Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins' media session with reporters on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
1. The upcoming matchup with the Browns isn't a "trap game."
After a hard-fought division game against the Giants, it might be understandable if the intensity level dipped down this week as the Redskins prepare to take on the 0-3 Browns.
Not the case, according to Cousins, who said that this team doesn't have anything to feel comfortable about being last in the division, regardless of their previous outcome.
"I just don't see it as a trap game," Cousins said. "I don't see any game in the NFL as a trap game. I mean, we're 1-2. What are we feeling comfortable about? I mean we have to win in the sense that we want to get to 2-2, and we got a lot to play for. We're at home. So, I think those words just don't even enter my, or our, vocabulary.
The Browns, he said, were a few plays away from being 2-1, something, he acknowledged, that most teams with losing records feel when they've reflected on their early seasons. The Browns, even at 0-3, still offer some challenging threats.
"I see a very talented defense," he said. "Guys that play really hard, they play together, they play inspired. They're smart, aware players; athletic. Much like every other NFL defense I'll face and it's going to be a challenge every single week, and they're going to bring it and we better be ready."
2. The adjustments along the offensive line aren't concerning for Cousins.
Once Kory Lichtensteiger and Shawn Lauvao went down with injuries against the Giants last Sunday, a lot of flip-flopping had to take place, including All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams moving inside to left guard and Spencer Long switching to center.
With center John Sullivan the latest free agent addition joining the team for relief, Cousins said this week of practice will help in getting acquainted with whoever is snapping him the ball.
"That's what practice is about," Cousins said. "We're put there today getting snaps and talking through the role of the center and making sure that we're all on the same page. Come Sunday, no one is looking for excuses."
In the case of Long, his presence on the team for the last couple of years and his opportunity to take snaps at center throughout training camp certainly helps in his transition calling out protections at the line and knowing Cousins' tendencies. Cousins felt his rhythm with Long was already "well-established."
"He's, first of all, very intelligent, he's very conscientious, he has a sense of urgency," Cousins said of Long. "So although he doesn't have a lot of starts at center under his belt, the ability to make the calls, the ability to run the show – he's very capable. So I don't see myself having to carry a new role or an added weight with Kory [Lichtensteiger] being gone – Spencer's pretty on top of it."
3. The red zone issues aren't a matter of play calling.
It's become a familiar refrain after three games so far, but the Redskins haven't been calling familiar plays. Their struggles in the red zone, which persisted last Sunday, have led to field goals, keeping teams in games, but that hasn't been a matter of reusing plays from the previous week.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 4 game against the Cleveland Browns Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
Cousins has been able to drive the offense down the middle of the field just fine, but once he gets past the opponent's 20-yard line, he's passed 7-of-22 with two interceptions and a touchdown.
"I think we can certainly try some different plays, but we often try different plays every week," Cousins said. "We're trying to game plan specifically for the defense that we're facing, so we haven't carried carbon-copies of our red zone plan week, to week, to week. It changes every week, whether you're playing well, or struggling, you're going to make adjustments and do whatever you think works best that week. It's certainly something we want to be better in. We're working hard at it to improve it.
4. Cousins has noticed defenders playing tight end Jordan Reed differently.
It's still early in the season, but the connection between quarterback Kirk Cousins and tight end Jordan Reed hasn't provided the production many felt was inevitable after both of their breakout seasons last year. That's partly because defenses have started to adapt.
Cousins has noticed that defenders have switched up their approach mostly by double-teaming him, especially in the red zone.
Last season, Reed had 17 receptions for 139 yards and 10 touchdowns in the red zone, while this year he has just one catch for 13 yards there. Still, Cousins conceded that even though Reed isn't catching as many balls in critical spots, he's helping the offense by taking defenders with him.
"I noticed a couple of times where maybe they're more conscious of him," Cousins said. "One time, right before the half, they more-or-less doubled Jordan [Reed] and we were able to find DeSean [Jackson] in the seam right behind them… If you can find a DeSean Jackson in that moment and complete that, then you say, 'We love having Jordan there and even if he didn't catch the football, he's still helping our offense.' It's an ever-evolving game and an ever-evolving process and we just have to continue to try to be one step ahead of our competitors to find the best way to move the football."
5. The final sequence before the half needs to be executed better.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 4 game against the Cleveland Browns Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
In the Redskins' NFC-east clinching game vs. the Eagles last December, Cousins made a mental error during the final seconds of the first half when he took a knee instead of spiking the ball with the team a few yards from the goal-line and without their timeouts.
A similar play occurred last Sunday in New York. Cousins had the ball with six seconds left, and after missing his first read opted to keep the football, which led to a sack that would finish out the half. Ideally, he said on Wednesday, he should have thrown an incompletion as soon as his first check wasn't open.
"I just have to put the ball out of the end zone," he said. "Obviously you want to score a touchdown, if someone's there in the rhythm of the play, great, but the second that it's determined that it's not there, you can't even hesitate. The ball has got to be gone. It's got to be thrown at their feet, thrown way over their heads – you don't want to get an intentional grounding, but you have to throw it away.
"It will again be one of those things where as long as I'm playing football, I'll always be trying to master a situational awareness and become a master at different situations. The good quarterbacks I think are automatic in those moments. Not just like that one. In an infinite number of situations they're just very automatic. That's where I'm going to try and continue to get better and better."