Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins enjoyed one of the most successful seasons in the 83 year history of the storied franchise, setting the team record for passing yards in a season, and finishing 2nd in completion percentage. A career backup thrusted into the starting role after Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions, Cousins exceeded all expectations leading the Redskins to their first playoff berth since 2012. Earlier today, the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) recognized Cousins’ improbable ascent, naming him the NFL’s Most Improved Player. However, hours after the news of Cousins award broke, it was announced that Giants quarterback Eli Manning, not Kirk Cousins, would be replacing injured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the 2015 Pro Bowl, leading some to wonder if Cousins’ breakout year should have earned him Pro Bowl consideration.
It’s difficult to argue Cousins merits when compared to the original Pro Bowl roster- featuring Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer. Brady, Roethlisberger and Rodgers are future Hall of Famers enjoying successful seasons, while Newton, the MVP frontrunner leads a 15-1 Panthers squad. Wilson is a Super Bowl Champion having his best statistical season, and Palmer ranked 3rd in passer rating and 1st in Total QBR for the 13-3 Cardinals. It’s safe to claim all six of those players are more “Pro-Bowl Worthy” than Cousins. But when examining the cases of Raiders QB Derek Carr and Giants QB Eli Manning, who will replace the injured Roethlisberger and Rodgers, one can reasonably question why Cousins didn’t receive an invitation.
Carr and Manning both missed the playoffs, finishing with seven and six wins respectively and finishing 3rd in their divisions. Cousins on the other hand orchestrated a season-ending 4 game win streak to propel the 9-7 ‘Skins to the NFC East title. Furthermore, Cousins and the Redskins beat Manning and the Giants in a pivotal week 12 game that put Washington in 1st place for good. In that game, the most important game the Giants would play all year, Manning was erratic, finishing 26-51 for 302 yards, 2 TDs and 3 costly interceptions giving him a measly 59.4 Passer Rating. Cousins, on the other hand, played one of his finest games of the season, going 20-29 for 302 yards, 2 total TDs, and a sterling 114.4 Passer Rating. Washington dominated the game even more than the final score and statistics would indicate, as they lead 20-0 at one point in the 4th quarter, spurred by Manning’s three costly INTs. Carr and the Raiders had a slightly more successful season, finishing at 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the 13th consecutive year.
Cousins role in Washington’s playoff march is all the more impressive upon considering the team’s preseason outlook. Pundits universally pegged the Redskins as a last place team, with most power rankings putting them as the 3rd or 4th worst team in the NFL. It’s not as if Cousins was surrounded by a highly talented supporting cast paving the road to the postseason; his best weapons were an injury prone TE and 2 declining WRs. Carr and Manning both enjoyed the services of recent 1st round draft picks and athletic freaks Amari Cooper and Odell Beckham Jr- both of which were named to the Pro Bowl as well the year. Cousins was clearly a more valuable player in 2015, as he led the way for football’s most surprising playoff team.
The relevant stats also point to Cousins as the best of the three quarterbacks in 2015. The only mainstream passing statistics that either Carr or Manning finished ahead of Cousins in were passing yards- Manning finished with about 250 more, a figure made larger due to the fact that Cousins sat out much of the meaningless season finale against the Cowboys- and TDs- although when factoring in rushing touchdowns, Cousins finished with 2 more than Carr and just one less than Manning, again a figure made possible due to Cousins week 17 rest. Cousins finished ahead of both Carr and Manning in Passer Rating, Total QBR, INTs, INT%, Completion %, and Yards-Per-Attmpt. Cousins placed in the top 10 among starting QBs in each of those eight categories, while Manning finished top 10 in two, and Carr top ten in just one category.
Cousins only improved as the season went on, leading a once 2-4 team to a 9-7 record while playing some of the best football of anyone in the league during that ten game stretch. After sparking the largest comeback in Redskins franchise history against the Buccaneers on October 25 and bellowing the now-famous “You Like That!” celebratory roar, Cousins was quite possibly the best player at his position in the NFL. For the final ten weeks of the season, Cousins accumulated an astonishing 119.1 Passer Rating, a mark that would have been by far the best in the NFL over a full season. Cousins proved his worth in those final ten weeks, first as a capable starter, then as a “franchise quarterback” deserving a big pay-day, and finally as an elite NFL passer deserving of a Pro Bowl nod. Cousins Pro Bowl resume should have been complete when, in the midst of an already impressive three game win streak, he marched into a hostile environment in Philadelphia on December 26 and dismantled the Eagles defense, clinching the NFC East and a home playoff game. Fortunately for Cousins supporters, three out of the four QBs playing in the Conference Championship games this weekend are pro bowl selections, meaning at least one alternate pro bowl spot will be available come Monday. Maybe this time the NFL will make the right call.