NFC East Roundup: Cousins Struggling As Starter

Plus: Is getting younger the smart move for the Giants?

Kirk Cousins. (USA TODAY Sports)

Kirk Cousins. (USA TODAY Sports)

As you prepare for tonight’s game against the Chicago Bears, let’s go around the rest of the NFC East and check in with the three other teams in the division.

We’ll start with Washington, who fell to the Cowboys at home, 27-23, and are now 0-2. There’s panic in the nation’s capital, as the team was picked to contend for another NFC East title, but they’ve looked like the complete opposite in the first two weeks of the season.

One of those reasons is the performance of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Although he kept his team in the game, CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Rich Tandler says a couple of plays cost him a big win over a division rival.

Cousins did make some nice throws but his day will be remembered mostly for two costly plays. In the first quarter he had Jamison Crowder wide open with nothing but about 10 yards of green grass between him and the end zone. But Cousins badly overthrew the pass. Instead of scoring a touchdown the Redskins had to punt.

“I think I just led him up the field a little more than his route was initially taking him,” said Cousins. “I need to go back and watch the film and see it but part of me thinks he breaks at a certain angle. I threw it at a slightly different angle and that margin of error so is so small.”

Perhaps, but as wide open as Crowder was the margin for error seemed to be quite big.

In the fourth quarter the Redskins were clinging to a three-point lead and were in position to pad their lead. But on third and goal at the six Cousins got picked off by safety Barry Church in the end zone.

“I felt like I needed to work not off schedule but just needed the play to develop a little longer,” said Cousins. “Backside safety [Church] made a good play coming over. He was the one who made the play.”

Defensive end Ricky Jean Francois is curious why the Redskins doesn’t adjust during the game, from Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post.

As for the oft-heard suggestion that making in-game adjustments is difficult, Francois wasn’t having it.

“We’re professionals, right?” he asked. “You move on the run, right? That’s no excuse. If Peyton Manning can sit down and can adjust to everything you do, and you don’t adjust to him, you’re not a good player. I don’t care if you’re on offense or defense. That’s what makes Ray Lewis the person he is; he adjusted. That’s what makes Ed Reed the person he is, he adjusted. I can even go back to Derrick Brooks. They always made adjustments. We have to be that team. As soon as we see them making adjustments, and they figure something out, we have to make those adjustments, too. If we don’t, I’m gonna be right back here sitting in your face again, and y’all gonna be asking me the questions of what happened.”

Finally, the veteran lineman was asked if the responsibility for this adjustments lies with players or coaches.

“That goes to the players and the defensive coaches,” he said. “I mean, both. It goes both ways. I’m not just gonna put it on the coaches. I’m gonna put it on the players, too. There’s a reason they drafted you, there’s a reason they brought you in, there’s a reason you play in the National Football League. You have to be able to adjust on the run. … If you can’t adjust in the NFL, there’s no way you’ll win a game, especially with the schedule we have. It doesn’t get no easier, at all.”

Washington travels up I-95 for another division game, this time against the Giants, on Sunday afternoon and hope to avoid going 0-3 for the first time since 2013.

Speaking of the Giants, they improved to 2-0 with a 16-13 win over the New Orleans Saints. On the last drive, Victor Cruz made a big catch over cornerback Ken Crawley to get the Giants in the redzone and set up a game-winning field goal by Josh Brown.

But with the team not scoring an offensive touchdown in a Giants win for the first time since 2013, the main story was the success of the defense. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News writes about their success so far.

Two games, two wins by a combined total of four points for the 2-0 Giants coming off Week 1’s 20-19 win in Dallas. What a drastic change from last year’s six losses by a combined 15 points in which [Tom] Coughlin‘s club was leading or tied with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.

[Dominique] Rodgers-Cromartie credited coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and [Ben] McAdoo with an “exciting” scheme, but the personnel is still the difference.

[Damon] Harrison (four tackles) and Johnathan Hankins (four tackles) got what Hankins called “some knock-back” on a heavy rush to create his block of a Will Lutz field goal attempt to jettison Janoris Jenkins on his 65-yard touchdown return. Jenkins (team-high eight tackles) led the team with two passes defended.

Rookie corner Eli Apple (seven tackles) made two huge tackles of Saints running back Mark Ingram, one that might have saved a touchdown. Veteran corner Leon Hall (five tackles) was a bigger part of the scheme than in Week 1, with one of the Giants’ first two sacks of the season with strong safety Landon Collins (six tackles).

Bill Pennington of the New York Times says the Giants getting younger, which includes starting three rookies, is starting to look smart.

It is part of the team’s overarching initiative to have fewer injuries, since younger players tend to be sidelined less often than veterans, who have already weathered years of bruising collisions. It is also an acknowledgment that rosters are increasingly made up of players on their first N.F.L. contracts, when they are cheapest. And finally, it reflects the attitude of the new coach, Ben McAdoo, 39, who is the second-youngest coach in the league.

With Tom Coughlin’s 12-year tenure over, the Giants are trying to infuse the franchise with fresh faces. From the first minicamp of 2016, it was clear McAdoo was willing, if not eager, to have rookies contributing substantially. He began talking then about how [Darian] Thompson and Apple could be starters.

It did not matter that Apple was less than three years removed from his high school graduation.

“I believe in giving the best players on your roster the most snaps,” McAdoo said at the time. “It’s not about time of service. It’s not about when you were born.”

The Giants stay home for another week as they host Washington Sunday afternoon in the first of two matchups between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman.

Finally to the Cowboys, who got their first win of the season in D.C. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 292 yards against the Redskins, but still hasn’t recorded his first passing touchdown in the NFL.

But the bigger story on offense has been the struggle of another rookie, running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott fumbled twice in the game, and was benched after that second fumble. But when Elliott failed, Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News writes that former Redskin Alfred Morris stepped up when the Cowboys needed him to.

Morris had 35 rushing yards on seven carries in the Cowboys’ opener. Despite the success against the Giants and him returning to play his old team, the Cowboys didn’t increase his workload.

Before the touchdown, even Lance Dunbar had more carries than Morris with three.

But the Cowboys called upon Morris to step up after Elliott fumbled the ball for a second time in three series.

Elliott lost his first fumble as a Cowboy late in the third quarter, when he was hit by Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Cornerback Dashaun Phillips recovered at the Cowboys’ 34-yard line. The turnover led to a field goal that put the Redskins in front 23-20.

Elliott put the ball on the ground a second time with less than seven minutes to play. This time, it was recovered by Cowboys right tackle Doug Free.

Elliott was pulled from the game after the second fumble and replaced by Morris, who scored four plays later.

Elliott said he had never fumbled twice in the same game before Sunday.

Although the Cowboys’ defense has plenty of starters out, they showed improvement yesterday, including shutting out the Redskins in the final quarter, pens Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

“The thing we did well was we finished. We haven’t done that well,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “… If you don’t panic and just keep playing, usually the offense will self-destruct, if you just don’t give up the home run and make them keep punching.”

The Cowboys probably will fall in the total-defense ranking after allowing 432 yards. But in six red-zone possessions, the Redskins scored only two touchdowns.

“In the red zone last week, we kind of struggled,” Church said. “They went 3-for-3. This week we kind of stepped up in the red zone, forced them into field goals, and we got a takeaway. I think that was the momentum we needed. Going forward if we want to keep winning and play like the defense we need to be, we need to play great in the red zone.”

After the Cowboys took a 20-17 lead late in the third quarter, they tried an onside kick that gave the ball to Washington at the Dallas 38. But the Cowboys held the Redskins to only a field goal.

Dallas will host the Chicago Bears Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.