Analysis  

 

NFC East upheaval on full display at the quarterback position

Print

The carnage that swept up NFC East quarterbacks Sunday spared one of the division's four starters: Kirk Cousins.

Let that marinate.

The guy who plays the one position on the one team that seems to be in perpetual turmoil came through just fine. Cousins won for the third time in 11 career starts for the Washington Redskins.

CHARGERS AT RAIDERS

Yes, Cousins emerged unscathed, clean of controversy and victorious. That alone is noteworthy in light of what happened to the other starting quarterbacks in the NFC East.

Dallas' Tony Romo is now out for at least two months with a broken collarbone. Philadelphia's Sam Bradford and New York's Eli Manning both lost for the second consecutive week in dubious fashion.

Whether the damage was self-inflicted or wrought by an opponent's physicality, the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys are mired in more early-season trepidation than the Redskins because of what's gone wrong with their quarterbacks.

Once again, let that marinate.

Even with the misfortune that has befallen quarterbacks outside of D.C., nobody is crowning Cousins the savior or the Redskins division favorites. Defeating the Rams at FedExField simply brought the team to 1-1, and we all know the Redskins can come unglued with a strong breeze.

Still, on the season, Cousins is 44 of 58 (75.9 percent completion rate) for 399 yards, with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 91.1 passer rating. He has been better than OK. That puts him ahead of the rest of the quarterbacks in the division at the moment.

Manning has been solid statistically, throwing for 485 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. But his lost fumble on a strip-sack in the red zone against Atlanta ignited a Falcons rally. And his botched clock management -- in that game and, especially, in the season-opening loss to Dallas -- has been mind-boggling.

Manning's two Super Bowl rings have earned him a lot of equity, but by falling to 0-2 the way the Giants have -- after Manning just signed a four-year, $84 million extension -- the heat is already on. Coach Tom Coughlin's seat is getting warmer, too. Blame is widespread with the Giants. Their head-scratching execution at the end of games and their other shortcomings are correctable -- but wins need to start coming soon.

As uncomfortable as things are for Manning, the bad start for Bradford has us still wondering what he is -- and what coach Chip Kelly has done with the roster overhaul of a two-time 10-win team. Bradford threw a terrible interception in the end zone during Sunday's loss to Dallas, and he has four picks in two games against just two touchdowns. He's thrown for 560 yards, so he hasn't been completely awful. Plus, his numbers -- and maybe the Eagles' fortunes -- could be better if his receivers were more reliable.

We still don't know if Bradford is an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, as injuries have hampered so much of his six-year career. Right now, though, could anyone say he is that much better than Cousins, if at all?

Then there is Dallas' situation. Romo's injury puts the team's Super Bowl hopes in peril. Sure, Brandon Weeden was sharp in relief against the Eagles, but the role of starter hasn't treated him well -- or vice versa. He is 5-16 in his career, with all but one of those starts coming in Cleveland, where he was a first-round draft pick. (Weeden lost his only start with the Cowboys last season, completing 18 of his 33 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions against Arizona.) He is in a much better situation with a much better supporting cast than he was in Cleveland. However, star wide receiver Dez Bryant is out for several weeks. So are multiple key defenders, like Orlando Scandrick, Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory and Rolando McClain, either because of injury or suspensions.

The thinking around the NFL is that the Cowboys' running game is going to have to really emerge for Weeden to have a chance. Of course, that won't be easy, as defenses are going to play to stop Dallas' running game and force Weeden to show he is a competent passing threat.

(UPDATE: After this article was posted Tuesday, the Cowboys acquired Bills quarterback Matt Cassel via trade and promoted Kellen Moore from the practice squad.)

Which leads us back to Washington.

Coach Jay Gruden said Cousins is the best option to run his offense, shelving former No. 2 overall pick and projected savior Robert Griffin III in the preseason after a concussion expedited the inevitable. Cousins has had his chances as a starter before and failed. He has yet to show he's got what it takes to succeed over the long haul.

What gives Cousins and Washington a chance, though, is more than Cousins' arm, legs and whatever other tangibles and intangibles Gruden finds ideal. The Redskins have an emerging rushing attack and an improved defense -- elements that can support a game-managing quarterback. Washington leads the NFL in rushing, averaging 171.5 yards per game. Veteran Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones have combined for 331 rushing yards in the first two games, with Jones scoring twice against the Rams. They are bruising backs with power, balance and, in regards to Jones, breakaway potential.

The Giants and Cowboys haven't established notable ground games, and in Philadelphia, search crews have been dispatched to find the rushing portion of the offense. Former Cowboy and reigning NFL rushing king DeMarco Murray has barely run the ball -- and when he has, he's been mushed. Murray has 11 yards on 21 carries. That's 0.5 yards a pop for those who are counting. Darren Sproles is the Eagles' leading rusher with 46 yards on six carries.

Maybe even more surprising than Washington running the ball so well? It has the league's No. 1 ranked defense. The 234.5 yards allowed per game is the best average in the NFL. Washington also boasts the third-best scoring defense, allowing just 13.5 points per game.

We are just two games in, and much is going to change as we move on. Yet, in Washington, the specter of another last-place finish has dissipated for now. Maybe not so much because Kirk Cousins is going to morph into Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers -- or even Joe Flacco -- but maybe because Kirk Cousins ends up being the best the division has to offer in 2015.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop