Redskins' Jay Gruden maintains 'total faith' in QB Kirk Cousins

ByJohn Keim ESPN logo
Monday, September 19, 2016

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn't started the season playing close to the level he ended last year. That hasn't dented the coaching staff's confidence in him.

In two games, Cousins has thrown for 693 yards, but he has just one touchdown and three interceptions, playing a crucial role in Washington's 0-2 start. Sunday, he missed open targets and threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of Washington's 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

"We have total faith that Kirk will get it done, and he will get it done," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "He has proven that he can be a successful quarterback in this league."

And part of playing quarterback means becoming the source of headlines after tough starts. The Redskins' defense has allowed 65 points in two games, but the heavy focus is on Cousins' play.

"He's a great competitor without a doubt," Gruden said. "At quarterback, sometimes if you don't get victories, you feel like -- everybody feels like -- it's the quarterback's fault. Everybody's writing headlines on the quarterback. But there are a lot of issues that we have to correct. He's part of it, I'm part of it, the coordinators are part of it, then the rest of the players are part of it. It all fits in the equation."

Asked Monday about a report of rumbles within the Redskins locker room over his early struggles this season, Cousins relayed that "people respond with emotion," and that the team's frustration with an 0-2 start is "understandable."

"All I know to do as a leader, as a football player having been in this position before, having faced adversity before, is you regroup," Cousins said during his weekly appearance on D.C. sports radio 106.7 The Fan. "You don't put your tail between your legs. You don't get scared. You don't go cry in a corner. You feel like you got put up against a wall and you come out swinging."

Cousins told the radio station that he missed the chance for some easy scoring throws in the loss to Dallas and acknowledged that he needs to "play better."

"You take ownership, you step to the forefront and you lead and you challenge guys and you say what you need to do better," he said. "I think together, we can do that. That's what I'm going to do. That's what I've done my whole life, my whole life as a football player. This no different. This is not new territory for me. I've faced challenges before, adversity before on the football field. We're going to find a way to move forward and play better. We're going to do it together."

Cousins is playing under the $19.95 million franchise tag after he and the Redskins failed to strike a long-term deal. His signature "You like that?!" shout became a symbol for his successful second half in 2015 when he helped the Redskins win the NFC East. For the season, he threw 29 touchdowns passes and 11 interceptions, but it was 23 touchdowns versus three interceptions in the final 10 games.

That stretch fueled optimism for 2016, though the Redskins made it clear that they wanted to see more from him before paying him a certain amount of money.

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself," Gruden said. "He wants to be great -- there's no question about it. Sometimes if he feels like he isn't playing to the standards that we all have set for him, he feels he's letting everybody down. He's got to understand, man, it's a tough position. He's going to make some mistakes. Everybody does. You just have to bounce back and continue to play with the great confidence that's made him the quarterback he is. "[But] we have to play better around him. We have to coach better."

There are signs of frustration by the receivers: Pierre Garcon, for example, gestured in Cousins' direction after the interception. Both Garcon and receiver DeSean Jackson always have shown their emotions, especially when frustrated, and both did so Sunday.

"They have to go out and play and do their job," Gruden said of the offensive players. "Everything else will take care of itself. Kirk's game will take care of itself. He can make all the throws without a doubt. Guys have to just continue to run hard for him, block hard for him, and good things will happen. We have a very skilled offensive group, we really do. We have all the makings to be a great offense, but right now we are not great. The guys will have faith that Kirk will get it turned around, our offense will get it turned around, as long as everybody does their job."

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