Stats & Information to consider, along with context:

Completion percentage: Among quarterbacks with at least 20 starts since 2015, Cousins ranks 20th in completion percentage (45.3) when under duress. He's one spot behind Aaron Rodgers. And Cousins' percentage ranks ahead of these quarterbacks: Philip Rivers, Derek Carr, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton.

But the result of those passes speaks to the difference. Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions when under duress. Rodgers? He's thrown 18 touchdowns to four interceptions. How about Brady, Marriota and Newton? A combined 33 touchdowns and 11 picks. So they might complete a lower percentage than Cousins, but they make teams pay more. And they don't turn it over.

Make them pay: That's one thing Cousins hasn't done and it's reflected in his touchdown totals. He's averaged 5.23 yards per attempt when under duress, 26th in the NFL -- one spot behind Joe Flacco and two behind Drew Brees. The top two quarterbacks in yards per attempt during this period: Jay Cutler and Tyrod Taylor. Ben Roethlisberger ranks fourth here, but has thrown six touchdowns to nine interceptions.

Blitz/duress: It's different when teams blitzed Cousins. Then, he averaged an NFL-best 8.86 yards per pass among quarterbacks with at least 20 starts. And he had a 96.9 passer rating. When blitzed and under duress? Cousins' numbers (four touchdowns, six interceptions, 53.6 passer rating) are comparable to Russell Wilson's (three touchdowns, four interceptions; 56.5 rating).

Passer rating: This isn't always the best measure, but it's one point of reference. So, in the previous two seasons combined, only two current starting quarterbacks have a worse passer rating when under duress: Manning and Alex Smith. But when using the raw quarterback rating, which factors in game situations, Cousins is last at 41.6 out of 100.

Sunday, the Eagles rushed seven against six blockers, so a linebacker was coming free up the middle as Thompson had to block another blitzer right beside him. That meant Cousins had to throw in a hurry. He threw off his back foot while drifting back. Typically, he throws over the top but on this play his arm appeared to drop a little lower. The combination of those factors caused the pass to go over the top of the 5-foot-8 Crowder.

Against Arizona last season, Cousins slid to his right with a blitzing D.J. Swearinger bearing on him from the other side, and another rusher winning against right tackle Morgan Moses. The Cardinals rushed seven as well, facing six blockers.

As Crowder broke inside -- he might have scored on this play, too -- Cousins couldn't get his hips around to throw back towards the middle. The pass was behind him and intercepted. Both were third-down plays. Cousins wasn't fooled by the pressure, he just didn't get the results he needed.

"You've got to be safe with the ball," Gruden said of Sunday's throw. "That was a good rush but I think the ball just sailed on him by a hair unfortunately."