(John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Here we go again.
Joe Theismann, a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth, was back stirring the pot during Washington’s 23-17 loss to Baltimore on Saturday night, saying on air, “Let’s stop beating around the bush. Kirk Cousins has played much better at the quarterback position than Robert Griffin III has.” And he kept on going. “It’s going to be a decision that Jay Gruden is going to have to make … if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn’t be a competition. Kirk Cousins would be the man I believe he would have to go to.”
Theismann also managed to compare Cousins to Andy Dalton simply due to both being dropback quarterbacks, a bizarre compliment in itself considering the amount of pocket passers in the league that are better at their jobs than Dalton. But Theismann’s point seems clear — Cousins should be Washington’s week one starter due to his status as a traditional quarterback and his ability to beat up on second-string defenses in the preseason.
Theismann’s words fall on deaf ears, of course; there is no quarterback controversy in Washington regardless of how much the media wants there to be one. Griffin is entrenched as the team’s starter and Cousins remains his backup, but I think it would be interesting to examine just how ridiculous the notion is that Gruden and Co. are rolling with the inferior option.
To start, here’s how Cousins has fared in key rate statistics so far in his career and where he ranks among all quarterbacks who attempted at least as many passes since he entered the league:
To frame it another way, here’s how Cousins has registered against the league average with those 203 regular-season passes that Washington has given him. Using Pro Football Reference’s Advanced Passing index, a 100 here is average and a standard deviation is 15; an 85 or 115 would respectively be one standard deviation below or above a league-average quarterback in this time frame.
Diplomatically speaking, Cousins has performed well below the average passer since 2012. To put it bluntly, he’s been a terrible player. He’s done nothing well but avoid sacks, and only four quarterbacks have fared worse than him in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt — Mark Sanchez (81), Terrelle Pryor (77), Geno Smith (77), and Blaine Gabbert (74).
This is an agonizingly small sample to extrapolate from, but Cousins’ hype machine has been built upon an even smaller quantity. From what I can tell, his supporters believe he’s exclusively the quarterback who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-point win over the Browns in his rookie year and not the guy who finished almost two standard deviations below the mean in index efficiency last season when given multiple games to showcase his talents. Never mind the fact that Cousins turned the ball over seven times in his three fill-in starts for an injured Griffin, ‘cause he looked really good in that two-pass relief effort against the Ravens two years ago!
Griffin struggled last season, but he was still roughly a league-average quarterback. His nadir has been exaggerated. Even after a precipitous fall from his sensational debut campaign, an injury-riddled Griffin was able to accumulate the fifth-most rushing yards among all signal-callers despite playing in only 13 games last year — an area of offense that Cousins provides negligible value in — and finish higher than fellow 2012 first-rounder Ryan Tannehill in index efficiency. That may not sound like much of an accomplishment for a former Rookie of the Year who was one of the league’s five-best quarterbacks as a 22-year-old, but keep in mind that Griffin is considered damaged goods by many while Tannehill is being pegged as a popular breakout candidate in the Dolphins’ new offense.
I’m not saying that Griffin will return to 2012 form. That isn’t my point, and as Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight explains, Griffin has likely peaked statistically. But by all the information we have available, he is undoubtedly Washington’s preferred option going forward over Cousins, a guy who has struggled to resemble a replacement-level player to this point in his career, let alone a viable franchise quarterback. To think otherwise would mean placing a tremendous amount of importance on what Cousins is doing in the preseason … and the analysis of a 64-year-old sportscaster.