Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins' Sept. 22 press conference at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
1. Cousins is a different player than he was a season ago.
Last September, it was the Redskins hosting the Giants on Thursday Night Football, and Cousins entered the game fresh off his best performance against the Eagles in which he threw for 427 yards and three touchdowns. He also earned FedEx Air Player of the Week honors for his play in a tough road contest.
Just four days later, though, he struggled mightily against New York, throwing just one touchdown to four interceptions in a 45-14 loss.
Fast forward to one year later, and not only is Cousins the assured full-time starter at quarterback, he believes he's a better player.
"I feel like I've improved, partly because I went through those experiences and learned from them," he told the media on Tuesday. "I remember it being I think 24-14 in the third quarter. We had just scored to come out of the half, made it 24-14 and we were right there. Then the turnovers started to pile on. I learned that when you get down and you want to get back in the game, you can't get it all back in one play."
Cousins said the game taught him the importance of patience, taking what the defense is giving you opposed to forcing the ball into spots that can be more difficult having success with.
"For two and a half quarters of that game I thought we played pretty good football on the offensive side of the ball," he said. "Could've done some things better, move the ball on third down. But we did some good things and I think there were some more positives from that game than the narrative was written."
2. Yes, this is a divisional game, but Cousins insists the approach is the same.
With the Cowboys dealing with long-term injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Eagles getting little to nothing with their ground attack and the Giants squandering fourth quarter leads in their first two games, the NFC East already appears to be wide open for the Redskins' taking.
Sure, the Redskins would love to move to 2-1 on the season with a victory over the Giants, putting them at 0-3 in the process, but Cousins doesn't want to overemphasize this game in just the third week of the season.
"Every week is big in this league," he said. "You've only got 16 games — you've got to make good on them. Usually the difference between winning the division or finishing runner-up or whatever could be only a game or two. Every week's important, especially divisional games, especially one on the road. When you watch these games, the Giants could easily be 2-0. We know that. They know that."
Routinely one of the tougher divisions, Cousins says this game, like some many others against the Giants, could come down to the final seconds.
"These games tend to come to the last two minutes and who makes the final play," he said. "The difference between a team that's 0-4 or 4-0 can be very, very minimal. Every week you're going to get a serious challenge in this league. Thursday night will be no different."
3. Having better success on third downs helps the entire offense.
Through their first two games, the Redskins' offense is 14-for-30 on third-down attempts.
Whether it's been Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson coming up clutch in the passing game, or Alfred Morris and Matt Jones running through clear lanes, their success on third downs has allowed the offense to dictate time of possession.
"I think it goes back all the way to last season, just learning and growing through opportunities. Every time you are out there is a chance to get better," Cousins said of their improvement. "Even when things didn't go well last year, I always said, 'I'm learning and I'm getting better.' I think that I worked hard this offseason to improve on third down. The coaches worked hard and made it an emphasis that we'd improve in that area. It's still very early, but certainly an area that we want to continue to be strong in."
There were a few different instances during both games in which the Redskins, in field goal range, didn't press it too hard on third down, settling for positive yardage opposed to leaving themselves open for possible trouble.
Once again, it's important to understand what the defense is throwing out there, especially at the quarterback.
"I think in all the things that make up a third down, whether its understanding concepts, reads, coverage recognition, blitz protections, pick-ups, footwork, ability to move off-schedule, overall confidence – all the things that affect a quarterback's play on third down have improved," he said.
READ MORE: Jordan Reed Records Key Third Down Catch
- The Giants will try to rattle Cousins' cage with different looks than what they showed him last season. **
Perry Fewell was the man calling the shots for New York's defense last season. Now he's the Redskins' defensive backs coach.
In his place is Steve Spagnuolo, who was the team's defensive coordinator during the 2007 and 2008, a tenure highlighted by a Super Bowl XLII victory in which they contained a potent Patriots offense.
The unit appears to be more forceful in their approach and its showed so far in the turnover category, as they've intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles.
"You see a lot of pressures now," Cousins said of the defense. "You see them doing a lot of different coverages and fronts and looks. They give a good variety to throw at you. They don't have very many tendencies so they'll keep you guessing. They do a good job with that. They've got some good players so it'll be a good challenge for us on a short week of preparation, and we've got to maximize our time."
Cousins has used Fewell to his benefit, though.
"The scheme's different but certainly he knows a lot of the players and can offer input as to their strengths, weaknesses and what they can offer," Cousins said. "It'll be helpful to gain his insight."
READ MORE: Perry Fewell Already Make Presence Known
5. Just because he's played well during the first two games doesn't mean Cousins is fully satisfied with his performance.
Cousins played a near flawless game against the Rams, but he did throw two interceptions against the Dolphins, one of which was intercepted during a drive deep into Miami territory.
While the Michigan State product was given a vote of confidence by head coach Jay Gruden by being named the starter, he knows that in the NFL every week is an audition.
If you don't impress enough, changes can be made.
"I think in this league there's so much expectation and so much attention and scrutiny that whether you're the solidified guy or you're trying out, you have to prove yourself," Cousins said. "You've got to go out and play well to stay in this league. You're being evaluated every play. I feel like every play is a chance to change your life, so I don't know that I suddenly feel just this ease and this peace that comes from Coach [Gruden] telling me that it's my team."
His goal is to play well enough this season that he can be the team's starter for years to come.
"Like I said from the day I was named the starter, it's a great opportunity and I want to make good on it… It is a good opportunity," Cousins said. "Again, I need to play well enough to make good on it and hopefully be the quarterback here for more than just this season, for a long time."