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What's the Best QB Season in Redskins History?

Kirk Cousins has been terrific lately, but where does his very good 2015 season stack up against some of the better passing years in franchise history?

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With an unlikely divisional title happily in hand, the debate this week concerns how much (if at all) several key Redskins starters will play against the Cowboys.

There are really no easy answers.  One school of thought says that the Redskins need to keep their incredible momentum going, while another says that risking injuries to important starters is a bad move for a team that can't improve its position with a win, and which won't have the luxury of a bye week.  Complicating things slightly is the fact that the Cowboys are obviously the Redskins' arch-rival, and they already beat Washington once this year.

I think a preseason-like strategy makes the most sense.  While winning would be nice, it's ultimately more important to stay healthy, even if that ultimately means losing to Dallas.  From a fan's perspective, I can't ever recall a Dallas game €”that I cared less about winning.

Because of this uncertainty about playing time, we don't know whether Kirk Cousins will have an opportunity to add to his current hot streak.  I'll just say that, if Trent Williams gets a night off, the Redskins are nuts if they play Cousins.  But that's not the point of this article.

What I'm interested in is considering where Cousins' season stacks up among the great quarterback years in Redskins history.

A few provisos at the outset: The NFL's rules have changed so radically in the last four decades that passing numbers from earlier eras have to be considered in the proper context.  Pre-1978 NFL offenses were under many more restrictions than they are currently, and rules have continued to be liberalized in the offenses' favor since the 1978 sea-change.

To cite one specific example, the Redskins lost the 1945 NFL title game because a Sammy Baugh pass from his own end zone hit the goal posts (which were at the goal line then).  That counted as a safety, ultimately providing the final margin of victory for the (Cleveland!) Rams in a 15-14 game.

A combination of different rules and different offensive schemes made it much tougher to post high completion percentages, to avoid throwing interceptions, and to notch quarterback ratings over 100 (or even 90).  Another Baugh example: Slingin' Sammy led the NFL in quarterback rating as a rookie in 1937 . . . with a 50.5 mark.

It's also important to remember another shift from 1978: The 16-game season.  The NFL used a 14-game schedule prior to ‘78, a 12-game schedule before 1961, and a 10-game (or even irregular) schedule until 1947.

Anyway, keep all of that in mind when reviewing some of the stats that follow.  Here are a few noteworthy seasons for Redskins quarterbacks, from most-recent to oldest:

Kirk Cousins, 2015 (69.5%, 3990 yards, 26 TD, 11 INT, 7.6 Y/Att, 266.0 Y/G, 99.2 rating): I think the most impressive point about Cousins' strong season is the upward trend.  Long plagued by turnovers, Cousins broke that pattern as the season went on, improving his consistency and productivity.  His QB rating for his last seven games: 158.3, 89.2, 114.4, 101.4, 104.2, 153.7, 120.3.  Cousins has already set the team record for completions, and will have a very good shot at breaking the yardage record if he plays on Sunday.  He could finish the season as the first Redskins quarterback to lead the NFL in completion percentage since Sonny Jurgensen in 1970.

Robert Griffin III, 2012 (65.6%, 3200 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT, 8.1 Y/Att, 213.3 Y/G, 102.4 rating, plus 815 rushing yards): Griffin's magical rookie season included a microscopic interception percentage that led the NFL, an excellent and NFL-best 8.1 yards per pass attempt, and a 6.8 yards-per-carry figure that also led the league.  With good reason, he won Rookie of the Year honors after leading the Redskins to a divisional title.  It may be a while before we see someone lead the NFL in rushing yards per attempt and passing yards per attempt again---although Russell Wilson is probably the best bet to do so.  Griffin added an element that none of these other players have, rushing for 815 yards to go along with his passing accomplishments.

Mark Rypien, 1991 (59.1%, 3564 yards, 28 TD, 11 INT, 8.5 Y/Att, 222.8 Y/G, 97.9 rating): The last Redskins quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Rypien was the perfect QB for Joe Gibbs' system.  His consistent ability to hit rollout bombs helped propel the Redskins to a 14-2 record and three easy postseason victories.  Rypien had an even better yards-per-attempt number than RGIII's league-leading mark in 2012, and his yards per completion for 1991 was an exceptional 14.3, which did lead the NFL.  He also probably would have approached 4,000 yards passing, but for the fact that the Redskins played in so many blowouts that year.  Rypien was a Pro Bowler in ‘91, as well as the MVP of Super Bowl XXVI.

