How often have we seen it before? A starting quarterback goes down, and when the backup comes in, the drop off in play is noticeable to even the most casual fans.
Portions of the playbook are lit on fire.
Delay of game penalties abound.
Chemistry? Forget it.
Yet, when Kirk Cousins rushed into the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, these are things we did not see. The only thing our offense failed to do when Captain Kirk took over was skip a beat.
I think in everyone's rush to psychologically brace themselves for the possibility that Robert Griffin III was done for the season, we looked past a fairly obvious sign that this team might be in pretty decent hands from a head coach perspective:
Kirk Cousins' success belongs as much to Jay Gruden as it does to Kirk Cousins.
You can't sell Kirk short. The mental reps he takes during practice and even in games is all him. Preparing yourself mentally to be ready to go into a game at some point--or never--can't be an easy exercise. You have to be strong between the ears to be able to do that. You bring that with you when you come to work. No coach or general manager instills that in you at the pro level. You learn that as a young player. To be certain, Kirk Cousins has proven he is an elite professional backup quarterback. This is an important fact. He might or might not be a great starting quarterback, but we KNOW he is a great backup. When he came off the bench in that Baltimore game in 2012, he showed it. He showed it on Sunday.
When you see that Kirk Cousins completed his first 12 passes against the Jags, your first inclination might be that he is just that good. While that remains to be seen, I believe there is something we are skipping right past there. Jay Gruden didn't nuke his gameplan or his playbook when Cousins went into the game. He trusted that Cousins could execute the plays he wanted to run and he didn't water down his approach. As much credit as we give to Cousins for paying attention in class, what about credit to the teacher for knowing what to do and how to do it with a guy coming off the bench? Doesn't Gruden get a ton of props for investing time appropriately in Cousins from Day 1...for ensuring that he had two players who could run the same offense the way he wanted to call it? Play-calling is as much an art as it is a science. I think every team stresses it, but few teams accomplish having two guys with roughly the same aptitude for the offense. When a starter goes down, the odds move tremendously in favor of the opponent. For a coach to stay in his comfort zone as a play-caller on game day when his starting passer gets blown up speaks volumes about his investment in the backup. No matter how good a player is coming off the bench, most coaches feel pressure to alter things (sometimes considerably) when that backup enters the fray.
The biggest test for a professional backup quarterback is to come in off the bench without those first team reps in practice all week. Scout team reps just aren't the same. Coming in cold and playing hot is not an easy task. Cousins aced that test. So did the former pro quarterback and current head coach. Jay Gruden was as composed as Kirk Cousins was and this had as much to do with our success on offense as anything Kirk Cousins did.
The next test comes when the backup gets those first team reps in practice all week, and the opponent has a full week to prepare for him. Similar to the initial baptism by fire, this requires both great coaching as well as great player preparation. Based on what we have seen so far, we have reason to believe that Gruden and Cousins are capable of putting together something that the Philadelphia Eagles will have a hard time against.
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