2012 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns, AFC North & the Case for Robert Griffin III

Brian Stepanek@@StepanekButtonCorrespondent IIMarch 6, 2012

Does his running ability make RG III worth the price of admission?
Does his running ability make RG III worth the price of admission?Brett Deering/Getty Images

"Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What use is a sundial in the shade?" - Benjamin Franklin

Part IV in a 5-Part Series

I probably should have numbered this one "III" out of 5, as I've never been one to resist the temptation of a pun...but here goes:

This columnist contends that to win the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns must:

  • rush for between 1,800 and 2,000 yards,
  • play top-5 caliber defense 
  • finish in the top-10 in the NFL in time of possession. 

Robert Griffin III could prove a key component to accomplishing those goals, especially if he somehow falls to the Browns at number four.

Three little words mean everything in the AFC North: time of possession.

As we mentioned earlier, Baltimore and particularly Pittsburgh have habitually won the AFC North since its inception in 2002. We expressed the requisite reverence at both franchises' abilities to run and stop the run consistently. The most important byproduct of those successes is time of possession.

The Steelers and Ravens have finished in the top 10 in average TOP since 2004. Both often earned top-five status, with the Ravens earning #1 TOP in 2006 and the Steelers claiming #1 TOP in the NFL in three out of those eight seasons. It should come as no surprise, as the Steelers have qualified for three Super Bowls in that time period and never finished worse than 8-8.

Does this provide us with a framework for success within the context of the Cleveland Browns?

By nature of their membership in the AFC North, the Browns are resigned to ad-minimum four cold weather games annually—especially given the NFL's recent scheduling patterns.

In the same post-realignment time-frame, Baltimore has placed only once in the top 10 in passing, while the Steelers, our model for consistent success, never—repeat—never finished in the top-10 passing offenses.

Let's briefly simulate a Robert Griffin III rookie season on the ground alone, shall we?

Say the Browns re-sign Peyton Hillis and run him in tandem with Ogbonnaya. Hillis runs for 900, Ogbonnaya runs for 600. Cam Newton ran for 706 yards and 14 TD's in his rookie campaign; let's spot RGIII a modest 400 yards.

These relatively conservative projections would represent a substantial upgrade in the Browns' running game and would undoubtedly improve our abysmal TOP statistics.

This past season, the Steelers often possessed the ball a full five minutes more than their opponents. That constitutes one twelfth of the game clock more the Steelers had to work with. Imagine if the Browns' offense had five extra minutes every game to...

Tangibles and intangibles go out the window when James Harrison has a clean shot.
Tangibles and intangibles go out the window when James Harrison has a clean shot.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

To build the foundation for contention, the Browns must focus on the dichotomy of the AFC North and the prerequisites for dominating it. Building like we play in the AFC South or NFC West will be fun until James Harrison and co. come to town in December.

Just to compete for the AFC North, a team must win four divisional matchups and avoid getting swept. To dominate, the Browns will need to sweep the Steelers and/or Ravens in addition to the Bengals. That means consistently winning games in December.

That requires, you guessed it: running the ball, stopping the run and time of possession.

Whether through designed runs or broken pass plays, Robert Griffin III demonstrated substantial ability to extend plays in ways only a special few players can.

Imagine all the 3rd and longs the Browns face, and how teams would have to account for RGIII like an extra receiver. Think about the potential for drive-extending, enemy-morale-crushing first down scrambles.

No doubt, Robert Griffin III offers the Browns an exhilarating opportunity to develop an elite dual-threat at quarterback.

While passing never—say it with me now—never wins the AFC North, RGIII's running ability could make him an ideal investment in a rushing-dominated division. In the passing game, the difference between RGIII and Colt McCoy may not be in their ability to avoid the sack, but RGIII's ability to salvage the play. 

Additionally, if the Browns' offensive line is as bad as we say it is (it is), wouldn't we want to play the guy with the best chance of getting out from behind it? 

You can follow Brian on twitter @StepanekButton

Part I: Colt McCoy and the Bernie Kosar Complex
Part II: Colt McCoy vs. Notable QB's in their first 16 starts
Part III: Missing Pieces and the Robert Griffin III saga

Part V: The Cleveland Browns' recipe for AFC North success

Time of Possession Statistics on www.teamrankings.com


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