CLEVELAND: For anyone who didn’t realize Washington Redskins rookie sensation Robert Griffin III was inactive Sunday with a sprained right knee, the quarterback statistics after the Browns’ 38-21 loss in their final home game of the season might have had them convinced otherwise.
But the rookie quarterback who racked up 329 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 104.4 passer rating in directing the Redskins’ offensive attack wasn’t the famed RG3 but Kirk Cousins, Griffin’s backup.
“Kirk played a good game,” Browns running back Trent Richardson said. “Their whole offense, their playing style, their game plan was a good plan. It was something that tore us up. Not to be ashamed of my defense or nothing like that, not to say anything bad about my defense, but [the Redskins] did what they did and they won the ballgame.”
Early in the first quarter, the Browns’ defense seemed fired up, determined to make the most of not having to face Griffin. Strong safety T.J. Ward recorded his first interception of the season after veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown tipped a pass from Cousins. Ward caught the deflection and returned the ball 37 yards to the Redskins’ 6-yard line, with Richardson’s ensuing 6-yard score giving the Browns the early lead.
But after the Browns’ defense forced the interception and four three-and-outs on the Redskins’ first five series, Washington adjusted its game plan in an effort to help buy Cousins, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, more time. That’s when Cousins started rolling out of the pocket on play-action bootlegs and other misdirection plays.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Cousins said. “I did play a lot of football in the Big Ten. I had games like that where I start slow, [but] you gotta have character. You gotta find it in yourself to dig deep and keep pushing.”
The Browns’ defense never rebounded. And with the offense struggling to get much going on its end, the reeling defense was stuck on the field for all but eight minutes, 32 seconds of the second half.
Although Browns defensive players including Brown, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and defensive end Jabaal Sheard believed they had Cousins on the ropes early, all were impressed with how he bounced back and went on to methodically pick them apart.
“We had him rattled early,” Brown said. “For him to come back and show the poise that he did, it was impressive. … We came out gangbusters and then you see what happened toward the end of the game. [Cousins] came out at halftime and didn’t pee a drop.”
Cousins’ effectiveness in the passing game was helped in large part by the Redskins’ No. 1-ranked rushing offense.
“They run the ball well,” Brown said. “They get people to suck up on the line of scrimmage and then they get the open routes underneath right behind the coverage. They had a quarterback in space that was able to make some throws down the field with no pressure in front of him.”
As he began to settle in, Cousins targeted former Mount Union standout Pierre Garcon a game-high 12 times, with Garcon catching six passes for 65 yards.
“You gotta give them all the credit, they were doing a really good job with the play action and their running game was pretty good,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “When you get the back end sucked up they run those quick dig routes that are really, really hard to cover.”
Cousins connected with veteran receiver Santana Moss five times for 57 yards and also threw touchdown passes of 54 and 2 yards to receiver Leonard Hankerson.
“When we thought it was going to be a run, it was a pass,” Haden said. “When we thought it was a pass, they ran. You felt off-balanced. You didn’t really know what they were doing.”
Even if it seemed like the Redskins were moving the ball on the same basic play-action fake all afternoon.
“You don’t think a boot will have that much success against a defense, but it did because of the stretch that they run,” Jackson said. “The offensive linemen look exactly the same versus a run or pass. … It’s hard to defend 15 boots. That’s something that usually happens on third-and-short or fourth down.”
Cousins is inexperienced, but his savvy play and calm demeanor reminded Brown of a former NFL veteran quarterback.
“Just like Jake Plummer back in his Denver days,” Brown said. “You know, run the ball, run the ball, boot. So the game plan from that to [what] RG3 [would have run], it was totally different.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.