By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
Before his injury in the 2013 playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks, Robert Griffin III was one of the brightest young stars in the NFL. He was the number two overall pick in the 2012 draft, earned Rookie of the Year honors, and led the Washington Redskins to their first NFC East title since 1999.
But then that horrific injury happened, and nothing has been the same since on and off the field for RGIII. Except for one thing; his backup quarterback.
While Griffin III continued to deal with injuries and struggle with his coaching staff both on and off the field, backup Kirk Cousins quietly filled in behind the star quarterback. When RGIII's leadership was called into question by teammates, many turned to Cousins for the answer.
But no one in the Redskins' front office ever seriously considered Cousins as the franchise's quarterback of the future. This was most notable when the Redskins fired Shanahan and his son, Kyle, in order to make Griffin III a better quarterback and, to be honest, happier overall.
Washington hired offensive guru Jay Gruden from the Cincinnati Bengals in the offseason to take over as head coach and instill his trademark West Coast offense. Like the move to fire Shanahan, the move to hire Gruden was focused around one person: Robert Griffin III. Now fully healthy with a new coaching staff and new offensive weapons, hopes were high heading into the season for RGIII and the Redskins.
However, things didn't go according to plan. Everything changed for the Redskins this past Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when RGIII dislocated his left ankle and was ruled out indefinitely. While many Redskins fans cringed at the sight of Griffin III's injury, others saw it as a fitting opportunity for Cousins to prove his worth.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of Michigan State, Cousins was believed by many during the preseason to be much more comfortable with Gruden's offense than RGIII. To be honest, Cousins could be a starter on several NFL teams that desperately need a quarterback.
Cousins entered Sunday's game and played like a true pro –- completing 22 of 33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Redskins to a commanding 41-10 win over Jacksonville. Cousins looked comfortable in the offense and was on the same page with his receivers all afternoon. Yes, it was against a Jacksonville secondary that is far from spectacular, but it still goes to show that Cousins can play.
In his post-game press conference, Cousins took the high road and constantly reiterated the fact that this was still Griffin III's team and that he was only there to fill-in for the time being. However, if Cousins can continue to perform at a high level and keep Washington competitive, the quarterback discussion in our nation's capital could get interesting.
The good and bad news for Cousins is that his next opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles. Good news because the Eagles' secondary is nothing great; bad news because the Eagles' offense is one of the best in the NFL and almost impossible to keep up with.
Going up against a weaker secondary will give Cousins another opportunity to get better within Gruden's system and improve upon his performance from this past weekend. However, it will be crucial for Cousins to slow the game pace down and keep the Eagles' high-powered offense on the sidelines. The more time the Eagles' defense has to work means the less time the Eagles' offense gets to do damage. Unless you're an exceptional offensive team of your own, trying to get into a fast-paced shootout with Philadelphia is not a smart move.
The Redskins will face another subpar defensive team in the New York Giants after this weekend, but will then have to go through the likes of Seattle and the Arizona Cardinals, who are two strong defensive teams. Therefore, now is the time for Cousins to take advantage of this opportunity.
Who knows when RGIII will return to the Redskins. Maybe he will be back in a few weeks; maybe he will be gone for most of the season. Whatever the timetable may be, the window of opportunity is as open as it will ever be for Cousins in the District of Columbia.
Now is the time for Cousins to shine and step up as the leader many feel RGIII is not. Most importantly, now is Kirk Cousins' chance to prove he can be a quarterback of the future in Washington or, if not with the Redskins, another NFL team.
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles. Follow him on Twitter: @Pat_Ralph
By PAT RALPH