Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins' Dec. 3 press conference at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
1. Playing on Monday Night Football has been something he's dreamt about since he was in high school.
While there are Sunday afternoon games that are televised across most of the country, and the Redskins have played on Thursday Night Football already this season in front of a large audience, the attention that *Monday Night Football *gets each week is more than any other matchup.
That will especially be the case this week when the Redskins and Cowboys play against each other Monday Night Football for the 17th time, tying the franchises with the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos for most matchups on that night.
"I think it'd be a shame if I didn't [get to play on Monday Night Football] because I remember sitting out as a high school kid and staying up late with friends and you're just kind of looking out at the stars and you make a wish on a shooting star and my wish was to play in the NFL," Cousins said. "So the fact that you get to live that dream, you forget it, like you said, because you're so involved in the job and the task at hand and trying to be as good as you can be. But there's no doubt that I feel like I'm living a dream and to be on Monday Night Football playing — knowing that there will be people back in my hometown of Holland, Mich., watching me play on Monday Night Football is something that if you were to have told me that would happen in high school, I would have told you that you were smoking something."
This is the first game for the Redskins on Monday Night Football since they defeated the Cowboys in Week 8 of the 2014 season.
That game came just eight days after Cousins was benched for Colt McCoy. This time around, he's fully entrenched as the team's starting quarterback.
"It's a dream for me and a thrill," Cousins said. "It's always a balance to be able to recognize that but also execute the job at hand and not treat it like it's too big. You try to find that balance game in and game out."
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2. Cousins likes the fact that the team has veterans that have been in several playoff chases before.
While the Redskins have a few leftovers from their last team to make the playoffs in 2012, a majority of the roster has been overturned over the last three seasons.
This past offseason, general manager Scot McCloughan's first with the team, they brought in veterans who not only have playoff experience, but have played in Super Bowls as well.
Having been there and done that, they provide advice for guys like Cousins who are relatively new to this situation.
"Any experience in this league I believe helps you, whether it's success, whether it's failure, whether it was a previous playoff run," Cousins said. "The longer you play, the more you see, the more you've been around, it's going to make you a better football player, a more capable leader, a more capable teammate. We certainly draw on past experiences to make us the best players we can be and that's why continuing to play and continuing to be out there is so valuable."
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3. The Redskins are tied for first place in the NFC East right now, but they don't consider themselves the hunted right now. They're still the hunters.
While it was only a season ago, the Redskins feel far removed from the 2014 season when they won just four games, only one of which came in November or December.
Entering the month of December this year, they already have five wins on the season with five games remaining.
And although they are tied for first in the division with the Giants following last Sunday's 20-14 victory (the Redskins currently hold the tiebreaker), Cousins doesn't take the mindset that all is OK right now.
Yes, they have a good chance of winning the division, but they're also only two games ahead of the last place Cowboys right now.
"We are the hunters," Cousins said. "The last thing I want to do is at all feel like we've arrived or feel complacent. My mindset is 'Boy, last week was an important game but this week is just as important and after that next week will be as well.' There is an energy – not so much as hunter or hunted – I think there's an energy just because of what we have to play for and the fact that it's a meaningful game in December. We will be ready and charged up as a result."
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4. Cousins feels he's a better quarterback now than he was in the regular season opener against the Dolphins.
When Cousins was appointed the team's starter in late August, he only had a few weeks to prepare with the first-team offense. Prior to that, some days he worked with the second team, and some days he worked with the third team as the coaching staff decided its quarterback hierarchy.
In the Redskins' loss to the Dolphins, Cousins had some good moments and some not so good moments.
As the season has worn on, he's had more and more good moments while the interceptions, a self-admitted flaw of his game last season, have been minimized.
"I think I'll be better tomorrow than I was today," Cousins said. "I'm better now than I was at the start of the season. I think it's because of experience. I think experience brings confidence. It also enables me to be a better decision maker, a better game manager as a result of being through situations. Whether I handled the situation correctly or I made a mistake in the situation, it enables you to say, 'OK, I've been here before, what's the proper decision? What's the proper approach in this situation?' The more experience you have the better you play, so I do believe I'm better."
Whether the Redskins win out or lose some more along the way, Cousins believes his confidence will remain the same throughout the rest of the season.
"When you win, the quarterback looks confident. When you lose, the quarterback looks like he doesn't know what he's doing," Cousins said. "I just think that's the surface-level approach, but really, when I look at myself, I think I've been pretty consistent all the way through. Like I've said, I try to stay process-focused and let the results carry themselves if I handle the process."
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5. A solid run game could help keep Cousins' jersey clean against a strong Cowboys' pass rush.
Alfred Morris has traditionally played well against the Cowboys over the years, and if the Redskins want to have a good game against Dallas, they'll need him, along with Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, to play well so that pressure is taken off of Cousins.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 13 match up against the Dallas Cowboys Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
In the Redskins' five wins this season, they've rushed for a total of 673 yards. In their six losses this season, they've rushed for 385 yards.
As they go against a Cowboys pass rush led by Greg Hardy, who has 4.5 sacks in seven games, running the ball effectively could pay off for the Redskins.
"I think running the football will always help with the pass rush," Cousins said. "I think when you have a lead, it helps with the pass rush. We have said that when you get in a catch-up mode — a two-minute mode — it gives the pass rushers on the other teams a chance to know that they're throwing the ball and they pin their ears back and they come with a vengeance. So having a lead, running the football, all those things play well into avoiding sacks but ultimately it comes down to players holding up in protection."
Cousins added that if he can have a quick release and make smart decisions, that will help too.
"To this point – we gave up five [sacks] against Carolina, that was kind of an anomaly in my opinion – I think, overall, if you look at the season, we've done a very good job of protecting me as a quarterback and avoiding sacks because sacks really do kill drives when you look at statistics," Cousins said. "When you take a sack, it is very, very hard to overcome and stay on the field."