Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins are very different men, and yet, their game-to-game performances are incredibly similar.
Each provide grand highlights virtually every week, where the only question about their respective futures is how on earth the Washington Redskins could even think about living without them.
There are also just enough head-scratching moments where one wonders the hell they were thinking.
The last two weeks, capped by Sunday’s brutal 34-31 overtime loss of a must-win contest to the New Orleans Saints, were no exceptions.
The Redskins, now 4-6, scored 30 and a season-high 31 points in the last two games despite:
• Facing highly ranked defenses
• Having lost their starting running back (Robert Kelley) in one game
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• The player (Chris Thompson) who doubles as their leading rusher and receiver in the other
• Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed remaining sidelined with his latest injury
• Constant shuffling along the offensive line because of injuries
That’s a lot to overcome and doesn’t include the season-long inability to adequately replace receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Cousins had nothing to do with such personnel decisions other than that the uncertainty with his financial future hangs over all organizational plans.
Gruden had some hand in shaping the roster, but he’s not atop the organizational flow chart. Neither can be blamed for this season’s ungodly amount of injuries. The quarterback and head coach just have to work around them. Both have impressed doing just that.
Cousins made some spectacular throws and reads against the Saints. There were also receivers running wide open. Kudos to the offensive coaching staff headed by Gruden, who took over play-calling duties this season.
The thing is Gruden is the head coach, not the offensive coordinator.
The Xs and Os internet gurus can fawn over Gruden’s play designs to the point of near fainting like teenage girls in the 1960’s getting a glimpse of Elvis, but that’s not his main job. The Redskins aren’t paying him $5 million per season* to call plays. He’s running the entire team.
If the Redskins get in their own way once, stuff happens. Those of who watch this team weekly know stuff happens often to the Ashburn 53.
On Sunday alone, there was:
• False start penalty wiping out a long field goal attempt
• On the next play, Josh Holsey stepped on the end line while attempting to down a punt at the one. Instead, the Saints received the ball at the 20-yard line and kicked a field goal on final play of the first half.
• Gruden inexplicably challenged a clear catch by Saints tight end Coby Fleener with 3:50 remaining in the game, costing Washington a timeout. His explanation is curious.
• Another timeout was spent with 2:38 left and the Redskins facing a crucial third-and-1 when a first down probably seals the win. This timeout, needed because a player lined up in the wrong spot per Gruden, came immediately after the Saints called one with no play run in between.
• When the Redskins ran the play, lead blocker Niles Paul didn’t block anyone. No gain.
With the scored tied, the Redskins now only had one timeout for their final drive of regulation, which they used just before completing a 19-yard pass to the Saints 34 with 39 seconds left. Then came the infamous – and wrongly called -- intentional grounding penalty, which pushed the Redskins out of field goal range and essentially helped run out the clock.
Let’s for a moment skip by the NFL admitting the blown call and just focus on what happened with the weird play.
Gruden said he audibled from a run to a screen pass to Jamison Crowder via hand signal. Cousins thought the new signal meant for a pass in Crowder’s direction simply for the purposes of moving on to the next play.
Crowder stayed with the original plan and blocked as did the other players. Mistakes happen, but none of us should act as if this is kosher with the game on the line.
Cousins, speaking Monday on 106.7 The Fan, said of the pass, “It was essentially like clocking it. I mean, I wanted to just spike it. I wanted to throw it at Jamison’s shins, which would have been better.”
Huh? Spiking into the ground as we see countless time during an NFL season would have better if he thought that was the intent. Did Cousins turn into robot and lose the ability to critically think?
Actually, he may have indeed been programmed for that type of thinking.
Asked if he’d received any clarity on the penalty mistake from the league on Monday, Gruden said, “I don’t know, I just… Kirk did what he was coached to do. I told him to throw it out of bounds. We had two receivers right there in the area. He wasn’t under duress, so to me, that wasn’t grounding. But we’ll have to ask the league on that one.”
Now my head hurts. The refs and the league screwed the Redskins, and that’s the real story. In the context of whether the Redskins should move forward with the coach and quarterback, the thinking from the two men involved is important. The thinking involved seems whack.
Personally, I like what Gruden brings and wouldn’t make a change. This team fights. There’s relatively no locker room drama unlike under Mike Shanahan. He’s helped turn Cousins into a solid starter and on some days, a bit more.
Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, Gruden’s team will have missed the playoffs three out of four years, just like Shanahan.
We can’t ignore the organization’s brutal history since Joe Gibbs left the first time in 1992 and how front office and ownership decisions fueled the decline. Gruden should receive some benefit of the doubt accordingly. He should also be judged as the head coach. We also cannot forget who coached and quarterbacked that Week 17 loss last season.
Just like his quarterback, there are many reasons for supporting a longer run in Washington. Just like Cousins, there’s enough WTH moments to ponder life without Gruden even if the best course is no change at all.
(* Gruden originally signed a five-year contract in 2014 for a reported $5 million per year. A two-year extension was agreed upon earlier this year, but to the best of my knowledge, the financial terms have never been released. Maybe he’s getting another $10 million for those years. Considering the extension came amid the controversy with former general Scot McCloughan, perhaps the terms were more cosmetic.)