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Vikings Aim to Contain Kirk Cousins' Array of Options

Posted Nov 9, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden made one exception to his rule.

Well, it’s not really a rule, per se, but more of a philosophical approach to distributing the football.

Gruden said during a conference call that he tasks quarterback Kirk Cousins with reading the coverage and delivering spirals across the field.

“I’ve never really been an ‘X-button guy’ where you just hit the X-button and throw to the same guy all of the time,” Gruden said. “I believe the coverage dictates where the ball should go, and if it’s man-to-man, we try to work our best matchups. Some weeks it might be [running back] Chris Thompson on a linebacker, some weeks it might be [tight end] Jordan Reed on a nickel. Some weeks it might be [receiver Jamison] Crowder on a nickel, and some weeks it might be our receivers on corners.

“It all varies in the man-to-man, but zone concepts, our pass concepts, the coverage will dictate it, and Kirk has the ultimate say and gets the ball out to the guys that are open,” Gruden added. “It just works out that way.”

The only time Gruden said he became an ‘X-button guy’ was in Cincinnati from 2011-13, a period that overlapped with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and six-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green.

“Really that’s the only time I ever told a quarterback, ‘Hey, throw it to him, no matter what,’ ” Gruden said. “Otherwise, I let the quarterback make the final decision. Hopefully our concepts will take care of themselves and get some people open [against zone coverage].”

The Vikings are scheduled to face Green in December, but for now they are focused on the multiple threats posed by Washington’s offense and quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose passer rating of 112.2 in Novembers since 2012 is the best in the NFL.

When Cousins is wheelin,’ he is often dealin’ to multiple teammates.

Six Redskins — three receivers, two tight ends and a running back — have 20 or more receptions this season. Washington is led by Thompson, who has 35 catches for 453 yards.

“He’s accurate in his throws,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He has a lot of threats with his tight ends and receivers, Crowder and the two real good tight ends he has (Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis). Chris T. coming out of the backfield, he’s a receiver himself.

“We’ve just got to be tight coverage with those guys, make them make tough throws, make them make hard decisions and get on his feet, make him nervous in the pocket with our rushing,” Rhodes added.

Crowder has totaled 28 receptions for 272 yards in seven games to lead Redskins receivers. Not exactly video game numbers this far into a season, but he did have nine catches for 123 yards against Dallas in Week 8 before missing last week with a hamstring.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards noted Crowder’s work from the slot to create match-up problems.

“When you look at their leading catchers, they’re pretty impressive,” Edwards said. “Especially with the matchups on the tight ends, the backs, and then also their receivers. We’ll have our work cut out for us this weekend.”

When the Vikings and Redskins met a year ago, Crowder, Davis and Reed combined for 159 receiving yards. Crowder had a 4-yard touchdown, and Davis scored from 38 on a long-developing play.

Cousins finished 22-of-33 passing for 262 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9 in the 26-20 Redskins win.

Washington’s success in the run game further complicated the day. Robert Kelley rushed 22 times for 97 yards, and Chris Thompson added 25 yards on four carries, enabling play-action passes.

Zimmer said Washington is an “excellent” play-action team, and Brian Robison said it’s a “huge part of their offense.”

“They want to be able to establish the run and be able to have play-action and boot passes,” Robison said. “Kirk is really good at that. He’s really good at making those throws, and their receivers are really good about finding the open spots. We’ve definitely got to stop the run, so hopefully we can take them out of that element a little bit and put them in more drop-back passing situations, but we definitely have to be clued into that early in the game.”

Cousins came through in the clutch last week on a three-play, 70-yard drive that lasted 35 seconds and took down the Seahawks in the final two minutes.

Without the benefit of play-action passes, Cousins dropped in a dime on a corner route by Brian Quick for a gain of 31, and 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson made a diving grab for a gain of 38 on a go route.

“I think that just comes with the more you play, you’re going to get those opportunities, and then how you do with those opportunities, once you get one under your belt, then you have more confidence then next time and the next time,” Gruden said. “He’s getting more and more opportunities to make come-from-behind victories. We don’t want him to do it too often, but now when we’re in that position, I think he has the confidence that we can succeed.

“He made two outstanding throws last week against Seattle to help us get the win,” Gruden continued. “He’s come back from being down before and led us on drives. I think the more experience that he gets doing it, the more comfortable and confident he’s going to be.”