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Code Red or False Alarm?

We've all seen this movie before.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Hey, Redskins fans!  We're a few days shy of the bye week, and you'll never guess what we're all discussing!

From Jay Gruden's status as a Kirk Cousins apologist, to accusations of a racial component to Cousins' job security and Robert Griffin III's treatment, the most common topic of conversation and consternation among Redskins observers is the quarterback position.


The introduction of the specter of racism is as unsurprising as it is flimsy.  But it's a nearly foolproof way to gin up controversy (and all-important CLICKS!!!): Even if there's little-to-no-evidence to support the accusation, the resulting backlash against it will become a story unto itself.  It's a can't-miss proposition!

Here, I don't think many folks sincerely believe there's racism at work.  I certainly don't.  However, I do understand why a few people might legitimately confuse the petty and seemingly gratuitous belittling of RGIII for something more sinister.  The disparate treatment of the two is very likely more about Cousins being a low-key personality perceived by Gruden as a "system" guy (Dalton Lite?) compared to drama magnet Griffin, who blossomed in a very different, now-extinct offense.

While I think most serious people can put the racism angle to bed, I also believe that there are real questions worth considering about the Redskins quarterback situation.

Specifically, does Kirk Cousins deserve to be starting after another multi-interception loss?  And how does Robert Griffin III fit into all of this—especially since he's now behind Colt McCoy on the depth chart?  Has Cousins really been that bad?  And, even if we all agree that Cousins hasn't been good, he's still an upgrade over RGIII, right?


As luck would have it, Cousins' 2015 season thus far and Robert Griffin's entire 2014 campaign include a similar number of snaps.  Let's compare!

Cousins (2015):  151/228 (66.2%), 1,420 yards, 6 TD (2.6%), 8 INT (3.5%), 77.4 rating.

Griffin (2014): 147/214 (68.7%), 1,694 yards, 4 TD (1.9%), 6 INT (2.8%), 86.9 rating.

Griffin had more yardage, a slightly higher completion percentage, and fewer interceptions than Cousins has this season.  On the other hand, Cousins has more touchdown passes.  However, Griffin's QB rating was nearly 10 points higher than Cousins' current mark.

What about yards per pass attempt?  It's the statistic that some football analysts—and coaches dating back to Don Coryell—consider the single most relevant measure of quarterback play.

Cousins doesn't fare well.  He's at 6.2 yards per pass attempt, while Griffin tallied a robust 7.9 yards per attempt last year.  Even taking into account "adjusted" yards per attempt, which factors in touchdowns and interceptions in an effort to be an even truer assessment of a passer's effectiveness, Griffin's advantage actually grows slightly, as he tops Cousins 7.0 to 5.2 in AY/A.

It's worth remembering that Griffin's play last year raised serious concerns about his future in Washington, if not his future as an NFL starting quarterback.  Granted, a lot of that had as much to do with the team losing as it did with the raw numbers Griffin put up—with those numbers and game outcomes obviously being intertwined to some extent.  Yet, Griffin's "bad" stats actually compare very favorably to what Cousins has done since taking over the starting job late in preseason.

But my point is not to say that Robert Griffin III should be the starting quarterback of the Redskins right now.  Rather, it's to highlight that, even taking an optimistic view, Cousins has been no better this year than Griffin was last year.  Objectively, a strong argument can be made that he's been worse.

The Redskins sit at 2-4, fortuitously still very much alive in the NFC East race.  Were it not for hopes kept alive by the mediocrity of the division, a quarterback switch may have already occurred.  As it stands, Cousins can stave off the voices calling for his benching with a decent performance and a victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday.

A loss to the Bucs at home and a 2-5 mark heading into the bye week (with the Patriots looming thereafter) probably means at least one big change will be in store for the Redskins before the end of October.  It's unclear whether that change would mean a new quarterback, or possibly even a new coach.

What is clear is that a game against below-average Tampa will go a long way toward determining the respective fates of Kirk Cousins, Jay Gruden, and Robert Griffin III.