Last year Miami’s defense ranked 15th in DVOA rankings and seemed poised to break out this season after the massive signing of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh this off-season. This defense would represent a tough test for the Redskins offensive line and Kirk Cousins. After the Redskins lost last Sunday 17-10 at home, many criticized him for his performance claiming it was due to his two interceptions and lack of passing yards downfield. In this breakdown I wanted to take a look at the legitimacy of these claims as well as look at big plays and common themes displayed by the Redskins and Kirk Cousins in Jay Gruden’s quick-concept offense.
Kirk Cousins – 21/31 for 196 yards, 6.3 ypa, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 sack for 8 yards
Let’s take a look at some of his plays starting with the long sideline throw to DeSean Jackson in the 1st quarter that resulted in Jackson pulling his hamstring.
Play 1 – 1-10-WAS 23(Q1-5:49) 8-K.Cousins pass incomplete deep right to 11-D.Jackson. WAS-11-D.Jackson was injured during the play. He is Out. 11-Jackson has a hamstring injury
In this play, the Redskins are in offset-I slot right with 5:49 left in the 1st quarter. After Cousins runs play-action to his running back #46 Alfred Morris he throw deep down the sideline to wide receiver #11 DeSean Jackson. Looking at the play we are left with a question mark as we don’t know when exactly Jackson pulls his hamstring leaving us with two scenarios:
The first scenario is that Cousins placed the ball perfectly in front of Jackson on his out-n-up route and Jackson pulls his muscle mid-play resulting in the perceived “overthrow.” The second scenario is that Cousins’ overthrew the ball and when Jackson reached out for it he injured himself and missed out on a long passing opportunity down the sideline.
By inspection it doesn’t look like Jackson slowed down or was effected by his hamstring until after reaching out for the ball, so it makes you believe the latter was the case. However, Jay Gruden said the opposite in his press conference that Kirk placed the ball in-stride, but the hamstring pull slowed down Jackson who would have reached it if he was healthy. We don’t know for sure.
Play 2- 3-5-WAS 46(Q1-3:11) (Shotgun) 8-K.Cousins pass deep right to 88-P.Garcon pushed ob at MIA 36 for 18 yards (35-W.Aikens).
The Redskins run a smash concept on 3rd down against the Dolphins’ Cover 2 defense. The smash concept featuring an outside receiver, in this case #12 Andre Roberts, running a hitch route while the slot receiver, in this case #88 Pierre Garcon, runs a corner route.
The idea of this play is to target the outside cornerback and make him choose to cover the underneath route or have him drop into deeper coverage while leaving the underneath route open. In this case the defender chose the underneath route hoping the safety would make it to the corner route in time. Cousins throws a well-placed ball on the sideline allowing only Pierre Garcon a chance at the ball for the first down. Perfectly called and perfectly executed by the Redskins offense.
Play 3 – 3-8-WAS 22(Q2-12:36) (Shotgun) 8-K.Cousins pass short left to 88-P.Garcon ran ob at WAS 36 for 14 yards [91-C.Wake]. PENALTY on WAS-88-P.Garcon, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at WAS 22 – No Play.
Cousins is in a 3×1 set with trips bunch on the right and Pierre Garcon by himself at the bottom of your screen.
This play was called back for offensive pass interference on Garcon, but the ball placement is what we are looking at. It’s actually a perfectly placed ball. The reason why Garcon has to dive to reach for it is because he trips coming out of his break to the outside and then is late on the timing pattern. Cousins throws with excellent anticipation and places it right on the sideline for him.
Play 4 – 3-18-WAS 12(Q2-12:15) (Shotgun) 8-K.Cousins pass short right intended for 86-J.Reed INTERCEPTED by 21-B.Grimes at WAS 23. 21-B.Grimes ran ob at WAS 21 for 2 yards.
Up to this next play, Cousins was having an excellent game. He was accurate on the short routes and even showed a nice touch on the sideline passes. All too familiar to Redskins fans, Cousins throws an interception in his own territory. So what happened?
First, the Redskins are in Gun slot right with “20” personnel in the game (two running backs – three wide receivers). Cousins snaps the ball trying to catch the Dolphins off-guard as they are still discussing their assignments. The Dolphins drop three into a deep Cover 3 shell while bringing three in pass rush with the fourth picking up the checkdown receiver.
Right tackle #76 Morgan Moses gets beat off of the snap immediately by defensive end #91 Cameron Wake’s speed rush. Moses recovers from his mistake and is able to flatten Wake before he can reach Cousins for the sack, but the pressure forces Cousins to step up into the pocket and scramble outside. Cousins keeps his eyes locked onto his target tight end #86 Jordan Reed on the sideline and then fires a pass to him that gets intercepted by cornerback #21 Brent Grimes. Here is the problem. As soon as Cousins turns to run outside the pocket Grimes follows Cousins’ eyes and reads him to cut off the pass.
Cousins needs to realize that the pass to the sideline is already a substantial distance, but combined with Reed starting to move up the sideline it becomes a dangerous play if he doesn’t read the defenders around his target. This skill takes time to develop and only comes with more experience in actual game situations.
Honestly, when Cousins threw the ball I half-expected him to have turned up the field and targeted Andre Roberts working the seam between the zones after the scrambling started. In 2014 this is where you would have seen Cousins force the ball and in this case it probably would have worked to get the Redskins the first down. Some may also note that Garcon is also open underneath his hitch route after the scrambling started on the opposite side of the field. This would have been a poor decision as Cousins would have had to throw completely across his body as he was scrambling in the opposite direction.
It was the combination of a poor decision by Cousins and Reed starting to move upfield anticipating the pass that lengthened the throw even more than if he stayed put in the flat on the sideline that causes the interception. Luckily for Cousins’ the Redskins defense is able to force a turnover on downs and not allow the Dolphins to capitalize on Cousins’ error. A HUGE difference from the 2014 Redskins.
Play 5- 1-10-MIA 14(Q2-2:56) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 8-K.Cousins pass short left to 89-D.Carrier pushed ob at MIA 5 for 9 yards (53-J.Jenkins).
Throughout most of the afternoon, the Redskins used a variety of quick-concept play designs meant to specifically attack particular members of the defense. In this play, the Redskins run mirrored hitch-flat routes in an attempt to attack the outside zone defender on either side of the formation. In this case, it’s the weakside linebacker #53 Jelani Jenkins on the bottom of your screen.
The hitch-flat combination forces the targeted underneath zone defender to choose which route he wants to cover. If he decides to cover the hitch, the flat is open. If he decides to cover the flat, the hitch is left open. Ironically, Jenkins chooses to cover the flat defender, but since he runs into the hitch receiver (Pierre Garcon), Cousins has the flat defender open underneath which he places perfectly for tight end #89 Derek Carrier to catch and gain 9 yards on the play.
Another thing to note is the three-step drop that Cousins takes. The design is to have Cousins release the ball on the third step, while bouncing off his second step to throw the pass on time. Cousins does this perfectly. Another excellent example of Cousins understanding the Jay Gruden’s quick concept that was used throughout most of the day.