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Kirk Cousins vs Saints – 20/25, 324 yards, 4 TDs, 158.3 Passer Rating

Kirk Cousins led the Redskins in a victory over the New Orleans Saints with a career performance. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns. Out of those 25 passes, 19 of them were within six yards of the line of scrimmage. In this article, I’m going to show you how these short passes formed the basis to Gruden’s Quick-Concept offense and how they destroyed the Saints’ Cover 3 defense under Rob Ryan.

Here are my previous articles I have written about Kirk Cousins so far this season:

But before we look at the tape, let’s take a look at when Cousins threw the ball, where he targeted his receivers, and which routes his receivers ran versus the Saints.

Pass Breakdown

Quarter Completions/Attempts Yards (YPA) Touchdowns
1st 9/9 116 (12.9) 2
2nd 8/11 179 (16.3) 1
3rd 3/5 29 (5.8) 1
Total 20/25 324(12.96) 4

Note: The Redskins pulled Kirk Cousins for Colt McCoy in the 4th quarter. McCoy had no passes and just let Alfred Morris and Matt Jones run the ball to end the game.

Location Breakdown

Passes are measured from the line of scrimmage to the receiver. Short passes are less than 6 yards, intermediate passes are between 6 and 15 yards, while deep passes are passes greater than 15 yards deep. First number represents the number of completions at this location, while the second represents the total targets.

Deep Left Deep Middle Deep Right
Intermediate Left Intermediate Middle Intermediate Right
1/1 1/1
Short Left Short Middle Short Right
6/6 3/3 9/10

19 of Kirk Cousins’ 25 passes were thrown within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage. That’s 76%! Does that mean all Kirk Cousins does is check the ball down? The answer is a firm: NO!

The Redskins offense is based on the quick-concept pass. This is an almost identical offense to the offense that Tom Brady runs. The idea is quite simple: Allow the receivers to gain yards after the catch after quick-breaking routes. Now this concept isn’t run the entirely of the game. Cousins did throw multiple shots down the field, such as this play to DeSean Jackson where Cousins places the ball perfectly to him after Jackson runs a switch-concept wheel route up the left sideline. The Saints are in Cover 1 Man so the wheel route after the switch is the first read on the play.

The other three deep passes were all pressure throwaways. Rob Ryan’s defensive line was able to beat the Redskins’ offensive lineman into the backfield, but due to Cousins situational intelligence he was able to get rid of the ball out-of-bounds saving the drive.

Route Breakdown

Flat 5/5
RB Box 4/4
Slant/Drag 3/4
Screen 3/3
Out/Quick-Out 2/3
Wheel/Fade 1/3
Corner 0/1
Skinny Post 1/1
Stop 1/1

Looking at the route breakdown you will see a large number of flat, box, and inside-breaking routes…Why?

The Saints gave the Redskins Cover 3 looks the vast majority of the game. Due to the location of the underneath linebackers in coverage the quick-concept is a perfect method to attack these defenders and isolate them allowing the receivers to gain yards after the catch.

This isn’t a new concept. This is actually a concept that Bill Walsh of the legendary 49ers ran back in the 70s and 80s that is regaining popularity due to the large number of teams that run Cover 1 and Cover 3 shells in the NFL today. Kirk Cousins simply exploited what the defense gave him. Let’s take a look at some of his plays!

A Career High Four Touchdowns

The first touchdown was on the Redskins play-action two level pass concept to Jordan Reed. Reed coming from the left edge of the pocket deserves all the credit on this play outside of Carrier’s late downfield block by the endzone.

The Redskins actually ran this play three times in a row: twice on the following drive to Young and Reed again. The Saints covered the play much better the second/third time around only allowing 4 cumulative yards between the two.

Screens and more screens!

The Redskins ran three screens last Sunday. Two of them to rookie running back Matt Jones with a third to rookie Jamison Crowder. The shortest screen went for 29 yards…

…While the longest went for 78 yards and a touchdown.

Side note: Watch cornerback #39 Brandon Browner lay a cheap shot on left guard #61 Spencer Long while Matt Jones is already downfield.

Simply put these horizontal stretch screen plays isolated the defenders and allowed the blockers to lead Jones and Crowder down the field.

The other two touchdowns came on a quick slant and skinny-post route run by Crowder and Reed, respectively. Crowder beats his man in off-man coverage after a quick out-step that turns the cornerback’s hips too far outside.

Reed is able to break free inside on a slant route easily gaining separation against Browner for the score. Just like in previous weeks the Redskins are much more dynamic when Jordan Reed is healthy, but sadly that is not always the case for the team.

A Perfect Passer Rating Can Still Have Negatives

Cousins was sacked three times in this game. All three happened in the 2nd quarter, but only two of the three you can blame on Cousins.

The first one happened with 7:12 remaining in the 1st half. Cousins first reads are covered and as he pans to the left side of the field he does not see wide receiver #19 Rashad Ross sitting between zones. Cousins decides to tuck it and scramble out the left edge of the pocket only to be taken down behind the line of scrimmage for a sack.

Known for forcing the ball over the middle of the field (i.e. Rex Grossman 2.0), this is very unlike the Cousins we usually see. Good and bad, Cousins is definitely learning in his 17 games started to not make rash decisions over the middle of the field. Let’s just find the middle ground and hope he sees Ross next time for the completion.

On the next sack the Saints run a Cover 0 blitz which allows them to bring a free rusher on the left edge of the pocket. Some may blame running back Chris Thompson for this sack on initial inspection, but he blocks the inside rusher first, which is the correct block to make. So why do I blame this sack on Cousins?

I don’t blame Cousins entirely. Reed does a poor job on his slant route not gaining any separation, but also showing poor situational awareness as the hot route receiver. In my opinion, the quarterback is also partially responsible as he could “McNabb” the ball throwing it at Reed’s feet for the incompletion isntead of the sack.

As I mentioned above in the location breakdown, three of Cousins’ four deep left passes were throwaways as Cousins was feeling pressure in the pocket. These throwaways helped keep the drives alive. Overall, Cousins exploited exactly what the Saints’ defense gave him. By the third quarter, the Redskins did not need to throw the ball down the field and mainly brought an extra offensive lineman (Tom Compton) in to run gap/power blocking run plays with the running backs. An ideal result for the Redskins offense that has struggled to find an identity in weeks past.

The Redskins face the undefeated Panthers next week. Their defense is significantly better than the Saints, so be on the lookout for how the quick game works on their Kuechly-led defense. The most critical thing will be how Gruden adjusts to the pressure and the variety of coverage shells the Panthers throw at the Redskins.

Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.

Samuel Gold

Sam founded NFL Breakdowns after working his way through the journalist farm system and is enjoying life in the big league. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sam didn’t choose the Redskins, the Redskins chose him. Out of a love for the game and an insatiable curiosity to determine why his beloved team was underperforming, Sam turned to studying film in NFL Breakdowns.