Following a dominant performance against the Saints, quarterback Kirk Cousins knows his offense functions best when he gets the ball to his playmakers out in open space.
In what's become a customary trend anytime praise is offered to Kirk Cousins, the Redskins starting quarterback is never shy to defer credit – on a particular play, game or week of practice – to everyone around him.
"I look back and I just feel like the performance was a reflection of the team," he told reporters after learning he had been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season for his game against the Saints.
The numbers dictated the award – 20-25 passing for 324 yards and a 158.3 perfect passer rating – but they also don't describe the whole story.
Just 62 of those yards came through the air. The other 262 came after the catch, thanks to his running backs and receivers following blocks, finding space (there was a lot) and racking up most of Cousins' total. It's a window into why Cousins has deflected all of that praise.
"When you run the ball as well as we did, when the screen game works as well as it did, when guys are making plays after the catch and getting open and we're staying out of third-and-11's… all of those things set you up to have success," Cousins said. "Any results that turned into an award or a great statistical day are a reflection of the whole offense operating at a high level."
Running back Matt Jones was responsible for 131 of Cousins' final total on Sunday, the most exclamatory reception coming on a 78-yard screen pass that saw him scamper through holes, work off defender's arm swipes and chug a majority of the field untouched.
"It was big because I see myself as an every down kind of back," Jones said. "For me having a big type of day like that, it means a lot to me to get more balls thrown to me and be effective in the passing game."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 11 match up against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
Of the Redskins' 2,278 receiving yards this season, 1,139 have come after the catch, which is in the middle of the pack in the NFL.
But the Saints game, in which the offense seemed perfectly in sync, offered the ideal template to replicate, using screen passes and quick throws in order to get playmakers out into the open.
Just like a hitter's job isn't finished once he reaches first base, some of the Redskins' heavily-used targets have made catching the ball the first priority in a two-step job. Jones has compiled 210 yards on 12 receptions this season, with 204 coming after the catch. And nearly half of wide receiver Jamison Crowder's receiving yards (402) have come after the catch, too.
"That's just something I've always been able to do, be able to catch the ball and try to get extra yardage," Crowder said. "In this game every yard counts. Five yards after the catch can be the difference in us being in field goal and not, so that's just something I try to do when I catch the ball, just try and catch it and get up field as quick as possible to pick up those hidden yards."
Crowder has turned into a reliable slot receiver and one of Cousins' favorite third down options. Of Crowder's 42 receptions, 25 have given the team a fresh set of downs, something made possible by his extra efforts after the catch and nose for the marker.
"I always try to look and see where the sticks are and whatever route I've got, try to take it a little bit deeper so…if I catch the ball and get hit I'm still in a good position to maybe get the first down," Crowder said. "And that's something that [wide receivers] coach Ike [Hilliard] really teaches and really puts emphasis on -- knowing the yardage."
But it's not all on the weapons. Cousins can often be just as responsible for leading a receiver or running back into a favorable position. Sometimes it's a matter of getting the ball out quick. Other times, it's positioning the ball on a player's body that can facilitate an easier transition from receiver to runner.
"When he gets me the ball fast, it makes me get going early so I can set up my blocks and everything," Jones said. "Him being a great quarterback like he is, he gives me the ball like that, it makes it better for me to read."
"That's something that I noticed way back in when I first came up here in OTA's, the ability of the quarterback to put the ball in the right position away from defenders, in a position where I can catch the ball and make that transition to get up field that much easier," Crowder said. "That's something that Kirk does really well. That's something that all our quarterbacks do really well."
Running back Chris Thompson, who has also become a vital back on third down, either as a blocker or route runner, says reading coverages in the flat or in front of the line becomes crucial to knowing where to cut and turn up field.
"He'll throw us away from the pursuit or basically he'll throw it to the shoulder he wants us to turn and run so we could possibly get the yards," Thompson said of Cousins. "But for us, it's really a feel. You just have to have a feel for where all the guys are, who you're playing against. You have to kind of see their eyes and then get your head around quick enough to get the ball, catch the pass, and kind of just turn and run."
In practice Thompson has been steadily working to catch the ball more in front of his body facing up-field so he can read the coverage faster. Little things like that will help him avoid imposing linebackers, like when they face linebackers Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis Sunday in Carolina.
"Luke this week, you know as soon as we catch the ball we have to turn and go because he's going to be somewhere," Thompson said, admitting that with DeSean Jackson's deep threat, more space is available to make cuts.
"We just feel like explosive plays, big plays, are very important in general to having a productive offense," Cousins said. "It could be a two-yard completion that turns into a 25-yard gain that can be an explosive play…However we can find ways to get those explosive plays is crucial to our success as an offense."