A few highlights from Kirk Cousins’ first start (26-for-37, 329 yards, two touchdowns, one interception):
1. The 54-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson. It came after four series in which the Redskins gained no first downs. Cousins ran a bootleg to the right; I thought this would be a big part of the game plan, but did not see it much early. Anyway, it worked as Hankerson ran from the backside.
“I could have run it for a good gain, but just felt like it was a lot of space over the top,” Cousins said. “There was no safety there to take it away and let it rip, and I trusted Hank to make me right and Hank did that.”
Hankerson said, “As I’m running across the field I see the safety come down and I looked back at the quarterback and I see Kirk winding up to throw it and I knew he was throwing to me. He did a great job reading the coverage and getting the ball out.”
2. The bootlegs worked well. Very well.
“It messed with them a whole lot,” Hankerson said. “We run a whole lot of stretch to the outside. When you do play-action off that they’re looking for the ball to get to the running back. Having a great back like [Alfred] Morris, they pull all their coverage up and that’s when the quarterback can do his job and make the read and put the ball in the right area.”
3. Cousins’ other touchdown was easy, too, as it went to Hankerson again off misdirection. Those fakes had the same impact as the zone read option game does for Robert Griffin III. On this one, Cousins faked hard to the left and threw back to Hankerson who was wide open, having run across the formation from behind the line. Just a smart play design and well-executed.
4. Cousins even gained 22 yards on three carries.The Redskins even ran a zone read once from the pistol formation. Just because.
“You don’t see the defenses as concerned about my ability to run, obviously,” Cousins said. “Aside from that, very similar, I think. I think as much as Robert wants to show people he can be a pocket passer, which he can, I want to show people that I can move around a little bit, and I think I did that today.”
5. He was thrilled to start, naturally.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I said to my dad last night, ‘It’s either going to be the highest of highs if we win or the lowest of lows, and there’s not going to be much in between.’ We’re certainly feeling the highs right now. It’s a game I’ll remember for a long time, and if I die tomorrow, I can say that I started a game in the NFL and we won, so it’s a good feeling.”
6. I like that Cousins said “time will tell” about his ability as a future starter. It shows the kid isn’t going overboard after one (excellent) start and that he knows there’s a long way to go. Meantime, he’ll keep preparing. And he’ll savor Sunday. By the way, yes he was nervous.
“I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t butterflies,” he said. “You know, some of the veterans said to me after last week’s game and during this week of preparation, ‘You look calm.’ I said, ‘I don’t feel calm inside. I’d be lying to you if I told you my stomach wasn’t churning.’ But that’s part of it, because I care about how I do. I’m gonna get nervous about what I care about, and this is important to me. Yeah, there were some butterflies – probably a bit more than when I started the game off as a backup, but it reminded me of my college years and hopefully I can have more of those butterflies in the future if I get another opportunity.”
7. Having a number of family members in attendance added to the day. Here’s what he had to say:
“It was very special to have my family there and a lot of my friends,” Cousins said. “It was unique that my opportunity to start happened to be within a five-hour driving distance of my hometown and my school where I played. I had college and high school friends here. Obviously my family, grandparents. A very special moment for me, obviously, and we made the most of it, but I do derive a lot of strength from having my family there. They traveled all through college to all my games, bowl games, and it’s just very special to have them there and share that with them – especially when you look back at how long they’ve been with me and how long they’ve been there when I was a youth football player and a high school football player.”
8. The interception appeared forced into coverage. Will check it out again, but that’s the initial thought. Cousins was not sharp early and left a few throws short. But overall he handled his first start as well as anyone could have hoped.
“It shows you what the guy is all about,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.