Comparing Kirk Cousins & Robert Griffin III after 36 starts

I saw this Dan Steinberg article noting that Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III have now each started 36 games, the first time in their respective careers they have the exact same number of starts. That being the case, Steinberg thought it was appropriate to compare their stats. I know many object to this, saying RG3 is not on the team, is in the past and best forgotten. Be that as it may, the two players were part of the same draft class of the same team and the franchise eventually chose one after investing two kings ransoms in the other one. Therefore, I don’t see why comparing the two is so inappropriate. It may be unnecessary, but lots of things about sports (and life) are unnecessary, but we do them anyway.

So, without further ado, a comparison of the relevant career QB statistics of Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III.

PLAYER COUSINS GRIFFIN
QB Starts 36 36
Record 17-18-1 14-22
Pass Attempts 1387 1089
Completions 918 691
Passing Yards 10,736 8287
Completion % 66.2 63.5
Yards Per Attempt 7.7 7.6
Yards Per Completion 11.7 12.0
Touchdown passes 67 40
Touchdown pass % 4.8 3.7
Interceptions 37 24
Interception % 2.7 2.2
Sacks 56 104
Sack % 3.9 8.7
Sack Yards Lost 423 740
Net Yards Per Pass Attempt 7.15 6.33
4th Quarter Comebacks 6 4
Game Winning Drives 7 5
Passer Rating 94.5 89.7
Rushes 61 249
Rushing Yards 156 1517
Rushing TD 6 8
Rushing AVG Per Carry 2.5 6.1

As you can see, Cousins’ numbers are better, sometimes far better, in almost every category. The exceptions are interceptions and rushing. However, the interception numbers are a bit deceptive because Cousins started out very prone to throwing interceptions, but has fixed that the last two seasons. In fact, Cousins’ interception rate has declined every year he has been in the league, from 6.3 percent in 2012 to 4.5 percent in 2013, 4.4 percent in 2014 (when he was benched for throwing too many interceptions), 2.0 percent in 2015 and a mere 1.6 percent, so far, in 2016. That’s a massive improvement, with the big jump coming midway through the 2015 season, when the light bulb seemed to switch on for Cousins.

Interceptions are not the only negative play for a quarterback. Sacks are a huge negative play for an offense and here we see a huge discrepancy between the players. Griffin has always been sacked a lot, in part because he trusts his athleticism to get him out of plays and sometimes it does not work. However, time and injuries plagued Griffin and by 2014 he was getting sacked on an incredible 13.4 percent of his dropbacks — an historically awful record. Playing behind that same offensive line in 2014, Cousins was sacked a mere 3.8 percent of the time. In 2016, Cousins is sacked only 3.1 percent of the time, one of the best marks in the league. Sacks kill drives and produce turnovers (most QB fumbles happen during sacks) so a QB who can avoid them is more valuable and productive.

When it comes to rushing, it should be noted that Cousins low rushing average is largely due to kneel-downs in victory formation at the end of games. Cousins is not the athlete Griffin is (or was), but he holds his own when forced to tuck the ball away and run. Griffin’s far more impressive rushing totals are skewed by his spectacular rookie season, which he has been unable to duplicate or even approach. More than half of Griffin’s career rushing yards came in 2012, as did seven of his eight rushing touchdowns. Since then, Griffin has not been a particularly productive runner as a quarterback.

Even areas where Cousins has the advantage, such as virtually all the passing categories, are a bit deceptive. Cousins’ passer rating, for example, is only in the mid-90s, but that’s because of his lower passer ratings in 2013 and 2014. He has passer ratings of over 101 in 2015 and, so far, in 2016. Griffin’s passer rating, by contrast, has declined from his 102.4 high as a rookie to the 80s in 2013 and 2014. In his only game in 2016, his passer rating was 55.

In other words, what we see are two players going in completely opposite directions. One player, Griffin, had arguably the greatest rookie season any QB has ever had, surpassing perhaps what Dan Marino did in 1983. (We will see if Dak Prescott rookie campaign surpasses what Griffin did.) However, Griffin has basically declined every year since then, resulting eventually in a benching and outright release. Cousins demonstrated promise, but also a frustrating tendency to commit big mistakes. However, during the seventh game of the 2015 season (the “you like that!” game), Cousins turned into a star quarterback and has remained so ever since.

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