Most analysts consider the turning point for quarterback Kirk Cousins, and by extension the Washington Redskins, to be his now iconic exclamation: “You like that!”
It was Week 7 of the NFL season. Cousins had just brought the Redskins back from a 24-0 deficit to beat the Buccaneers 31-30. That was the biggest comeback in the franchise's history.
But prior to the game (following a loss to the New York Jets), Cousins delivered an even more amazing quote putting his early-season streak of interceptions into perspective.
“I don’t feel like the turnovers this year have been quite as awful as they were last year,” Cousins told Sports Illustrated. “Some of the interceptions I threw last year were just very poor reads, very poor throws, very poor decisions, and while some of the interceptions this year have been that, I don’t think it’s been quite as many.”
Until then, Cousins was averaging 236.6 yards per game and had thrown just six touchdowns to eight interceptions, going for a 77.4 Quarterback Rating. Since claiming his interceptions were getting better, Cousins has been the best quarterback in the league, throwing for 274.6 yards per game with a 72.4 completion percentage, 23 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions, with a Quarterback Rating 119.1.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels, who went to Iowa and played against Cousins, expressed little surprise at the quarterback’s stellar play when he spoke to ESPN reporters.
“He has great poise,” said Daniels, who went 2-1 against Cousins in college but failed to sack him. “When you draw up a quarterback, that’s how you draw him up, just like him. All the clichés you hear about quarterbacks, he exemplifies all of it.”
While Cousins and the Redskins have been cruising and won their last four straight grames, the Packers have stumbled into the Wild Card playoffs, losing two straight including a matchup for the NFC North against the Minnesota Vikings. Aaron Rodgers has put up great stats again this season, throwing 31 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions, but the efficiency metrics tell another story.
The Packers rank 19th in the league in Weighted-DVOA, and 21st in the offensive component of the metric. DVOA, or defense-adjusted value over average, measures the efficiency of a team in terms of how points and yards are gained and conceded, adjusted against the opposing team. The weighted version of this stat represents an attempt to figure out how a team is playing right now, as opposed to over the season as a whole, by making recent games more important than earlier games. The Packers team DVOA for the season is 11th, which indicates that the team has been performing very poorly over their last few games.
The root of the Packers troubles has been the offensive line, which has struggled to open up holes for the running game and protect Rodgers. Just in his last two games, Rodgers has been sacked 13 times, and his line is 23rd in terms of pass protection, conceding sacks on 7.9 percent of drop backs that register, according to Football Outsiders. The run blocking has been worse, as the Packers only create 3.56 adjusted yards per rushing play, good for 25th in the league.
The Packers offensive line, which could be boosted by the return of injured left tackle David Bakhtiari, will need to protect Rodgers if they hope to have any success on offense. Watching early on to see how the matchup in the trenches between the line and the Redskins lineman goes should hint as to who has the advantage.
Washington has not won an NFL playoff game since 2005, and the fans in D.C. will be loud and make life difficult for Rodgers. The popular pick seems to be Rodgers and his pedigree, but the Redskins are playing considerably better, and Cousins has been exceptional since he told reporters he was turning the ball over better.
Look for Washington to move into the divisional round playoffs and keep the good times rolling in Washington, D.C.