I’ve read the opinions of Kirk Cousins. I’ve accepted the seismic, never-ending stream of shit that gets flung at him and his supporters since his career began.
I’ve seen the endless, meaningless quarterback rankings from random Instagram accounts with thousands of followers that people seem to take as gospel. You know, the rankings that have some order of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson at one and two, proceeded by pure anarchy after that.
But it wasn’t until I read the ESPN redraft article when I really started to have a problem.
If you missed it, you can find the article here.
ESPN gathered beat reporters from every NFL team and did a four-round fantasy draft with the goal of drafting a team to win the Super Bowl within five years.
I could rant about quite a few things from that article, but this article is a product of Vikings’ beat reporter Courtney Cronin drafting Ryan Tannehill over Kirk Cousins, and the NFL media hive-mind collectively agreeing with that.
The thing is, I wasn’t even going to give an opinion on this, because what does it matter? It’s a fake re-draft article from ESPN beat reporters. I buried it deep, deep down next to the Michael Vick 46-yard overtime rushing touchdown and the 2012 Wild Card game.
But what do you know? Here it is bubbling up again. After scouring Twitter, Reddit, and other message boards to find that people not only don’t think Tannehill over Cousins is a bad take, but agree with it? I have lost the little faith I had left in the collective consciousness of the NFL community.
Ryan Tannehill is Derek Zoolander and I am Mugatu.
“Who cares about Derek Zoolander anyway? The man has only one look for Christ’s sake! Blue steel? Ferarri? Le Tigra? They’re the same face! Doesn’t anyone notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
IT HAS BEEN ONE SEASON PEOPLE.
Ryan Tannehill — the quarterback whom the Miami Dolphins of all teams gave up on — has an amazing 10-game stretch (yes, he only started 10 games) at 31 years old and suddenly people are crowning him an elite quarterback? Seriously, am I taking crazy pills?
“But Ben, what about his playoff wins?” You mean the two games in which he completed a combined 15 passes with Derrick Henry singlehandedly accounting for nearly 72% of the total offensive yardage? Those two games?
Let me take this moment to pause and acknowledge that of course, Ryan Tannehill did have an amazing season. If he continues this level of play next year then, yes, he will be deservedly in the discussion as a top tier quarterback.
But we are talking about the here and now, and there are people out there — reputable (allegedly) football minds even — that rank Tannehill over Cousins after one season of great play. I am here to deep dive into why that is wrong.
So strap in, this will be comprehensive.
Is Ryan Tannehill a one-hit wonder?
In today’s game, the lifespan of a quarterback goes well beyond 30 years old. There are a handful of currently active quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan come to mind — that have a better passer rating in their 30s (and 40s) than their 20s.
So of course it’s possible that Tannehill went from average starter to top-tier quarterback at age 31, but is it likely? His career stats tell us “no”.
He had six seasons in Miami to show what he could do, and the Dolphins eventually decided to trade him to the Tennessee Titans. Every quarterback stat imaginable fluctuated for Tannehill during his time in Miami, and he showed no concrete improvement beyond his sophomore year.
You might be saying to yourself, “Ok, but Miami doesn’t have much talent, how can he thrive in that environment?” While I agree with that statement, I will take this time to point out Kirk Cousins had just as much talent in Washington and performed much better than Tannehill during that time (but more on that later….).
What’s more likely is that Tannehill had an outlier season. It happens all the time.
Case Keenum had a career year for the Vikings in 2017 and hasn’t matched it since.
Steve Beuerlein was a journeyman quarterback who, at 34 years old in 1999, led the league in passing yards and finished second in passer rating and touchdowns.
Scott Mitchell was another journeyman who, in 1995, finished: 2nd in passing yards, 3rd in yards per game, 3rd in touchdowns, 6th in passer rating.
Once again, if Tannehill performs at an elite level this next season, he will be deserving of top-tier consideration and I will be the first one to endorse that. But at this point after a 10-game regular season performance I’m not convinced, and you shouldn’t be, either.
How much did Derrick Henry really help?
It’s no surprise that the presence of an elite running game makes life a little bit easier for quarterbacks. If the defense is consistently getting shredded for long runs and ever-growing yards after contact, they will focus more and more on stopping the run.
This, of course, leads to less help on the outside. A defensive unit simply cannot double cover any receiver or implore advanced coverage techniques if they put eight men or more in the box (that don’t drop into coverage – that is).
And do you know what makes life even easier for a quarterback? It’s when eight men in the box do NOTHING to stop the running game.
Last year, when facing eight or more defenders in the box, Derrick Henry led the league in rushing touchdowns, 10-yard rushes, and rushing yards.
Take any average, competent quarterback and put a mother f-ing BULLDOZER behind him, and it will be hard not to put up impressive numbers.
In fact, let’s take a look at how the last 10 NFL’s leading rushers affected the quarterback of that team.
In other words: How does the league’s leading rusher affect passing stats?
|YEAR||QUARTERBACK||PASS. RATING||CMP%||TD/INT RATIO|
The average stats of a quarterback with the league’s leading rusher over the past 10 years are: 98.37 passer rating, 64.9% completion percentage, and 4.07 TD/INT ratio.
A 98.37 passer rating would have been the 11th best passer rating last year: The equivalent to Deshaun Watson’s season and better than Aaron Rodgers.
A 64.9% completion percentage would have been the 14th best completion percentage last year. Just under Patrick Mahomes and just above Matt Stafford and Carson Wentz.
A 4.07 TD/INT ratio would have been the 7th best last year. Just under Patrick Mahomes and — you guessed it (did you though?) — Kirk Cousins.
A quarterback with the league’s leading running back the past 10 years has performed, on average, like an above average to top-tier quarterback.
