After waiting more than an entire season to get his first start in the NFL, Arie Kouandjio took advantage of his opportunity Sunday and had a major impact in the Redskins' 31-20 win over the Browns.
Coming into the game against the Browns, there was quite a bit of talk concerning the amount of injuries that the Redskins had been dealt, particularly after the team's Week 3 victory over the New York Giants. Among those who were asked to step up due to injuries was second-year guard Arie Kouandjio.
Starting at left guard in place of Shawn Lauvao, who was out with an ankle injury, Kouandjio impressed with his performance and was a significant contributor to the 31-20 victory.
The second-year player made appearances in only three games last season and hadn't been active during games this season as he sat behind Brandon Scherff at right guard on the team's unofficial depth chart. But with Long moving over to center in the place of Kory Lichtensteiger, Kouandjio played at left guard.
"My feeling going into the first play was pretty calm, kind of just focused on execution and stuff like that," Kouandjio said after the game. "I've done this many times before. This is my first time playing in the NFL with the highest possible caliber people. I've been playing this game for about 10 years and I've been blessed with that and I just try to do my job."
While doing his job, he contributed to the most effective running attack the Redskins have had this season. The team finished with 145 yards on the ground, 117 of which went to Matt Jones in his best performance of the season by a significant margin.
"That was frickin awesome. Matt did a great job," Kouandjio said. "It's an awesome thing to see whenever you're finishing up on your block and you look up and Matt is down the field, making moves on the secondary and stuff like that. It's awesome, very happy for him and I'm very proud."
A lot of that success started with the offensive line and the performance they were able to put on. Not only was the run game the most effective it has been this year, but Kirk Cousins also had more time to step back and allow his receivers to get open.
Kouandjio was successful at holding his blocks as he faced a powerful Browns defense, especially gifted nose tackle Danny Shelton.
"I love that kind of competition," Kouandjio said of Shelton. "I love to be able to go against somebody that's big and strong, that's really gifted. That was really fun to do."
Part of what helped him against the effective defensive line was the work he has put into improving his hands, an area he felt was a weakness of his during his first NFL season. But now, after more than a season of waiting for his opportunity to prove what he can do, Kouandjio took advantage of his moment and shined.
With the timetable on the starters returning to the offensive line somewhat unclear, the impression Kouandjio left is certainly worth the amount of time he spent awaiting his chance.
"I just got done talking to [Kouandjio] and I had to tell him, 'Great job,' because he wasn't nervous and he went out there and did what he did," Jones said. "And a couple of my runs, actually seeing him set the edge for me and kind of get up on guys at the second level and I just tell him, 'Keep up the great job, man.' … I give the whole offensive line credit. But Arie did a great job for his first NFL start."