The Cleveland Browns front office must save Hue Jackson from himself
By Joel W. Cade
The Cleveland Browns front office needs to step in and save Hue Jackson from his own desire for a dual-threat quarterback.
Things have hit a new low, even for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns front office chose to pass over Carson Wentz only to see him torch the Browns defense in Week 1. Worse, the Browns’ choice, Robert Griffin III, was injured in the first game and is out for at least the next eight games after being placed on injured reserve.
Griffin’s injury leaves the Browns with Josh McCown as the starting quarterback. For a team looking to rebuild through the draft, a year with an older veteran quarterback is a wasted year. The Browns, right now, should be making plans to start Cody Kessler as soon as he is ready. It may be a while before he is ready. But when he is, he needs to play.
If Griffin had played well Week 1, the urgency to start Kessler would be negated. But Griffin played poorly showing the same lack of pocket awareness and accuracy issues with the short and intermediate passing game that has plagued him his entire career. Griffin’s injury only exacerbates the conclusion that he is not the answer in Cleveland.
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Now the Browns must figure out how to save a lost season at the quarterback position.
The first thing the Browns front office needs to do is save Hue Jackson from himself. The choice of Robert Griffin III is a head scratcher. Griffin succeeded in the NFL when running an offense as banal as the one Carson Wentz ran last Sunday. He has never been able to read defenses either pre or post-snap. That Jackson thinks he can fix the Titanic is why the front office needs to take the reins when it comes to the quarterback position.
Hue Jackson’s offense is dynamic enough on its own that it does not need a “dual-threat” quarterback like Griffin. In reality, “dual-threat” quarterback really means a runner with moderate throwing skills. There have been very few “dual-threat” quarterbacks who have succeeded in the NFL. Those who have succeeded in the NFL transformed themselves into pocket passers.
Hue Jackson believes he can turn Robert Griffin III into a pocket quarterback. The problem with this project is that Griffin has never been a pocket quarterback. His play in one game this season has demonstrated that after four seasons in the NFL, he is no closer to being a pocket quarterback than when he was drafted. Are we to think that Jackson can succeed where Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden have failed?
Griffin is a project at quarterback. The Browns have basically conceded that Griffin is a reclamation project at the position. They passed on Carson Wentz in the draft. There are plenty of excellent reasons for passing on Wentz. But the fact that they passed on multiple other quarterbacks in the draft demonstrates that the Browns viewed Griffin as their best shot this season to find a franchise quarterback.
Now that Griffin is hurt and will miss half the season on injured reserve, the Browns’ plan to rebuild around Griffin has hit a major bump in the road. But that does not mean the rebuilding project at quarterback needs to end.
Hue Jackson’s offense in Oakland and in Cincinnati both ran well when operated by a “point guard” quarterback. Jackson needs a quarterback that will read the defense pre-snap and put the team in the right play. That same quarterback needs to read the defense post-snap and put the ball in the right place or safely get rid of it. What makes his offense work is the playmakers around the quarterback. Right now, the Browns have pieces in place to grow into playmakers. Jackson needs a quarterback who can get them the ball.
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Moving forward this season the Browns will be better at quarterback with McCown. He is the epitome of the decision making “point guard” quarterback Jackson’s offense thrives under. He makes good decisions in the pocket. But his age and inability to win keep McCown from being the long-term solution.
McCown needs to be tutoring Cody Kessler to take over as the starting quarterback. There was a lot of head scratching and second guessing when Cody Kessler was drafted in the third round. Part of the issue was the timing of the pick. The third round seemed rather high for a quarterback some thought would go undrafted. When asked about Kessler, Jackson told reporters and fans to “trust me”.
Kessler is more likely to succeed as the long-term solution at quarterback than Griffin. Kessler was an extremely accurate quarterback at USC. He played with a variety of playmakers. He also played in a variety of offenses from pro-style to spread. He succeeded in all of them. He may or may not be the Browns long-term solution, but we will never know until he plays.
The Browns will have two first round picks in next year’s NFL draft. The temptation will be to take a “dual-threat” quarterback like DeShaun Watson from Clemson or DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame. Neither run a pro-style offense and drafting them would put the Browns in the same position they are with Griffin, a “dual-threat” quarterback from a spread system who will need to learn how to play quarterback at the professional level.
The Browns front office needs to stop this “dual-threat” madness. They need to stop relying on the quarterback Jackson wants for his offense and draft a quarterback who fits Jackson’s history of success.