Kirk Cousins and the Redskins passing offense has been stellar this season, but Monday night was a rare rough outing. Washington needs Cousins to regain his form to secure a trip to the playoffs.
"When you win the credit goes to the quarterback and when you lose you know a lot of blame goes to the quarterback. Sometimes it's deserved, sometimes it's not, but it's just a fact of life in pro football," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Monday.
It's a fact that isn't lost on Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, either. He's mentioned it many times, including way back on October 19 when the Redskins were riding a season-long four-game winning streak.
"I haven't been around this league forever, but in five years I've learned that things can change pretty quickly," Cousins said on that Wednesday in October. "You never try to get too high or too low, and just don't ride the rollercoaster and be mature about it. Be a professional and trust that if you do that, good things will happen in the long run."
Ironically, for Cousins, that rollercoaster was about to climb to some serious highs. Over the five games after Cousins told reporters he'd tries to stay away from the metaphorical thrill ride, he threw for 369 yards per game while completing 72 percent of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns to just one interception. The talk of Cousins's impending contract situation this offseason roared in favor of paying him big bucks to stay in D.C.
But for the reasons that Cousins talked about that rollercoaster, he's again hearing criticism as the Redskins have lost three of their last four games. The red zone issues have continued for the Redskins as they twice had first-and-goal Monday night but settled for a field goal. For the first time in 12 games, Cousins didn't throw a touchdown. He's thrown an interception in three straight games and on Monday both of his turnovers – being strip-sacked deep in his own end was hardly his fault – led to Carolina touchdowns in a 26-15 loss.
"I would just say overall, I think if you just want to single out Kirk, I think he missed some throws he normally makes," Gruden said. "Our third down conversion rate like I said last night was poor and we had a couple drops, we had a couple missed throws and then they took a couple of our players away. But overall when you look at the whole big picture of it, there wasn't really a lot of solid play offensively. It just was lackluster execution, I should say. It wasn't that they weren't trying. It was just we didn't execute properly and not to our standards whatsoever."
Cousins, who has posted two of his three lowest passer ratings this season in December, certainly didn't have much help Monday, especially in the running game. Washington rushed for a season-low 29 yards and Cousins threw 47 times – his third-highest total of the season. The Redskins gained just 6.7 yards per Cousins pass attempt – only his 6.3 mark against Baltimore was lower this season.
That means there were plenty of short passes and little explosiveness. Cousins completed only four pass of more than 20 yards, and none longer than a 23-yard completion to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter. Cousins finished with 315 yards passing, but the Redskins were just 2-of-12 on third downs.
"I know on some of the third downs it was a combination," Cousins said. "It's not just one thing. It was a missed throw, a missed catch, it was a breakdown in different ways each time. But there were certainly some makeable third downs where the past several weeks I would say we've been much better on those third and mediums than we were tonight. If we hadn't converted those third and mediums in other games, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did offensively."
This week's opponent, the Chicago Bears, haven't been easy to pass on as they rank sixth in the NFL in passing defense compared to ranking 23rd against the run. And while the Redskins do need to have more success running the ball, Washington has been one of the league's best offenses behind Cousins, who still ranks in the top five among NFL quarterbacks in completion percentage and passing yards.
However, if the Redskins passing offense looks like it did Monday night, Washington will be watching the playoffs from home and Cousins will likely hear the criticism again, deserved or not.