Deep down, we all expected that Kirk Cousins would start for the Washington Redskins against the Cleveland Browns today. Deep down, most of us wondered if a win against the Browns today was worth the risk to Robert Griffin's knee, which means risking the next five seasons of football success. Cousin's start is both relief and white-knuckle moment for fans.
The Redskins have a game to give in their march to the post-season. Beating the Ravens last week provided a cushion. If a loss is in the offing, it's best to come against an AFC team. Hog Heaven contends that no NFC Beast team will win 10 games competing against each other and the AFC North. The Giants have a tough out today against the Falcons in Atlanta and next week against the Ravens in Baltimore.
Today's game is a test. The Cleveland Browns would be a challenge even if Robert Griffin III started. Cleveland is the most dangerous team on the Redskins' schedule because the 'Skins have the disturbing tendency to play up or down to the level of the opponent. Think no further than the 2011 Vikings, or the 2012 Panthers, or the last five games against the Ram. The Redskins lost to the Rams three times, including this year right after winning a big game against the Saints.
Championship teams hold their won against contenders, but always beat the beatable teams. The Redskins have been iffy on that front. They are a danger to themselves for that.
Don't sleep on the Browns. They are a young team that seems to have found its way. Five of their offensive starters are rookies or second-year players. Their quarterback is a member of the Golden Class of 2012. Their running back was thought to be the best rusher in the Draft. (We know better.) This is a statement game for them. They will play over their heads for the Redskins. That's something our guys have to manage if they are true contenders.
What to expect from Kirk Cousins
Expect smart play. The pre-Draft knock on Cousins was that he was "cerebral." You go with what you've got.
Griffin does not have RGIIIs athletic gifts. Who does? Look for Griffin to throw the ball away when Griffin might run. Look for Cousins to slide sooner even if short of the first down. Look for a quarterback well versed with the playbook who will keep rookie mistakes to a minimum and will place the ball where it should be.
I do not think the Redskins vary the playbook much. Their offense is conventional. Griffin is more of an option threat, but play-action is his staple. Cousins played in Michigan State's pro style offense. This game will be won on the ground.
Three Stats that matter
Passer Rating Differential
Redskins QBR 103.5, Opponents QBR 90.7, Differential +12.8
Browns QBR 72.8, Opponents QBR 81.8, Differential -9.0
This is tricky. Washington's quarterback rating is 99 percent on Robert Griffin III. Cousins has a slightly higher rating than RGIII, but on a much smaller sample size. He's making his first start, meaning he's as much a mystery to the Browns as he is to us.
Cousins will be what he has always been, solid but not spectacular, with different strengths but the same talent level as Russell Wilson.
Third Down Stops
Redskins Third Down conversions 45%
Browns Third Down conversions 36%
Cleveland is the league's seventh-best in this category. Washington is dead last. We are beyond lamenting the Redskins' performance, thanks to the disruptive nature of the defense. But this speaks well of the Browns defense. Without Griffin's mobility, the Browns are a tough nut to crack.
The sure-handed Browns do not fumble. Brandon Weeden has been careless with 15 interceptions to go with 15 touchdown passes. The Browns have an offense that DeAngelo Hall should love.
The #Redskins' defense has helped out by forcing turnovers, scoring. Weeden has thrown 15 INTs, but just three in his last four games.— Zac Boyer (@ZacBoyer) December 16, 2012
Hog Heaven's Magic 8 Ball "As I see it, yes" for Redskins win.
The 8-Ball don't lie. It's made the correct call for the last five games.
Fight on, Sons of Washington. Fight on.