Kirk Cousins, who has had brief stints in that role in recent seasons, believes that he will be able to grow and develop as a quarterback as the Redskins' offense continues to take shape around him.*
It will be several weeks before Kirk Cousins is afforded the opportunity to settle into a routine as the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback — the lessons, the film study, the preparation, the recovery.
Even now, though, he recognizes that there will be a difference. It's not 2013, when he finished up the final three games of the season, or even last year, when he was tabbed to step in for an injured Robert Griffin III and knew that the reins would likely have to be handed over when Griffin was healthy enough to return.
"It's a beneficial role," Cousins said. "I do feel different now in this role. It feels a little more stable. It caters to the ability to develop as a quarterback. This is a great opportunity for me, as I've said. I want to take advantage of it and just keep building day after day."
Cousins' performance against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday wasn't spectacular by any means, as he completed 21 of 31 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the season-opening loss.
He did, however, help the offense move the ball and succeed in areas that had been problems for Washington in the past. The Redskins converted six of 14 third-down opportunities, including five of seven in the first half — rates that were significantly higher than their 31.5 conversion percentage last season.
They moved the chains on six of their nine drives, not counting the kneel-down at the end of the first half, and gained more than 35 yards on each series. The only venture into the red zone ended with a four-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to tight end Jordan Reed, though the final drive stalled at Miami's 20-yard line.
Each of Washington's third-down successes occurred within six yards, which coach Jay Gruden said made the gains manageable. They converted three attempts from four yards, including on that touchdown throw, as well as one for one yard, five yards and six yards.
"The ones we didn't get, we had, I think, three running attempts in makeable yardage," Gruden said. "We ran an inside zone that we were close. Third-and-[three], I think, we ran a sweep, and we had a couple of third-and-unmakeables that we didn't get, but I just think [it's because] we've been working those things."
Part of that success was because of Reed, who had a team-high seven catches for 63 yards. Reed caught three of those passes on third down, including the touchdown throw.
A fourth was negated because of a penalty; he was also the target on Cousins' first interception, an off-schedule throw on third-and-18 that was snagged by cornerback Brent Grimes.
"I think the biggest thing with Jordan is that we've really only scratched the surface because of some injuries, because of the fact that I haven't worked with him that long," Cousins said. "He's so talented, I feel like we're only in the beginning."
Cousins also benefitted from an unfamiliar situation on Sunday: His team having the lead. The Redskins never led in two of Cousins' five starts last season, and they led for just 17:19 in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, 7:49 in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals and 12:57 in the first half of the game against the Tennessee Titans, an eventual win steered by Colt McCoy when Cousins was removed at halftime.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins Sept. 13, 2015, at FedExField.
After kicker Kai Forbath made a 45-yard field goal with 7:39 remaining in the first quarter, the Redskins led until early in the fourth, when a Dolphins field goal knotted the score at 10-10. That advantage also allowed the Redskins to showcase their rushing offense, which wasn't featured much last season because of the deficits; on Sunday, Washington gained 161 rushing yards, more than it had in all but one game a year ago.
"I think that when you run the football well, it gives you a great chance to be successful," Cousins said. "That's just one of those statistics — when you look at teams that run the ball well year in and year out, you always have a chance to be very, very good on offense. It was really encouraging to see that this first game. It's just a matter of continuing to do it week in and week out."
For Cousins, displaying a similar consistency will be important to thriving in his role. He believed, in looking back at his performance in the first week, that he had established a foundation from which to build.
Now it's on to the next level, and the one after that, all with the intent to develop and progress.
"[I] learned a lot," Cousins said, succinctly. "I gained confidence, became a better quarterback. Each play is a chance to improve and get better and become a better player. I grew and learned a lot."
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