Kirk Cousins is having his issues this season but passing on first down is not one of them. Passing on third down, however, has been an issue.
The Redskins have run 85 offensive plays on first down this year (stats via Pro Football Reference) and Cousins has passed on 50 of them. Last year through three games Washington had 87 total first-down snaps and Cousins passed 40 times.
In this case, more is better. Here is a comparison of Cousins’ first-down passing results between this year and Weeks 1-3 last year.
If you want a sign that Jay Gruden and Sean McVay are getting more pass happy, this is it, albeit in a small sample size. But if you are going to gain 9.2 yards per pass attempt on first downs, why not try it more often? The Redskins are averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per first-down rushing attempt so running isn’t futile but if you can gain more than twice as much, passing nearly 60 percent of the time is not a bad option.
However, Cousins and the Redskins aren’t getting it done on third down. Cousins’ third-down passer rating this year is 72.5 compared to 84.9 through three games in 2015. That’s a major reason why the Redskins’ third-down conversion rate is 39.5 percent, 17th in the NFL. For the 2015 season they ranked fifth at 43.5 percent.
The Redskins should think twice before changing their approach. They are averaging 6.5 yards to go on third down; the league average is 7.3. Cousins and company are in a position to succeed; they just need to execute a little better.