RICHMOND—During 11-on-11 drills on Thursday, Ryan Kerrigan was wearing out the offensive line. On one pass play he got into the backfield and chased Kirk Cousins out of the pocket to the quarterback’s right side. Cousins kept his eyes downfield and spotted DeSean Jackson running near the sideline. He threw on the run and dropped the pass in between defenders to Jackson, who got both feet in before stepping out of bounds.
It was just one play on the first day of training camp during a practice without pads but there was some significance because it represented an area where Cousins struggled last year. When he had time to throw he was very effective. According to Football Outsiders, Cousins and the Redskins had the fourth most efficient offense in the NFL when the quarterback had time to throw. But when he was pressured Cousins’ efficiency dropped to 35 among the 37 quarterbacks who had at least 200 pass plays.
All quarterbacks are less efficient when they are rushed. But the ability to minimize the difficulties caused by the rush and to be able to make off-schedule plays is one thing that separates the good quarterbacks from the great ones.
That is not always the case. Jay Cutler was the quarterback who performed the best when under pressure last year and I don’t think anyone calls him great, or even very good. But when you see others in the top 10 such as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson you can conclude that there is at least a loose correlation between remaining efficient in the face of the rush and having recognition as one of the best in the game.
That is where Cousins wants to be. He may never be great when under pass rush pressure but if he can improve to somewhere in the middle of the pack he can build off of his efficiency when he has time to throw and turn into a very good quarterback.
That process starts in practice with plays like the pass to Jackson. It is something to keep an eye on as training camp and the preseason unfold.