Are the Cleveland Browns better with RG3 on the sidelines?
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns have lost starting quarterback Robert Griffin III to injury. But does that actually make the team better?
When the Cleveland Browns take the field on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens they will set a post-merger record by starting at least two different quarterbacks in the same season for the 15th consecutive year.
Josh McCown will get the starting nod in the home opener because Robert Griffin III could not make it through Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles without suffering a shoulder injury that will keep him sidelined for at least eight games. (The Browns losing their starting quarterback to a Week 1 injury in consecutive years also has to be some kind of record.)
Now that the team has turned the offense over to McCown, questions have popped up about whether or not the Browns are doomed for failure in 2016. Or at least more doomed than they already were.
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There are really two parts to the question, however; one is easy to answer, the other is a bit more difficult.
“I just think (Josh’s) skillset fits our offense. He will be able to help our offense play good.” – head coach Hue Jackson
From an on-field perspective, there is no question that the Browns are better off – or at least no worse – with McCown at quarterback instead of Griffin. While there is a subset of Browns fans who will never cut McCown any slack, the numbers show that he is better than Griffin in just about every way.
In an abbreviated 2015, McCown 63.7 percent of his passes, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, threw for 2,109 yards, and had 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. He finished the season with a passer rating of 93.3. Put those numbers over a 16-game season and McCown would have posted one of the best seasons from a Browns quarterback in franchise history.
The biggest stat that jumps off the page is McCown’s work on third down vs. Griffin, a key number for a team that needs to keep its defense off the field as much as possible. Last season McCown was the top-rated quarterback on third down with a passer rating of 129.5, throwing for seven touchdowns and just one interception.
When anyone other than McCown was a quarterback the Browns offense was a never-ending series of three-and-outs, a trend that continued under Griffin as the Browns were just 2-of-10 on third down against the Eagles.
“That is one of the keys to playing quarterback in the National Football League – situational football, when everybody knows you either have to throw it or make a play,” head coach Hue Jackson said of McCown. “Those are the tough downs – scoring zone, third down, two minute, four minute – that is when the quarterbacks are at their best.
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“(Josh) understands and he has seen a lot of different looks throughout the National Football League so there are not too many things that are going to surprise him.”
It is not as easy to quantify the impact that Griffin’s injury will have off the field, however.
While not the only team in need of a quarterback, the Browns were the only team willing to bring Griffin on as a starting quarterback during the off-season. Jackson was a big voice working in Griffin’s favor, especially after saying that the “earth moved” during Griffin’s workout.
Jackson held a non-competitive quarterback competition during training camp before announcing that Griffin was the starter. And on a team with more than half the roster made up of first- and second-year players, Jackson spent a lot of time focusing on rebuilding Griffin’s game.
The question is now being asked, at least in some quarters, if the time that Jackson spent with Griffin came at the expense of Jackson keeping his eye on the bigger picture.
That is the contention of a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who makes a case that the Browns will be better without Griffin monopolizing the head coach’s time:
"Yet there are those in the Browns’ building who think Griffin’s injury could turn out to be a good thing for the franchise, because coach Hue Jackson was so focused on righting Griffin. The team now can move on and do what it needs."
If true, then Griffin’s injury may end up being a blessing for the Browns as McCown will not need as much of Jackson’s attention, freeing the head coach to, well, coach the entire team. And judging by what we all saw against the Eagles, there is plenty of coaching to be done.
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Griffin was never going to be the long-term answer at quarterback, so his injury doesn’t derail the team’s plans to find a true franchise quarterback.
And depending on how accurate Schefter’s report is, Griffin’s injury may actually help the Browns more than he ever would have on the field.