What Should We Make of Kirk Cousins' Slow Start?

Cousins is racking up yards this year. Will his other numbers improve, or is he bound to regress after last season?

With the 102nd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Cousins was not the first Redskins quarterback selected in this draft, of course. A hundred picks earlier, Washington mortgaged the future on Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick.

Griffin was not only the second overall selection in the draft but also the second quarterback taken -- after only Andrew Luck. Meanwhile, Cousins was the eighth quarterback drafted and the second one the Redskins took. As a fourth-round insurance plan, Cousins did not look destined to lead the team.

Instead, Cousins is now in his second full year as the Redskins' starting quarterback. After bursting onto the scene last year with the 5th-highest quarterback rating and 10th most passing yards, it seemed Cousins was bound to leap up the quarterback rankings.

So far, this jump has not gone according to plan, as Cousins' yards (second in the NFL) are all that appear consistent to date, so what should be expected of Cousins for the rest of the year?

Making the Jump?

By almost all traditional measures, Cousins' season last year was a big success. He led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8%), was 15th in passing yards per game, and was 8th in yards per attempt among 34 quarterbacks who qualified, according to ESPN.

Furthermore, we can see the value Cousins added to Washington using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

Here, Cousins shined, as he had the eighth-highest Passing NEP (136.29), seventh-highest Passing NEP per play (0.24), and sixth-highest Passing Success Rate (51.49%) among 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs.

Needless to say, Cousins used great consistency and efficiency to provide some of the best quarterback value last year.

Let's take a look at Cousins' work last year compared to his pace this year.

Kirk Cousins Comp% Passing Yards Yards/Att TDs INTs Drop Backs Pass NEP Pass NEP/play Pass Success Rate
2015 69.80% 4,166 7.67 29 11 569 136.29 0.24 51.49%
2016* 63.70% 5,275 7.98 16 16 683 158.28 0.23 53.13%

Cousins' completion percentage has dropped about six percentage points, and he is 17th among ESPN qualified quarterbacks based on this traditional measure.

The numbers that should strike fear for Cousins are the touchdown and interception numbers. Right now, Cousins is on pace to toss only about half as many touchdowns as last year while adding about 50% more interceptions to his total from last year.

Although traditional statistics show negativity, the NEP seems to deem this wrong, so why is this, and what could it mean?

Positive Regression Incoming

If we look closely, we see that Cousins is actually stretching the field more than before, leading to increased yards per attempt.

This is buoying both his Passing NEP per play (seventh), and Passing Success Rate (sixth) among the 32 quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs so far this year.

Going beyond the statistics and metrics, there is another reason we should believe Cousins improves this year, and that is red zone misfortune.

Red ZoneCompAttCmp%YdsTDInt

Last year, Cousins was fifth in completion percentage among the 44 quarterbacks to attempt at least 10 red zone passes. He did this on his way to being interception free while in this premium field position.

Now, Cousins has the third-worst completion percentage among 38 players to have attempted a pass in the red zone. In all, he owns a Passing NEP of -17.09 in the red zone through three weeks. Last year, he owned a red zone Passing NEP of 36.35.

He should start to turn this red zone misfortune around this weekend when the Redskins face the Cleveland Browns, who rank 16th against the pass but who have had games against the Miami Dolphins (24th) and Baltimore Ravens (21st).

Between the matchup with the Browns, his red zone struggles, and his improved efficiency numbers, it is only a matter of time until Cousins sees positive regression that puts his traditional statistics in line with his play on the field.