NFL Quarterback Rundown: Week 11
Kirk Cousins Is An Enigma
Kirk Cousins played one of the best games of his career this week against a quality New Orleans Saints secondary, throwing for 322 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions on 32 attempts. He was expertly efficient and threaded a handful of throws that upper echelon quarterbacks are expected to make.
Cousins nailed this throw to Vernon Davis early in the game to convert a tough fourth down. With a six-man rush closing in, Cousins lofted the ball over one defender and wide of another. To get that ball out in time with careful placement and ample velocity is not something to be expected of any quarterback. Even the best in the league would have difficulty completing that throw, yet Cousins did it here.
Throughout the game, Cousins continued to make impeccable touch throws. Cousins had as many impressive throws in this game as I can remember in any single game before. It is not every game that Cousins threads deep throws past deep safeties or throws the deep cross on rollouts, but this weekend was different. Cousins kept Washington in the game until the end … and then he fell back to Earth.
The last drive of regulation play was a disaster for Cousins. With around one minute left in a tied game, Cousins was working methodically down the field, taking every short pass he could. On one particular play, Cousins threw the inside square-in on a Double China concept, rather than given the deep corner route a chance. Hitting the deep corner would have allowed the receiver to run out of bounds. The inside receiver was tackled and Washington had to use their final timeout. Two plays later, Cousins whiffed on a blitz read and allowed himself to be strip-sacked, ending regulation.
Cousins makes a line call to account for the possible double A-gap pressure. After he resets himself to receive the snap, Cousins clearly looks to his left to identify safety Vonn Bell, who was creeping up. Cousins looks left again after the snap, but for whatever reason, it still does not register to him that Bell is a free blitzer. Bell is able to close on Cousins without any resistance and force a regulation-ending fumble.
Furthermore, Cousins had a handful of throws throughout the game that should have been intercepted. He was fortunate to be bailed out by his receivers a number of times, particularly Josh Doctson. For as great as Cousins looked in some moments, he was equally as bad in others. It was the most extreme version of Cousins, both for better and for worse.
A Tale As Old As Time: Tom Brady, MVP
I am tired of it. You are tired of it. We are all tired of it. But it keeps happening. With the season over the halfway mark, Tom Brady, once again, has a strong case for the MVP. He leads the league not just in volume stats such as passing yards, but in efficiency stats like interception-rate and adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A). He is also second in touchdown passes, trailing only Carson Wentz.
What Brady did to the Oakland Raiders defense this weekend was borderline criminal. Brady amassed 339 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions, while completing 30 of his 37 passes. He was ruthless. Quick game, play-action, down the seam, deep shots; it did not matter where Brady was throwing, he was firing at will. It was a clinic.
Brady’s brilliance this year has been negating pressure. Though Brady is being sacked at one of the highest rates in his career, he has shown zero issue passing while under pressure. He is essentially the same quarterback, regardless of how the pocket looks. Brady can nullify the effects of added rushers, while having the mental wherewithal to sort through coverages when defenses drop seven or eight defenders.
Negating the pass rush has always been in Brady’s arsenal, though. He may be doing it better this year than ever before, but it has been a strength for him for some time now. The more interesting development is that Brady has rediscovered his deep ball.
Brady had lost his magic down the field the past few seasons. He was not a poor deep passer, but he was not reaching the same heights he reached in his early-30s and before then. Someway, somehow, Brady has regained velocity and touch down the field. On the play above, Brady drills a throw to first-year Patriot Brandin Cooks, who was able to scoot by the miserable Raiders secondary and catch the ball perfectly in stride, allowing him to waltz into the end zone.
The Brady of a few years ago might have left more air under that throw. It might have still been completed, but not for a touchdown. Brady’s resurgence as a deep passer has helped open up a New England offense missing its best quick-game receiver in Julian Edelman.
It is Brady’s MVP to lose. To lead the league in efficiency stats while maintaining the highest passing volume is nearly unheard of. The last player to lead the league in attempts and passer rating was Dan Marino in 1984. It has been more than 30 years since what Brady is doing was last accomplished.
Russell Wilson: Also The MVP
Okay bear with me: Russell Wilson is the MVP, depending on how you define the award. If the MVP is the best player in the league in a given year, Brady should win the award this season. However, if you want to get nitty-gritty and adopt a truer meaning of the phrase “most valuable player”, the award has to go to Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks do not have an offensive line or a running game. Granted, that has been the case for a couple years now, but it is as bad now as it has ever been. That used to be counterbalanced by an elite defense the Seahawks could rely on, but that is no longer the case. Seattle’s defense, particularly the secondary, has been ravaged by injury. Defensive end Cliff Avril, a supremely under-appreciated pass rusher, is also out with injury. They are nowhere near the unit they were 18 months ago.
Wilson has to play hero ball. He feels compelled to hold the ball as long as possible and go for the big play at every opportunity. Of course, this comes at the price of unnecessary sacks and missed completions underneath, but the Seahawks need Wilson’s spark. They are not constructed to play methodically.
Plays like this have been the norm for Wilson. Pocket collapses, he scrambles aimlessly backwards, resets, and chucks a perfect pass. It does not make sense and it probably is not sustainable. However, it is one of the few ways Seattle can create chunk plays right now. They need Wilson to do things no other quarterback can. Even then, that is not always enough. On the play above, Jimmy Graham was not able to haul in the pass despite how well Wilson placed it for him.
Wilson scrambling is the only other way Seattle creates chunk plays. In this game especially, Wilson had to take matters into his own hands to secure positive yardage. He ran seven times for 86 yards, including a touchdown run and this critical first-down run on 3rd-and-12.
Quarterbacks are always expected to carry the team. What Wilson is doing in Seattle is the most extreme iteration of that idea. Through 10 games this season, Wilson has accounted for 82% of Seattle’s offensive yardage and all but one touchdown. J.D. Mckissic is the only player to score a rushing touchdown other than Wilson.
If the MVP is truly which player means the most to their team’s success, Wilson dragging this Seahawks team to 6-4 is a strong case for the award. Of course, Wilson’s case is contingent on whether or not he can do enough to get Seattle to the playoffs. In a tight, competitive NFC, Wilson may not be able to pull it off. That would be a disappointing ending to a Herculean season.
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