While 27 players have shuffled around him this season, Cousins, the former Michigan State star, is not only surviving but thriving and keeping the offense on track.
Quarterback is one of just three offensive positions at which Washington has had the same starter for all 11 games, and Cousins’ play is a major reason why the team still is in the playoff race going into its game Thursday night at the Dallas Cowboys.
“Kirk being as good as he is and playing at the level he’s been playing at, it’s made everybody around him better,” said left tackle Trent Williams, who has missed three of five games with a right knee injury. “So even if we do have a center that just joined the team two weeks ago, as long as Kirk is at the helm and he’s running the offense it’s supposed to be ran, it makes everybody’s job easier.”
Injuries got to the point that Cousins met teammates in the locker room hours before a game, and he has had 11 offensive linemen protecting him. He has completed passes to 15 players.
All that and Cousins is already over the 3,000-yard mark, is on pace to surpass 4,000 for the third consecutive season and has 19 touchdowns with six interceptions.
“Could be a new center, could be a new wideout, could be a new running back, whatever it is — we’ve just had a lot of new pieces,” coach Jay Gruden said.
“He’s done a nice job of taking care of his business, but I think his comfort level in the offense is starting to show where it doesn’t really matter who he’s playing with, he’s going to be successful.”
Cousins, 29, is in his third full year as an NFL starter and credits that experience for his ability to adapt.
Everyone knew there would be a significant adjustment with the departures of receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but this got ridiculous with season-ending injuries to Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley and Terrelle Pryor and two linemen plus a hamstring strain that has sidelined tight end Jordan Reed four games.
So Cousins began leaning on Jamison Crowder and Vernon Davis as his favorite targets and developed more trust with second-year wideout Josh Doctson.
From week to week, Cousins has rarely had the same players around him.
“Sure, my thought process as I drop back is going to certainly factor in personnel and what guys have been there before and done that and how many reps we have banked in a certain play or experience and where are we a little newer,” Cousins said.
“Sometimes we have to trust it. We have to go and just play and believe that, however new this player is, he’s got to make the play and he’s got a jersey and a number and he can do it.”
When Cousins played behind a makeshift line, he got throws off quicker or scrambled more.
When Thompson broke his right fibula in New Orleans, Cousins integrated newly signed running back Byron Marshall into the mix and mitigated what looked like a season-crushing injury.
“The great quarterbacks do it without their guys,” said right tackle Morgan Moses, who joins Cousins and Davis as the only three offensive players to start each game.
“Kirk’s doing a good job of making due with what he has. That’s what makes him a great quarterback. He’s winning. You might not know who’s out there, but he’s making plays with them.”
Crowder considers Cousins’ preparation the key to this consistency.
Knowing how much of a perfectionist Cousins is in practices and games, rookie running back Samaje Perine couldn’t help but laugh about what the QB is doing differently with such a varying supporting cast.
“He’s not doing anything special. He’s just being Kirk Cousins,” Perine said.
“When you really look at it, he hasn’t done anything different with all the pieces that’s missing and all the changing bodies. He’s just been doing the same thing he’s always been doing, which is being a leader and making sure everybody’s on their Ps and Qs.”