Is It Time for the Washington Redskins to Bench Kirk Cousins?
If you've done even a small amount of casual reading about the Washington Redskins since their 34-20 loss at the hands of the New York Jets last Sunday, you've undoubtedly taken note that of the fact that there is some major hand-wringing over what the team should do at the quarterback position.
More specifically, there appears to be a plethora of vitriol being directed toward starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns over the past two games.
Redskins' coach Jay Gruden appears to be sticking with Cousins, at least for another week. Should Cousins have another disappointing outing in Week 7 though, the pressure for Gruden to make a change will surely intensify. Do the critics have a valid argument? Or is Gruden being shrewd in ignoring the general narrative of the hoi polloi in holding steady with Cousins at the helm?
Has Cousins Been Awful or Just Mediocre?
While Cousins may not be passing the eye test, his advanced metrics tell a tale of an average quarterback, not a poor one. Through six weeks, Cousins' Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), or the points above expectation level he's added to his team's output, is 24.65, which ranks him 13th among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. His Success Rate, or the percentage of drop backs that led to positive NEP gains, of 47.23 percent ranks sixth among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts.
These metrics show him performing on a level very similar to Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders and Tyrod Taylor of the Buffalo Bills, two quarterbacks who have been mostly lauded for their play this season.
It's also worth noting that, through six games, Cousins has had to contend with three of the top five ranked defenses (the Rams, Eagles, and Jets) in terms of Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. When adjusting for schedule strength, Washington has had the 11th most efficient passing offense in the NFL on a per-play basis, according to our metrics.
The criticism of Cousins has mostly centered around his turnover-prone ways, and indeed his eight interceptions are fourth-most in the NFL. But his anemic yards per attempt of 6.23, which is the second-worst in the NFL among players with 100 or more attempts, has understandably furrowed a few brows as well. A big factor in his low yards per attempt output can at least partially chalked up to the lack of a deep threat, and more specifically the lack of DeSean Jackson.
Jackson hasn't seen the field since Week 1, when he pulled up lame with a hamstring injury early in the game. He led the NFL in yards per reception in 2014 by a healthy margin, with 20.9. That number increased to 23.7 in the five games in which Cousins started. Had Jackson been healthy this season, it's hard to dispute that it would have a positive effect on Cousins' yards per attempt, and it would most likely have a positive effect on the Redskins' offense as a whole.
In his five starts in 2014 with Jackson at his disposal, Cousins had at least two touchdown passes in three of the games, and in 2015 he's thrown exactly one in each contest.
The last two weeks, the Redskins have also been without the services of tight end Jordan Reed. Although Reed is on the injury report often enough that his presence on the field should almost be considered a bonus, he is a key component to the Redskins' passing game. Reed was targeted 34 times in four weeks, second-most on the team, and his Reception NEP of 21.39 is still good enough to rank 12th among all NFL tight ends through Week 6. Through Week 4, he ranked seventh at the position.
The near future for Cousins may not be bright enough to require shades, but it does look a bit more promising. Although it appears Jackson won't be back on the field this week, Reed seems confident that he'll return to the field this Sunday. The schedule looks a bit better as well, as the Redskins will face Tampa Bay and New Orleans over the next three weeks, who are both bottom-10 teams based on Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.
It's also worth asking: who exactly is the quarterback on the Redskins who is supposed to replace Cousins and save the season?
According to the Redskins' depth chart, Colt McCoy is the next man up. In McCoy's three starts in 2014, he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions, which sounds an awful lot like what Cousins has done thus far in 2015. McCoy's Passing NEP in 2014 was 11.49, which was lower than Cousins' 2014 Passing NEP (19.58) and 2015 Passing NEP (24.65).
McCoy did own a 50.34 percent Success Rate last year on 145 drop backs (better than Cousins' 47.64 percent on 212 drop backs), but on 764 career drop backs prior to 2014, McCoy owned a Passing NEP of -39.05 (-0.05 per drop back) and a Success Rate of just 42.28 percent.
The numbers tell us that inserting McCoy isn't likely to result in an improvement in the passing game.
Well if not McCoy, how about Robert Griffin IIII? Although we don't dabble in psychology much here at numberFire, given what has transpired the past two seasons, Griffin doesn't seem to be someone that the Redskins' coaching staff is in any hurry to thrust into a starting role unless they run out of options. Looking back to 2014, from a metrics standpoint, Griffin was woefully ineffective as a passer. His Passing NEP of -36.84 was the third-worst in the NFL.
Cousins isn't been any better than mediocre in 2015, but as we've explained, he hasn't really been worse than mediocre either. Given the lack of viable quarterback options behind him, an improving schedule, and a receiving corps that is nearing full health, it makes sense for the Redskins to stick with Cousins for the time being.