Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Redskins Game day: Ten Thoughts

By John Keim

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins gets his chance to start Sunday for the Washington Redskins.
1. If I’m Robert Griffin III, I’m wondering why the Redskins became worried about my health before a game against a bad defense that doesn’t apply much pressure – yet left me in to face a good defense in bad field conditions the previous week. When there are so many other aspects to this story, and when so many leaks come out, it’s hard not to wonder about every potential motive. Maybe it’s as simple as being about his health. Maybe it’s performance related. Maybe spite. Because of the distrust on either side this still doesn’t feel all that simple.

2. Griffin was laughing and joking with a couple teammates in the locker room after practice, so it’s not as if he’s walking around defeated all the time. His practice demeanor, in the portions open to the media, did not seem any different. But there is little doubt that he remains bothered by this mess and can’t wait to reach the offseason. This is just my opinion, but in reading the situation and being around Griffin, it’s tough to see it ever working with him and coach Mike Shanahan. That’ s not to blame one side or the other, but that’s just the way it is.

3. If Kirk Cousins lights up the Falcons, there will definitely be some who will take that and use it as more criticism toward Griffin. Make no mistake, the second-year quarterback hasn’t looked sharp at all in three of the past four games. He is a young quarterback enduring growing pains and definitely not always getting the help he needs from others. In the past four games he’s faced two defenses currently ranked in the top 10 (New York and San Francisco) and two who are 20th or below (Philadelphia, Kansas City). If you’re going to rip him, you need to be fair and point out everything. Griffin holds the ball too long and does miss open targets and does need to work on his pocket presence, learning to keep his eyes downfield and not stare down targets (Derrick Johnson nearly picked off two passes because of this last week). But if Cousins plays well Sunday, it doesn’t mean that Griffin wouldn’t have done the same against the NFL’s 26th-ranked defense (20th against the pass, but opposing quarterbacks have an NFL best 104.3 passer rating against the Falcons; only one other team is close. Yes, the Redskins at 101.2).

4. I am curious to see Cousins play, just like everyone else. It certainly adds intrigue to the on-field performance in the next three games and will serve as a couple-hour diversion from the other mess surrounding the franchise. I have heard so many mixed opinions from NFL types who have studied or watched Cousins. Some love him; some consider him just a backup. The Redskins coaches, obviously, are in the former category. They really do believe Cousins can be a quality starter in the NFL. They also thought Pat White would be on someone’s roster this season.

5. Cousins’ understanding of the offense, helped by being in his second season and getting so many offseason reps, should help Sunday. Cousins said he felt better prepared for this game than he did a year ago at Cleveland, when he subbed for an injured Griffin. “I’m comfortable, I can be more decisive,” Cousins said.

6. Atlanta’s defense does have some talent, especially up front with tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who had a strong game against Washington last season. The Falcons will send the occasional blitz and they will also try to move around at times and disguise fronts and coverages. The problem is, that often gets them out of position and leaves gaps in the coverage. Looks like they try to make you work your way downfield, but if you’re patient you will.

7. Another player to watch: running back Alfred Morris. The Falcons tend to flow hard to the play side, which means there could be good cutback lanes available. Morris did a terrific job setting up some runs against the Falcons last year, stringing out linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on one run before cutting inside. This isn't related, but watch out for tight end Tony Gonzalez near the goal line; the vet sells the run fakes well on play-action passes and the Redskins have been stung by that in the past.

8. For better or worse, way too much of this season has been about Griffin: When will he return? How does he look in camp? Is he ready? Do the coach and quarterback really not get along? Is he still hurt? Why is he struggling? Is he back to his old self? Is he a leader? Is he too tight with the owner? Every week a new line of questions. It’ll finish up with questions about how he’s handling his situation? Some of this Griffin brought on himself; the initial leaks in this whole story came from his side. But certainly not all of them. Now you have both sides leaking stories. It’s just not healthy. If I were Griffin, I’d lay low. He can ultimately regain his standing just by going out and playing well next year. All would then be forgotten.

9. Will London Fletcher return next season? We still don’t know, though I’d be surprised. Here’s what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had to say about Fletcher: “He’s effective. He’s not doing as much as he’s done before in the past, coverage-wise, on third down but I think he’s playing pretty well. ... Let me say this – how many linebackers do you know that are 38 years old that playing in the game? There’s not many. ... Age catches up with everybody, and he’s played a long, long time. He’s had a great career and whether he plays another year or not, obviously that’s up to him, but I think as you get older you can’t do the things that you did when you were 28, 29, 25, 26. That’s just life. That’s how it works.”

10. What happens if the Redskins get blown out and Cousins plays poorly? I can’t say that I’ve heard a lot about that scenario. But if this really is becoming a standoff about money, then I don’t know if something like that occurs that anything would change regarding Shanahan’s status, unless one side buckles. It still would be a surprise to see him return for 2014. The same questions asked since the spring would return. Who wants that?