Colt McCoy's journey gives Redskins confidence vs. Cowboys

DALLAS -- One play showed his comfort in the system. The other showed his preparation. Both of them show why the Washington Redskins remain confident in Colt McCoy as their starting quarterback.

It’s why they’re not conceding anything to the rest of the NFC East despite losing Alex Smith for the season. After all, the Redskins have a one-game lead heading into Thursday’s game at Dallas. And they like McCoy.

“Colt is awesome,” Redskins corner Quinton Dunbar said. “I always thought when Kirk [Cousins] left, why they didn’t give him a chance? He knows this offense in and out and was probably more up to speed than Alex right now because he’s been here longer. It showed when he stepped on the field.”

Yes, it did. McCoy wasn’t perfect, but he did show how he can help, and that he can add something different from Smith, who was still adjusting to an offense McCoy now has been in for nearly five years. The offense won’t change, but McCoy might take more chances.

That’s why McCoy could go 41 regular-season games without throwing a pass and then complete his first one for a touchdown. On the 9-yard throw to tight end Jordan Reed, McCoy made it look easy. It’s a play Washington had run only three or four times this season, said passing-game coordinator Kevin O’Connell.

That meant McCoy had to rely more on mental reps. With Reed aligned inside on a three-receiver side, McCoy knew the game plan dictated that if they faced a certain coverage, Reed would be open running to the corner.

“It’s just his understanding of the look and what we’re trying to accomplish with that play that helped turn him loose,” O’Connell said. “Maybe it’s not wide open … but he’s comfortable with Jordan and trusts him to get the ball and he puts it in a place where Jordan goes and gets it.”

Reed wasn’t surprised.

“Colt’s understanding of the offense is very high,” Reed said. “He’s been watching me for six years. He knows what I want to do and when I want to do it and how I’m going to set it up. He knows this offense like the back of his hand. So he’s prepared.”

Later in the game, McCoy connected with receiver Josh Doctson for an 11-yard out. McCoy has thrown this pass quite often during practice in his five seasons. Because of that, muscle memory takes over. And the ball often arrives just as the receiver turns, as was the case with Docston. Tight coverage is defeated.

“That’s a core play we’ve run for five years,” O’Connell said.

Plays like this lead some teammates to marvel at McCoy’s arm strength. He has built it back up over the years; it was impacted by a shoulder injury in the 2010 national championship game. Then, in 2014, he injured his neck. McCoy started working with California-based coach Tom House, a pitching guru who also works with quarterbacks. For the past four seasons McCoy has followed his shoulder exercises.

During that time, the Redskins have helped make his throwing motion for compact.

“Anyone could probably tell you that Alex gets the ball out quick, but his arm isn’t as strong as Colt’s arm,” tight end Vernon Davis said.

After Sunday’s loss to Houston, Reed said McCoy had a “cannon arm.”

“Colt does such a good job setting his feet and eyes to the progression and understanding what he’s playing against and allowing that info to speed up that thought process,” O’Connell said. “It leads him to fundamentally be a click ahead. Maybe that’s what those guys feel.”

It will be interesting to see if some of McCoy’s added comfort leads to more first-down passes. The Redskins have run 60 percent of the time and averaged only 6.43 yards on first-down throws under Smith; they averaged 7.89 yards on first-down throws last season with Cousins.

While Smith’s legs were a key part of his game, McCoy, returning to his native state, is even more likely to scramble for yards. That can lead to big gains, but also big hits.

“It’s just something about quarterbacks from Texas,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. “They’re just tough. He’s out there taking some hits. That’s just the type of player he is. He’s a tough guy. … And he’s going to give guys opportunities. He gave Josh three opportunities on go balls. I know the guys are ready for that.”

McCoy, too, is ready.

“It's not easy, but at the same time, I'm thankful for where I am [and] for the things that I’ve gone through,” McCoy said. “Hopefully some of the ups and downs that I've been through in my career will help me now. If I didn’t love football, I probably would have maybe been through. But I love the process. I love getting ready to play. I love game planning. I've been with our coaches for a long time now. I'm very well coached and now I just get a chance to go do it. So, all those things will hopefully pay off."

Players say McCoy brings energy to the field. They hope that results in a second win over Dallas.

“It’s huge, man,” Reed said. “Right now he’s very excited. We’re all very excited to get going. It’s a lot of positive energy going into this game.”