Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins' media session with reporters on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
1. Cousins fully knows the offense must be better and that starts with him.
With so many weapons in place around him and a young, effective offensive line keeping his jersey clean, the Redskins offense has the potential to be one of the best in the league this season.
But in their 38-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, the Redskins managed to score just one touchdown, a one-yard run by Chris Thompson in the fourth quarter.
Yes, Cousins was able to throw for more than 300 yards, but he did not throw a touchdown pass after having at least one in all 16 regular season games last year. He also threw two interceptions on the evening.
"There are definitely areas where I want to improve and I think we always, no matter what the performance is, you're always going back and watching the film and saying 'Let's be really hard on ourselves, talk about how we can be better,' and this game is no different," Cousins said. "There are plenty of places where I can be better and that's where I'm focused and understand that I have a great opportunity now this Sunday to go out there and hopefully put a better taste in our mouths."
And while Cousins did not take a sack on the night, taking one or two isn't always a bad thing in the grand scheme of things.
"I would agree that there are times when you want to extend plays and yet you can be OK with taking a sack here and there," Cousins said. "You'll probably end up on a good year with 20 or 25 sacks, which could be more than one or two a game. So, it's an understandable part of the game. Don't want to take them because they do kill drives and it definitely hurts morale, but at the same time want to extend some plays here and there. But of the whatever-number of dropbacks we had, 45-ish dropbacks, there were probably only, I don't know, but definitely less than five that I would've scrambled on or tried to do anything so it's not a high percentage where I wish I had sat in there longer."
2. The Redskins need to be more efficient on third downs and in the redzone.
There's two areas Cousins looks at in determination of how successful the offense was during a game: third down and redzone efficiency.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
Against the Steelers, the Redskins struggled in both categories, as they were just 1-of-4 in the redzone and converted on only three of 10 third down plays.
Both were equally frustrating, especially considering how strong Washington was in both categories last season.
"We've emphasized third downs and redzone but when we aren't as productive on third down and aren't as productive in the redzone, it' going to come back to haunt you in the final score and in your final result," Cousins said. "So, we understand that and make it a point of emphasis when you get in the redzone you have to come away with a touchdowns 50, 60 percent of the time to be a top 10 team in the league in that area and we weren't doing that the other night."
Too often, the Redskins were pushed back on first and second downs, putting the offense at a disadvantage on third downs instead of in a good spot.
"You know if you're over 50 percent in both of those, you're going to be near the top of the league, in a better position that most teams, so that's something we're going to look at," Cousins said. "And there are others, first down efficiency, yards per play, that kind of a thing that you look at. That you can kind of measure yourself to see are we achieving the goals that are necessary to lead to wins, traditionally and typically. So those are statistics that you can kind of look at to find where the holes are, maybe the gaps are, where you're being efficient, and can feel good about."
3. "I think I'll always view myself as a work in progress."
Tom Brady has done nearly everything for the New England Patriots over the years, leading the team to four different Super Bowl titles while racking up perhaps the best career of any quarterback in NFL history.
A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
But despite all of the accolades, Brady never stops growing. Cousins sees himself in the same light, something that was reaffirmed after he spoke with the future Hall of Famer last November.
"I remember when I asked Tom Brady after the game last year, 'When did it click for you? 'In a sense I asked him, 'When were you no longer a work in progress?' And his answer was what I would echo here, it is still clicking," Cousins said. "You've never figured it out, you've never arrived."
While Cousins is now in his fifth NFL season, he's only made 25 starts in his career. There's still plenty of situations and plenty of teams he has yet to face.
"The minute you think you have (made it) is probably when you're going to be gone," Cousins said. "So I'm going to keep working and keep going and I understand that. I'll always view myself as a work in progress and I think that's how other people can view me too."
4. The running game was more effective than what the stat sheet reflected.
Yes, Washington managed just 55 rushing yards on 12 carries against the Steelers, but when either Matt Jones or Chris Thompson got their numbers called – and plays were negated by penalties – they were able to gain some yardage.
"Yeah I think avoiding the penalties, having a lead, or at least being within a close margin where you aren't running out of time and you can afford to run the football, you know those will always be the games where we have a better running game," Cousins said. "You know, I felt like when I handed the ball off the other night we were getting chunks here and there. There was a holding call, you know, and then we'd be backed up and it's like you got to throw it, you can't run the ball in those long yardage situations."
What also impacted the run game's effectiveness was how imbalanced the offensive became in the second half. Cousins is confident that if the game is close, the Redskins' rushing attack will be just fine.
"It's more the situations in the game that dictate how you end out coming out statistically," Cousins said. "And that's where if we can come out with points in the red zone…but that kind of a thing we're going to put ourselves in a better position to run the ball in the second half."
- Every defense is different. **
Pittsburgh exclusively gave Cousins zone looks on Monday, but that won't always be the case with every defense.
Some weeks, teams may think they'll be able to confuse Cousins in man coverage or try to frustrate him with tons of blitzing.
He has to be prepared for whatever comes his way.
"There's some familiarity but it's not like Coach [Rod] Marinelli has been there for a decade so I've seen them eight or nine times," Cousins said. "I mean it's still only been a couple, or a few, and as a result there's still a lot of studying to be done."