You’ll notice Tannehill has the second highest passer rating and highest completion percentage on this list: he had an amazing season.
But you’ll also notice: none of the quarterbacks on this list have ever or will ever be called “elite”. Some of them were good, and some were just in the right place at the right time.
Cousins vs. Tannehill
Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill are the same age, were both selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, and yet have found different roads to success.
Tannehill was drafted eighth overall with hopes of becoming a franchise quarterback. Cousins was drafted in the fourth round with the intention of being a backup to second-overall pick Robert Griffin.
Despite differing roles, they have started roughly the same amount of games due to Tannehill’s injury history. This makes it easy to compare career stats between the two.
|GAMES||CMP %||TDS||INTS||PASS. RATING||YDS / GM||SACKS|
To sum up that information, in 10 less games Cousins has: a 3.4% better completion percentage, 10 more touchdowns, 10 less interceptions, a 7 point better passer rating, and 28 more yards a game. Also, just for fun, Cousins has 105 less sacks than Tannehill
You might be saying, “Ok, but Tannehill was on the Dolphins that entire time.” You’re right, but Cousins was on the Redskins. Both teams have tight-roped the line between “average” and “dumpster fire” for years now.
Comparing arguably their best years on their previous teams, Tannehill in 2014 and Cousins in 2016, they had similar offensive units. Average wide receivers with average running backs, the Dolphins with one pro-bowl offensive lineman, and the Redskins with two.
Tannehill threw for 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, Cousins with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The difference is that Cousins had nearly 1,000 more yards than Tannehill, barely missing a 5,000-yard season and earning his first Pro-Bowl selection.
What else do you need to argue? Pocket presence?
Sure, Cousins’ pocket presence has been bad, but so has Tannehill’s. If you didn’t catch earlier, Tannehill has 274 career sacks.
Of course sack numbers aren’t all on the quarterback — a large portion falls on the offensive line. But how are you going to say Tannehill, with 105 more career sacks than Cousins, has better pocket presence? Especially taking into account that Tannehill is much more mobile than Cousins.
What all of this tells us is that Cousins, throughout his career, has been a more consistent, reliable, and un-debatably a better quarterback than Tannehill.
What about last year?
Yes, Tannehill had a better season than Cousins last year, but do you really know how close it was?
|CMP% (LG. RANK)||TD||INT||TD/INT (LG. RANK)||PASS. RATING (LG. RANK)||YDS. / GM.|
|COUSINS||69.1% (4TH)||26||6||4.33 (6th)||107.4 (4TH)||240.2|
|TANNEHILL||70.3% (3RD)||22||6||3.66 (9th)||117.5 (1ST)||228.5|
Tannehill finished 1st and 3rd in passer rating and completion percentage, but Cousins was right behind him at 4th and 4th, respectively.
Cousins had more touchdowns, a better TD/INT ratio, and just for fun, more yards per game.
So explain to me why Cousins — who has been unequivocally better than Tannehill his entire career — has an incredible season putting up numbers just behind Tannehill and is now somehow worse than him?
Can anyone explain that?
Winning under pressure
If you, the reader, have made it this far I guarantee that there is an 85% chance you have been internally screaming some variation of “Kirk Cousins can’t win the big games.” And you would be justified in doing so.
If the Tom Bradys, Russell Wilsons, Aaron Rodgers of the quarterback world perform like a symphony in high-pressure games, then Kirk Cousins is the 10-car pileup during rush hour traffic.
What’s Cousin’s regular season primetime record again?
Oh yeah, 6-16-1.
In his defense, he has gotten better in Minnesota with a more competent supporting cast. His primetime performances the last two years have ranged from heroic (@Dallas), to heartbreaking (@L.A. Rams, @Seattle), to downright ugly (vs. Chicago, vs. Green Bay).
But I am here to prove to everyone that, contrary to popular belief, the 6-16-1 record is not nearly as bad as it looks.
Let’s look at those 16 losses. Going into those games, Cousin’s opponent had a collective record of 74-43, or a .632 winning percentage (for reference, that is a little better than 10-6).
And in those 16 losses, his defense, on average, gave up 30.81 points a game.
Another way of looking at it is that, in those 16 losses, Kirk Cousins was facing a 10-6 team who put up 31 points. By no means does that absolve him for going 0-16 in those contests, but it makes the situation much more reasonable.
Tannehill, on the other hand, has a regular season primetime record of 3-7, good for a .300 winning percentage, and those seven losses came against teams with a collective record of 33-39, or a .454 winning percentage.
That, my friends, is just as ugly.
Quarterback A has a .260 winning percentage in prime time. In losses, the opponents had a .632 winning percentage while the defense gave up 30.81 points.
Quarterback B has a .300 winning percentage in prime time. In losses, the opponents had a .454 winning percentage while the defense gave up 27.8 points.
Is there really a clear winner here?
WHO IS BETTER?
Do I seriously have to answer this?
If you aren’t completely convinced Cousins — in the here and now, not factoring in “potential” — is a better quarterback than Tannehill you either need to re-read the article or I need to drop my writing career to pursue underwater basket weaving.
I’ve gone through every conceivable area of play to show that Kirk Cousins is definitively a better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill. Not to mention, Tannehill may very well be a “one-hit wonder” with Derrick Henry helping to inflate his stats.
Once again, if Tannehill performs just as well next year, I will be the first to come forward and say he is in the discussion as a top-tier quarterback. But to crown him top-tier after one elite season in his 30s and springboard him above other quarterbacks is lunacy.
At the end of the day, this wasn’t a homer take. This was a common sense take.
In the popular media’s mind, I’m clearly on a steady dose of “crazy pills”, but if anyone wants to come to reality and join me, I’ll be glad to welcome you.