If a six-year trend in the NFC East continues this season, Kirk Cousins’ former team will win the division a year after finishing 7-9 with him as their starting quarterback.
With the 10th-oldest roster in the league, Washington’s modern-day “Over the Hill Gang” is a far cry from George Allen’s famously grizzled 1971 roster that averaged 31 years of age. But this year’s Redskins are 3-2 and atop the division with a roster that includes 30-somethings Trent Williams (30), Ryan Kerrigan (30), Josh Norman (31), Adrian Peterson (33), Vernon Davis (34) and, of course, Cousins’ successor, Alex Smith (34).
While Cousins has wowed an adoring new fan base as leader of the 3-2-1 Vikings, Redskins Nation shares the “so far, so good” feeling about Smith’s first five starts.
Cousins ranks fifth in passing yards (1,921), while Smith checks in at 23rd (1,205). But the Redskins have turned the ball over just five times and are tied for fourth in turnover ratio (plus-4), while the Vikings have nine giveaways and rank tied for 20th (minus-1).
Smith has three turnovers in five games, or 0.6 per game. Cousins has eight in six games, or more than double Smith’s average at 1.3.
Since the start of the 2015 season, when Cousins became a full-time starter in Washington, he has 55 turnovers in 54 starts (1.01). He has 16 lost fumbles, including a league-high five this year.
Smith, meanwhile, has 28 turnovers in 51 starts since 2015 (0.55). He has only six lost fumbles in those 51 starts.
So while the Vikings are enjoying Cousins’ courage in the pocket, aggressive downfield passing and tremendous accuracy, the Redskins are encouraged by the low-risk benefits that come with Smith directing an offense.
Washington also is enjoying something the Vikings saw an awful lot of: Peterson, on pace for the eighth 1,000-yard season of his Hall of Fame career.
He ranks 15th in rushing with 339 yards. He’s also averaging 4.4 yards per carry with three touchdowns while being healthy enough to play in all five games.
Heading into last week’s game against Carolina, Peterson was nursing shoulder, ankle and knee issues. Coach Jay Gruden was going to put him on a limited snap count, but Peterson said he would let him know if he needed to come out.
Peterson finished with 97 yards on 17 carries for a season-high 5.7 yards per carry in a 23-17 victory. It was the second time in three games that he topped 5.0 yards per carry. The other time came in Week 3 when he rushed for 120 yards on 19 carries (6.3) in a 31-17 victory over the Packers.
Peterson also has 136 yards receiving on seven catches. That’s a 19.4-yard average with a long of 52.
He topped 30 yards receiving in three of Washington’s first four games. That’s as many as he had in 50 games going back to 2012.
“I think Adrian enjoys not being pigeonholed in a role,” Smith said of Peterson’s receptions this year. “I think that can happen to old guys. You get told what you can and can’t do.”
Cousins said he texts with former teammates occasionally and tries to follow not only the Redskins, but all NFL teams.
“Especially the NFC,” he said. “They could be teams we’re playing and, if not, we could be playing them in the playoffs.”
The Redskins lead the NFC East despite a five-game stretch that looks like this: Win, loss, win, loss, win. Next up is a division home game against a 3-3 Cowboys team whose six-game stretch looks like this: Loss, win, loss, win, loss, win.
Of course, that’s the kind of inconsistency one finds in the NFC East. Every year since 2012, the division has crowned a champion that didn’t have a winning record the previous season.
Last year, only Washington and the Giants (3-13) didn’t have a winning record. With the dysfunctional Giants off to a 1-5 start, it’s up to the functional Smith and Kirk’s old team to keep that streak alive.