One is ascending, peaking at the best possible time. The other is descending, his numbers trending downward on an almost weekly basis.
If this were an election, Kirk Cousins would be on the cusp of becoming the next officeholder in a landslide.
Sunday’s NFC wild-card game between Washington and Green Bay will feature two quarterbacks headed in opposite directions. One, Washington’s Cousins, is playing his best football. The other, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, is sinking to new lows.
But these are not poll numbers we’re talking about. These are passer rating points, and Cousins has been collecting them like votes.
For more than 40 years, the distinction as the league’s leading passer has gone to the player with the highest passer rating. For the 2015 season, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (110.1 ratings points) claimed that honor ahead of Andy Dalton (106.2) of the Bengals.
Both Cousins (101.6) and Rodgers (92.7) made the top 15, slotted fifth and 15th, respectively.
Here’s a thought. What if the NFL, a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of league, were to recognize passers over the final eight or final four games of a season? Would that provide a more accurate reading of which are the more dangerous quarterbacks heading into the playoffs?
Using Pro-Football-Reference.com, one can generate such lists. Cousins comes out as the NFL’s best in both cases.
Over the past eight games, the 27-year-old Michigan State product has compiled a rating of 126.1. Only Wilson is close at 124.3
Over the last four games, Cousins’ rating is a robust 134.0. Wilson is a more distant second at 120.6
Yes, Dom Capers and the Packers’ defense will match wits with the league’s hottest quarterback. The difference between Cousins’ play in Games 1-8 and Games 9-16 has been remarkable
Through eight games, Cousins’ rating was a pedestrian 82.9. Washington went 3-5 and scored 24 or more points twice.
In the final eight games, the four-year veteran earned a rating of more than 100 a league-high seven times. The Redskins went 6-2 and scored 24 or more points on five occasions.
The difference between Cousins’ first- and second-half ratings is 43.2. The only others to make jumps of more than 20 points were Cam Newton (35.3) and Wilson (29.3).
Cousins’ start to the second half of the season was perfect in the sense that his rating of 158.3 earned in a 47-14 thrashing of the Saints is the NFL maximum. He surpassed 150 again in a 35-25 win over Buffalo (153.7) and in a 34-23 conquest of the Cowboys (155.1) to end the season.
Eight others surpassed 150 this season. Cousins was the only one to do it more than once.
So many measurables of Cousins’ game stand out. Perhaps most impressive is his completion percentage of 73.6 over the last eight games, a mark greater than the NFL record of 71.2 set by Drew Brees in 2011.
While Cousins has been enjoying unbridled success, Rodgers has struggled. His completion percentage (60.7) and yards per attempt (6.7) were his lowest of any season since he became the starter.
His league record of six consecutive seasons with a passer rating of more than 100 ended. Not once did he hit 100 or more in a game in the second half of the season.
It has been 10 years since that happened in Green Bay. In 2005, Brett Favre failed to compile a rating of at least 100 over the final eight games during a season in which the team went 4-12.
And those eight-game and four-game lists that Cousins heads? Rodgers checks in at 27th (80.5) and 25th (79.3), respectively.
(Fewer players had the requisite minimum number of attempts over the final four games.)
Looking at the final eight games for Cousins and Rodgers yields some interesting comparisons. Place a checkmark next to Cousins’ name in all cases.
» Passer rating on third down: 119.6 to 81.0;
» Passer rating in the fourth quarter: 116.6 to 77.6;
» Completed passes of 20 or more yards: 32 to 24;
» Touchdown to interceptions: 19-2 to 12-5
There’s more, but let’s not stuff the ballot box. Cousins clearly has the endorsement of statistics on his side.
One note worth considering before declaring this contest over before it begins: In 2014, the Packers also faced the hottest quarterback of the second half of the regular season. Tony Romo had eight-game (125.3) and four-game ratings (133.7) similar to Cousins’, but Green Bay nonetheless defeated Dallas 26-21 in the playoffs.
Overall: Series tied 1-1.
At FedExField: First meeting.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers (6-5 overall in postseason).
Washington: Kirk Cousins (0-0).
Eric Goska is a Packers historian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highest-rated passers over the final eight games of the 2015 season.