Jay Schroeder, 1986 (51.0%, 4109 yards, 22 TD, 22 INT, 7.6 Y/Att, 256.8 Y/G, 72.9 rating): Schroeder threw for a franchise-record 4,109 yards while tossing 22 touchdowns en route to the Pro Bowl.  He led the Redskins to a 12-4 regular-season record, finishing 14-5 overall (three of Washington's five losses were to the eventual world-champion Giants).  His massive interception total was only mildly troubling by mid-80s standards, as was his completion percentage that barely topped 50%.  Like Rypien, Schroeder led the NFL in yards per completion.  Schroeder's number was even higher than Rypien's five years later, as Jay averaged 14.9 yards for every completion.  To put that into perspective, Schroder totaled more yardage in 1986 than Kirk Cousins has this year on nearly 100 more completions.

Joe Theismann, 1983 (60.1%, 3714 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT, 8.1 Y/Att, 232.1 Y/G, 97.0 rating): In a truly excellent season, Theismann had an NFL-best five game-winning drives as the Redskins romped to a 14-2 record and a return trip to the Super Bowl.  Breaking the 60% mark in completion percentage and only throwing 11 picks in this style of offense was a real achievement in 1983.  Theismann was fifth in yardage, second in touchdown passes, second in quarterback rating, and first in adjusted yards per pass attempt in his remarkable year.  It was so remarkable, in fact, that Theismann was named MVP of the National Football League, the last time that a Washington Redskin has won that honor.

Billy Kilmer, 1972 (53.3%, 1648 yards, 19 TD, 11 INT, 7.3 Y/Att, 137.3 Y/G, 84.8 rating): Hear me out.  I debated whether to put this season on the list, especially since Kilmer split time at quarterback until Sonny Jurgensen got hurt.  But consider that (1) the Redskins won the NFC that year, (2) Kilmer made the Pro Bowl, (3) Kilmer led the NFL with 19 touchdown passes, despite starting only 10 games, and (4) Kilmer led the NFL in quarterback rating.  Those last two points seem silly, given the numbers involved (19 and 84.8, respectively).  However, again remember that the NFL was much different pre-1978.  Those were good numbers for that era of pro football.

Sonny Jurgensen, 1967 (56.7%, 3747 yards, 31 TD, 16 INT, 7.4 Y/Att, 267.6 Y/G, 87.3 rating): Unlike the other names on this list, except for Baugh, there wasn't one year that clearly stood out for Jurgensen.  I could have just as easily picked 1966 or 1969, but Jurgensen's yardage and TD totals were highest in ‘67.  That year, he led the NFL in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per game, and QB rating.  Sixteen picks may seem like a lot in today's NFL, but Jurgensen also had the lowest interception rate in the league at 3.1 percent.  His 267.6 yards per game is the highest on this list, and would be the equivalent to 4,282 yards in a 16-game schedule.  He finished more than 300 yards ahead of the #2 guy (Johnny Unitas) in total passing yards.  Jurgensen also had an NFL-best four fourth-quarter comebacks.  In addition, he posted the only season of 30-plus touchdown passes in Redskins history.  The only big knock is that Washington wasn't very good, finishing 5-6-3 in a weird season---but that's not really Sonny's fault.

Sammy Baugh, 1947 (59.3%, 2938 yards, 25 TD, 15 INT, 8.3 Y/Att, 244.8 Y/G, 92.0 rating): Again, context is hugely important when evaluating players from this practically prehistoric era of NFL football.  The biggest compliment I can give this season is that Baugh's numbers look solid even by today's standards.  To give you an idea of how much better Baugh was than everyone else, he led the NFL with that 92.0 rating.  Second place was Tommy Thompson's 76.3.  Third was Sid Luckman's 67.7.  Only four quarterbacks in the league broke 60.  Baugh threw for nearly 3,000 yards in a year when only two other quarterbacks (Luckman and Paul Christman) threw for more than 1,775 yards.  Baugh's passing yardage equates to nearly 4,000 in a 16-game schedule, which is absolutely bonkers, given the rules in play at the time.

Sammy Baugh, 1945 (70.3%, 1669 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 9.2 Y/Att, 208.6 Y/G, 109.9 rating): I had to include a second year for Baugh.  The touchdown and yardage marks are very good for that era (Baugh played eight games of 1945's ten-game schedule), but the completion percentage figure is just unfathomable to me.  I don't know how it would be possible to complete 70% while throwing the glorified rugby ball they used then, much less with almost no rules protecting offensive players.  Baugh's 70.3% is still the fourth-highest ever.  Also, his 109.9 rating was 27.4 points ahead of Sid Luckman's (very good!) 82.5.  Baugh's 1945 season came at a time when the NFL was transitioning from a single-wing league into a T-formation league with more passing.  The year he put up in 1945 would be like Steph Curry going back in time and hitting 300 three-pointers in 1979-80.

Thus, I'm trying to make two points with this article.  First, while the Redskins haven't had a lot of great quarterbacks, fans have at least been able to witness some individual seasons that were truly excellent.

Secondly, Sammy Baugh was fairly obviously a time-traveler.