- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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ASHBURN, Va. -- One thing you won’t see a lot of Sunday: Kirk Cousins keeping the ball on a zone read-option. It’s not who he is. It’s not what the Washington Redskins’ offense needs to be with him starting.
Other than that, however, the offense won’t look a whole lot different.
"The same stuff you guys have been seeing,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “People think we ran a totally different offense last year. Yeah, we added in the zone read, but after that, every single play-pass that we’ve done were the same ones you guys saw with Rex [Grossman], the same ones you guys saw with Donovan [McNabb].”
Shanahan said a lot of the plays are the same ones he ran when he was Houston’s offensive coordinator, too. The zone read was obviously added last season because of Robert Griffin III. Other than that, there have only been tweaked protections to complement their play-action pass game.
“All we did [last year] is add the zone read into an already pretty successful offense,” Shanahan said.
It’ll be interesting to see how Cousins responds. Keep in mind, though, that opposing quarterbacks have a 104.3 passer rating against Atlanta this season. The Falcons have allowed 25 touchdowns and intercepted only seven passes. Only one other defense has allowed a triple-digit passer rating. Yes, the Redskins at 101.2. Every other NFL defense is below 99.5. Also, two of the next three defenses rank 27th (Atlanta) and 32nd (Dallas) in total yards.
There’s a perception that Cousins is a better pocket passer than Griffin. He certainly came from a more traditional system in college. He’s also more decisive with his throws -- and aggressive, which can also lead to turnovers. But Cousins clearly has to prove himself in this area in the NFL, with only one start to his credit. Cousins led the Redskins to a 38-21 win over Cleveland, a game in which he struggled early from the pocket but excelled when they started calling more bootlegs, especially with the Browns focused on stopping running back Alfred Morris. Cousins then flourished and finished with 329 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“I think Robert has an option to make plays with his legs. Kirk does a decent job with his legs, but he’s not at all on the level of Robert,” Shanahan said. “Anytime you’ve got an extremely mobile quarterback like Robert, they’re always in between. Do they want to stay a passer or a runner? When you have an option to change the game as a runner, that happens. When you don’t have an option, just like a lot of quarterbacks in this league do, they don’t really have an option to make plays with their legs. They don’t have a choice. They have to be more patient in the pocket. They have to stay there because there’s no other option.”
Shanahan wouldn’t say Cousins was a better quarterback right now -- in terms of being a more ready pocket passer. Clearly, Griffin is the more talented -- he’s had one great year and an inconsistent (at best) one. He’s also still the future. But the question was asked, also in part because people are still trying to figure out this part: Are there other motives behind this move? Is it simply a decision about Griffin’s health? Was he benched for performance reasons? Do they think Cousins gives them a better chance to win? Sometimes you can read between the lines of an answer.
“I don’t know if it’s about better. I think every guy’s different. Guys excel in different areas,” Shanahan said. “You try to put guys in the best situation to play to their strengths and we’ll try to do that for Kirk. We’ve tried to do that for Robert and hopefully he’ll have some success.”