Jameis Winston and Kirk Cousins, the two quarterbacks who will square off on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Washington Redskins at FedExField, have nearly identical passer ratings so far in 2015: 77.6 and 77.4, respectively. Both quarterbacks have a notable strength in the stat line that produces those ratings; Winston is 11th in the league yards per pass attempt (7.72) while Cousins is 11th in completion percentage (66.2). What has gotten Winston and Cousins to the same spot on the passer rating chart is the same issue: TD-INT ratio. Winston's is 7-7, Cousins' is 6-8.
READ: REDSKINS SCOUTING REPORT
In Tampa, Winston's decision-making with the football has been an obvious point of discussion, and it's fair to say that the Buccaneers expected something of an adjustment period for the rookie starter. Cousins is not a rookie, but this is the first season that he was named an opening-day starter, and better ball security is the central focus in Washington, too.
Photos of Mike Evans during his performance in last year's 27-7 victory over the Redskins.
Not every one of Winston's interceptions have been the result of a poor decision. The Redskins can make the same claim about Cousins, but the fourth-year passer still understands that he has to do more to limit the turnovers.
"There are certainly enough that have been on me that I want to get it fixed and corrected," said the 2012 fourth-round pick out of Michigan State. "I think it is a point of emphasis. It's important to protect the football and when you do that it gives your offense a chance, it gives your defense a chance, it gives your team a chance to stay in games. When you start to turn the ball over it makes it an uphill battle to come out with wins. It is a point of emphasis. It is something to continue to grow in and see where we are as we go."
Obviously, the Buccaneers will have patience with Winston as he grows into his role. And, after placing even more of an emphasis on ball security after a four-pick performance against Carolina in Week Four, Winston had an efficient, turnover-free outing in a win over Jacksonville in Week Five. Cousins' situation is a bit different; after three seasons of starting mostly when Robert Griffin III was injured, this year he has supplanted the 2012 first-rounder at the helm of Jay Gruden's attack. As such, Gruden and the Redskins know the decision to go with Cousins will be scrutinized, particularly after losses, but the coach remains confident in his chosen field general.
Photos of the projected starters for the Redskins as listed on team depth chart.
"I think [it's] just the total work," said Gruden. "You see a couple bad throws here and there and everybody questions the decision, as obviously they should. We have three quarterbacks who have played in the NFL and had some success, so if you're the guy playing and you don't have success, then obviously people will want the other ones in there. But I just think [it's] the total package of what he's done since OTAs, training camp, and obviously this year. He's had some rough times as we knew could happen, but he's also done some good things and we're going to try to build off the positive and see if he can play himself out of this rut that he's in right now and see what happens. But we have high hopes for him still, and this offense."
Like Winston, Cousins has had some impressive stretches of play. In Washington's two wins, over St. Louis and Philadelphia, he threw for a combined 493 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he's been picked off exactly twice in the other four contests, including the two most recent, losses to Atlanta and the Jets. Despite statements from Gruden such as the one above, Cousins knows he needs to continue to prove that he is the right man for the job.
"He's got to do what he feels is best for the team," said Cousins of Gruden and the starting quarterback decision. "I'm going to do all I can and keep preparing and working. I understand this business is competitive and there is always somebody coming at you. Even if you don't feel like there is, there is always somebody coming after you. You're trying to perform week-in and week-out and like you said it's, 'What have you done for me lately.' So it's a short memory, you just have to keep going, keep working and stay the course and then see where you end up."
Cousins could say the same thing about the Redskins' season. Washington is 2-4 but just a game out of first place in a division that does not appear to have a clear favorite. Winston and the Buccaneers feel like they kept their playoff aspirations alive with a big win right before the bye week, now the Redskins have a chance to do the same before they get a welcome break in Week Eight.
"I see it as there is so much football left to be played that whether we were in first, in second, in last, whatever the role is, there is so much left to be played, anything can happen," said Cousins. "I was part of a team in 2012 that we were 3-6 and considered completely out of it and then we won seven straight and won the division and got a home playoff game. You just try to go 1-0 each week and see where you are at the end. There is a lot of football left to be played. There's no doubt that it's so important to go 1-0 each week and to not come away with a loss. That's certainly going to be our focus. It will be Tampa Bay's focus too. That's why it's going to make for a great game and a very competitive match."
And it will be a match between two quarterbacks trying to overcome the same issue. Whichever one does it best will probably find himself in the winning locker room after the game.