Why RG3's injury might help the Redskins' playoff hopes

The ankle injury to Robert Griffin III is catastrophic news for the Washington Redskins, a franchise that mortgaged its 2013 and 2014 drafts to get a franchise quarterback that could lead the team back to glory. It’s disastrous for fans, who invested so much hope in RG3 and were paid off with a spectacular seven-game winning streak in 2012, before watching Griffin suffer a devastating injury in the playoffs. And it’s worst of all for Griffin, a 24-year-old quarterback who had a limitless future but has now suffered his second major injury in the past 20 months and looks more and more likely to become the ultimate case of NFL “what if?”

That’s what makes the following statement all the more incongruous: Provided DeSean Jackson’s injury doesn’t cause the wideout to miss too much time, the Washington Redskins are better positioned to make the 2014 playoffs on Sunday afternoon than they were on Sunday morning. That’s because Kirk Cousins gives the Redskins a better chance to win than the man he was backing up.

Cousins isn’t necessarily a better quarterback than RG3. He shouldn’t have started Week 1 over RG3. And if RG3 magically heals before Week 3, the incumbent should regain his job. But with RG3 under center, the Redskins had to figure out what was going to work long term. There’s no such thing as rebuilding in the topsy-turvy NFL, but the Redskins were a good case study that short-term pains can equal long-term benefits.

It was always going to take time for RG3 to learn the new offense and for Jay Gruden to adapt to having a five-tool threat under center. The offense that worked wonders with Andy Dalton in Cincinnati would have to be changed to factor in RG3’s speed and freelancing abilities. There were going to be growing pains.

So while an injury will hinder RG3’s progress down the line, in the short term, the presence of Cousins under center makes the Redskins a contender in an NFC East that will be wide open if Philadelphia doesn’t run away with the division.

Granted, a 41-10 win over the Jaguars is hardly cause for a parade. Despite a lackluster Week 1 performance, Washington was favored by six points over the Jags. Robert Griffin III would have won this game too, inconsistency or not. But Cousins ran the offense with cool efficiency. He knew where the open receivers were. He got rid of the ball when he needed to (other than a late sack in the first half that pushed the team out of field goal range). He had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating for his first eight throws and didn’t throw an incompletion until his 13th attempt. The offense had confidence it hadn’t showed since Week 17 in 2012.

There is no quarterback controversy in Washington, despite the city’s love of such battles. Kirk Cousins is the backup who happens to be starting. He’s also the QB best fit to take the 2014 Washington Redskins to an unexpected berth in the playoffs.