Can Kirk Cousins Thrive as the New Starter In Washington?

In the midst of Robert Griffin's injury, Kirk Cousins led Washington to it's first win in 11 months. Can he keep it going?

The Redskins entered Sunday’s matchup against the Jaguars riding a nine-game losing streak stretching back to the 2013 season. And while they did end up securing a 41-10 victory in front of their hometown fans, they lost their starting quarterback, Robert Griffin III, early on due to a dislocated ankle.

There has been no official timetable released for Griffin’s possible return, but early indications look like he is going to miss a good chunk of time.

His replacement, Kirk Cousins, came in and threw a touchdown on his first offensive possession, and played extremely well for the remainder of the game.

Prior to Griffin’s injury, former Redskins’ quarterback Joe Theismann even went as far as to say Cousins was the better quarterback, and should have been the Redskins’ starter Week 1.

Setting aside all the conjecture, as the new clear-cut starter in Washington, what can we expect from Cousins moving forward?

Cousins vs. Griffin: By The Numbers

If you’re an avid reader here at numberFire, you’ve probably heard us reference our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. For those who may be new to the site, you can read up about our advanced metrics in our glossary.

It’s important to note that Griffin has attempted 563 passes in his first three seasons, while Cousins has only attempted 236 in the same time frame. Therefore, to avoid the problem of mismatched sample size, I will include Passing NEP per drop back numbers to show both players' performance from an efficiency standpoint. Below I’ve listed both players’ Passing NEP results for 2013.

NamePassing NEPPassing NEP per Drop Back
Robert Griffin III20.860.04
Kirk Cousins-40.71-0.25

Kirk Cousins’ 2013 season in terms of our advanced metrics was an absolute disaster. Among the 45 quarterbacks who attempted at least 100 passes last season, Cousins finished 41st in Passing NEP and 44th in Passing NEP per attempt.

Griffin III, on the other hand, ranked 20th in terms of Passing NEP and 22nd in Passing NEP per drop back among the same group of players.

There’s no question that Griffin’s play dropped off in his second professional season. But the Redskins were clearly better off with Griffin under center rather than Cousins.

Does Rushing Ability Matter?

In 2012, Griffin’s running ability added another dimension to Washington’s offensive attack. In 2013, however, RGIII ran less and was much less effective when he did.

His rushing touchdowns went from seven to zero, his yards sharply decreased, and his yards per attempt dropped from 6.8 in 2012 to 5.7 in 2013.

Cousins has only logged eight career rushing attempts, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

In instances in most NFL offenses, you would assume that the more mobile quarterback would hold an edge if both players were placed in a vacuum. But new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s offense may be one of the exceptions to that assumption.

According to a Washington Post article, Gruden may have favored Cousins all along. It seems that Gruden prefers a more natural “pocket passer” to run his offense, with Cousins fitting that profile more closely than Griffin III. Gruden's quarterback in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton certainly fits the pocket passer mold as well.

Another possible benefit that Gruden is banking on with Cousins under center is the fact that his quarterback would theoretical be at less risk of injury due to Cousins not being outside of the pocket very often. And given Griffin’s well documented history of recklessness outside of the pocket, this may have some validity.

Captain Kirk's Ship

For better or for worse, Cousins will now be guiding the Redskins’ offense for the foreseeable future. He played extremely well in Week 2 - his Passing NEP totaled a solid 15.84 - but keep in mind that he played the Jaguars, who appear to be the worst team in the league.

Week 3 offers a stiffer test as Washington travels to Philadelphia for an inter-divisional showdown. If Cousins can move his offense effectively on the road against a more talented defense, then we can talk about his place as the best option for Washington long-term. For now, our metrics show that, up until this point in both players’ careers, RGIII has been the better option, and by a fairly wide margin.

The hype surrounding Cousins is palpable and there’s certainly a chance that, given this opportunity, Cousins outplays last seasons’ dreadful metrics and becomes a solid starting quarterback in the short term. Until we have a larger sample size though, it’s wise to reserve judgment regarding Cousins’ long-term viability.