|National Football League|
Cousins staring down final home game vs. Broncos
LANDOVER -- The Denver Broncos travel to FedExField on Sunday trying to assess their quarterback options for 2018. One of them might be wearing the burgundy and gold of the Washington Redskins.
Sunday marks the final home game of the year for Washington (6-8), and maybe Kirk Cousins' final home game as a Redskin. Once again a free agent in the offseason, Cousins may finally get to test the market unless he signs a long-term deal or Washington franchises him a third time.
Three different quarterbacks have started for the 5-9 Broncos in 2017: Trevor Siemian (10 games), Brock Osweiler (three) and Paxton Lynch (one).
After Siemian left last week's game with a partially dislocated shoulder, Osweiler completed 12 of 17 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 147.7 passer rating in the 25-13 win at Indianapolis. However, Denver head coach Vance Joseph said he might start Lynch, who spent the last three weeks recovering from an ankle sprain. It's also possible the pair could split time.
"We've got two guys working. We've got Brock Osweiler and we've got Paxton Lynch working," Joseph said. "We haven't decided yet. We've got two guys working and they're splitting reps right down the middle. So as the week progresses, we'll kind of figure out who's the best guy for our football team on Sunday."
Osweiler will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, Lynch has two years left on his rookie contract, and Siemian has one year left on his deal.
Cousins rebounded from a poor outing and played well in Sunday's 20-15 win over the Cardinals, completing 18 of 26 passes for 196 yards with two touchdowns. He noted Wednesday that this won't be his first potential last game at FedEx.
"I've had multiple years here where it was the final year of my contract, so I guess those possibilities have come up before. I guess now that it's been the third go around of that, you just kind of go out and play and let the chips fall where they may," he said Wednesday. "I just want to make sure that in and of this season that we leave FedExField on a high note and give our home fans something to feel good about as they leave FedExField for the last time this season."
For the season, Cousins has thrown for 3,636 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Meanwhile, Denver quarterbacks have thrown for 2,934 yards, 17 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Washington's defense carried the day against the Cardinals. Led by Preston Smith and Anthony Lanier, they bent but didn't break, allowing Arizona six trips to the red zone but no touchdowns. The unit also features outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who is going to the Pro Bowl as a starter.
Safety Montae Nicholson (concussion) was placed on injured reserve this week. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said there is a chance linebacker Zach Brown (Achilles, toe, hamstring) could return Sunday.
Overall, the unit is ranked 20th in total yards allowed, 16th in passing yards allowed, and 28th in rushing yards allowed. They are 15 in third-down percentage (38.3).
Suddenly, a narrative that was getter bleaker and bleaker has a potential silver lining. Can Washington, a team that sent more than a dozen players to injured reserve while playing the league's toughest schedule, win its final two games to finish .500.
"Yeah, well, it's similar to last week. I think all these guys are pros and they want to win," Gruden said. "Anytime you step out on the field in a competitive situation in front of fans, you want to perform well. You want to perform well for your family, for your fans, for your organization, so I don't think that's going to be an issue, really.
Last week, Gruden's preparation was being questioned. Now, he has a chance to become the first Redskins coach to record three straight .500 or better seasons since Joe Gibbs in the early '90s.
That said, the Denver defense presents a formidable challenge. The unit is tops in the NFL in yards per games (276.8) and second in third-down percentage (30.8). Linebacker Brandon Marshall leads the Broncos with a team-high 92 tackles. Pro Bowl starting linebacker Von Miller has a team-high 10 sacks.
"They play well against the run. They can stack the box because they have great corners that can play a lot of good man-to-man," Gruden said. "Overall, I think they're No. 1 in the league in total defense, so a lot stands out."
On offense, Denver running back C.J. Anderson is coming off his biggest game in three years, a 30-carry, 158-yard effort.
Minus starters Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson (both on injured reserve), the Redskins' running game has struggled. Samaje Perine rushed for just 37 yards on 14 carries Sunday. Kapri Bibbs, promoted from the practice squad, took a screen pass 36 yards for a touchdown.
Among the receivers, Jamison Crowder had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown versus Arizona.
"I mean, he's getting the ball off pretty quick," Miller said of Cousins. "He's an elite quarterback. Whenever you go against elite quarterbacks, they always are aware of sacks and where they are in the pocket."
Washington's offense ranks 18th in yards per game (329.7), while Denver is 20th (322.8). The Redskins average 21.8 points (18th), while Denver scores 18.1 (24th).
Denver leads the series 7-6, but Washington is 3-2 at home. The teams have not met since October 2013.
Updated December 20, 2017