It’s safe to say the aura Hue Jackson carried with him in his first days as Cleveland Browns head coach has all but faded away. With three games remaining in his first season, he has yet to generate a win. At 0-13, Cleveland is an unwatchable train-wreck, and Jackson isn’t exactly surrounded with the same hope and optimism he showed up with back in January.
A winless season has resulted in plenty of critique being thrown his way, but one particular issue is starting to catch my attention. It has to do with the quarterback Jackson hand-picked to be his starter this season.
Robert Griffin III took the field last Sunday for the first time since suffering an injury in Week 1. Outside of a solid drive or two, he had a disastrous day in a 23-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. At least, that’s the opinion of almost everyone who watched the game. Jackson, however, appeared to feel differently.
After Cleveland’s 13th straight loss, the team’s coach noted Griffin’s poise, claiming he looked like he belonged out there. Jackson admitted there was some rust, sure, but overall there wasn’t much in terms of critique.
It was another example of what some would call preferential treatment Cleveland’s coach has shown for Griffin, and it’s starting to become concerning.
As a reminder, Griffin’s showing on Sunday resulted in a QB rating of 38.4. Only Josh McCown and Kevin Hogan have posted lower ratings for the Browns this year, each instance occurring in mid-game mop-up duty.
However, there was apparently plenty of poise on display from Griffin despite such putrid numbers.
For what it’s worth, Jackson was given another opportunity to fairly grade his starting quarterback when he spoke yesterday, but once again mostly declined to do so.
If Jackson’s words weren’t enough evidence proving Griffin gets extra leeway from him, his game-plan on Sunday certainly provides some more.
On a blustery and snowy day in Cleveland, the Browns ran the ball a surprisingly low amount of times. This despite the fact Isaiah Crowell was gashing Cincinnati when given the ball, finishing the day with 113 yards on only ten carries. Cleveland’s backs in general were only handed the ball a total of 14 times.
Instead of taking advantage of a strong running attack on a day which practically demanded such a thing, Jackson had a rusty Griffin notch 28 passing attempts. Sure, the Browns were playing from behind for the entire game. At the same time, if your rushing attack is gashing the Bengals left and right while your QB’s accuracy is shaky at best, why keep throwing the ball?
As confusing as it was to watch, it might not be as perplexing when you lump Sunday’s game and the lack of critique with everything Jackson has done with Griffin this year.
Jackson has gone above and beyond defending Cleveland’s signing of Griffin despite the fact the quarterback had been an epic flame out in Washington. His constant offseason praise resulted in nobody buying the idea anyone else but Griffin would be the Browns’ starter in Week 1.
Combining the nationwide doubt in Griffin with Jackson’s continued resistance to criticize his play makes it pretty clear what’s happening here.
It seems as though Cleveland’s coach is hell-bent on trying to prove he was right about Griffin all along. Even though the former Redskin has yet to look anything like the game-changer we saw in 2012, Jackson seems convinced he can get him playing like that again.
What’s concerning about this in the present is the simple fact Jackson is seeing positives despite stat-lines which beg to differ. Things get a little more alarming if this trend keeps up through the rest of the season.
If Jackson continues to avoid giving Griffin anything but praise even though his play doesn’t deserve it, who’s to say it won’t affect the team’s plans heading into next year? What happens if the Browns once again pass on a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft because Jackson is content with trying to win with Griffin again?
Regardless of whether or not you believe a franchise QB can be found in next spring’s draft class is beside the point. There’s very little evidence Griffin can be any sort of solution. Jackson spending another year trying to outsmart the rest of the league could only set this moribund franchise back further.
It’s all conjecture at this point, but if you’re a Browns fan, you can’t help but be a little nervous when Jackson keeps extending Griffin’s leash. If the quarterback shows no signs of progress in the remaining three games, yet continues to avoid critique, I would advise fans to get ready for another year of this pairing.
It goes without saying that would be anything but good news for Cleveland.