August 26, 2014

Browns Lose….But Weeden Improves

Lost in all of the Pat Shurmur play-calling bashing, questions about the health of Trent Richardson, the special teams disaster, the extra point gaffe by Reggie Hodges, and of course the big drop by Josh Gordon was the stellar play of rookie QB Brandon Weeden.

Remember back after the 17-16 season-opening loss to Philadelphia, half of the city was already done with Weeden? The Colt McCoy catcalls were in full effect. I for one told people that what I saw from the rookie in his debut was some of the worst quarterbacking I can ever remember. I walked away from the game thinking the defense was better than I thought and Weeden was a disaster waiting to happen. But a funny thing happened on the way to writing Weeden off…..

He got better and better and better. This is not Blaine Gabbert version 2.0 folks.

While last week’s big home win over Cincinnati was a day we will look back at as Weeden’s first victory as a pro, it was yesterday’s 17-13 loss that may have been his finest hour in his first year under center in Cleveland.

I know, the Browns only scored 13 points and you aren’t going to win many games that way, but it certainly wasn’t the fault of Weeden. He was efficient and smart, completing 25-41 for 264 yards and two TD’s. The rapport with college teammate Josh Cooper worked well. He only made one ill-advised throw by my count. The poise was there. Weeden is a victim of porous play-calling at times too, which is the west coast offense way. I am still not crazy about these two yard crossing routes on third-and-four (and we see them way too much). But with each passing week, you can see Brandon’s improvement with the command of the offense.

The guy we are seeing today compared to that deer in the headlights rattled rookie in the home opener are as different as Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine. And as we know, that is a very good thing.

Of course he’d have gone over 300 yards with three TD’s and possibly had been a winner if not for Gordon’s fourth quarter endzone drop. And on that particular play, Weeden couldn’t have thrown a better ball. The narrative this morning would have been completely different. There would be story after story about the ascent of the Browns rookie QB.

Instead, we are discussing the Jimmy Haslam reaction shot.

Think about the stakes and the timing of the play. The Browns trailed 17-13 with just over six minutes to play. It was third and one at the Colts 41. Weeden play action-faked and was absolutely crushed as he put a perfect ball in the air in stride right to Gordon, who has become the Browns big play receiver. He just dropped it. These things happen. Gordon obviously has to make that catch, but he also came down with that amazing TD catch a week before against the Bengals and has shown the ability to give the Browns something they haven’t had since Braylon Edwards 2007 season – a legitimate deep threat.

Take the good with the bad.

Credit Weeden for standing up for his guy after the game as well.

“The loss was not even close to being on him. Everybody in this locker room makes mistakes. He makes that catch nine times out of 10. He’s coming into his own, and he’s becoming a really good player,” he said.

That is the kind of leadership that teammates love from their QB. As much of a talent Cam Newton is in Carolina, check out his comments after the Panthers lost another heartbreaker at home to Dallas yesterday:

This taste, this vibe – I’m not buying it, man,” Newton said, according to Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. “And I don’t know what it is but something’s going to have to change. Something’s going to have to change real fast.”

“We just find a way to keep the game close and just wait to see what happens at the end,” Newton said. “I’m getting tired of it. That’s not a formula to win. Domination is a formula to win.

“I’m going to leave this (media) room and I’m going to bring in a suggestion box and I want your suggestions to be in that suggestion box because I sure don’t know,” Newton said. “I really don’t. I wish I could tell you. But the only thing I control, sweetheart, is myself. Offensively, I am the leader of this bunch and we haven’t been getting the job done.”

Stark contrast right there. Weeden gets it.

I know you are all upset about losing this very winnable game, but this is another throw-away year in terms of record. Its all about the improvement and seasoning of the young core players. From Weeden to Gordon to Richardson to Craig Robertson to Joe Haden to TJ Ward to Billy Winn to Jabaal Sheard…. I could go on and on. The bottom line here is being competitive each week while growing as a group and Weeden is leading that charge.

What we’ve seen out of him since that first week debacle is probably the best Quarterbacking in Cleveland since the return of the Browns in 1999 other than the fluke 2007 season from Derek Anderson.

There’s nowhere to go but up.

(photo via John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

  • CBI

    When you take a look at non-contact sports at their highest level, athletes continue to compete and win well into their thirties (i.e. the median age of winners of PGA tournaments is 35). Looking at the NFL, as you pointed out, only two opening day quarterbacks are 35 or older. I don’t think anyone denies that eventually we will lose our athletic ability due to age. But, to say that age, not the repeated physical punishment these players take every week, is the major contributing factor to the fact that most quarterbacks won’t see a snap after their 35th birthday is a stretch.

  • Steve

    What’s inconsequential is how pretty an offense looks when the team is 1-6, 27th in yards per game, and is 21st in points per game. That we’re not any good is a sign that we need to focus on how we can get to be good in 3 years (why do people keep extending this Weeden timeframe?).

    And it’s not being proactive about having a solid backup, its about having a solid starter when this team is actually any good.

  • Steve

    So we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt when he looks bad against a good pass defense, but we don’t really curb our enthusiasm when he has a good day against a terrible pass defense? It’s got to cut both ways.

    And how many guys looked that bad in their first start? Yes, I’ll give him some slack for his first game, but he didn’t even look like he belonged in the league. Even Gabbert managed to look like a NFL-er in his first start. Even for a first career start, that was just absolutely terrible and doesn’t get to be ignored.

  • mgbode

    not “giving him the benefit of the doubt” as much as seeing it as part of his learning curve. And, Gabbert is a great example of the opposite of Weeden. Gabbert was bad when he started, had a couple okay starts mixed in (2 out of 14 starts were anything resembling acceptable) but nothing in his rookie year suggested he was getting better as the year went along.
    there is plenty of curbing going on. many of us have stated we expect a regression coming (typical rookie wall hitting). it is a huge thing that every QB seems to go through. seeing if he can adjust after defenses adjust to him will go to show if he can “stick” in this league.

  • mgbode

    the only way Weeden is out of the NFL in 3 years is if he busts. Cmon now. that’s silly.
    my point is that we cannot progress to being a good team without a good QB in place. if you cannot understand that from the above argument, then I think we are done here.

  • gup

    right. so we should take the tiny morsel of hope every year and turn into false optimism? Its tiring to do this over and over and over every year is what i am saying. I don’t think Shurmer is a good coach but i also don’t want him fired b/c nothing will happen if we “rebuild” every 2 years.

    Look at the Texans they’ve been in the league for 2 less seasons then us and they seem to have figured it out.

  • Steve

    Track runners and swimmers don’t take contact and they decline even younger than football players. I will agree that the physical punishment is a key factor, but that there’s a lot besides that.

  • Steve

    I didn’t say out of the NFL. I’m saying that he probably won’t be good enough to lead a contending team.

    And I completely understand your point, but say we signed Hasselbeck to be our QB last year and this year. Great, we have better QB, but how exactly does that help us build a contender?

  • Steve

    As long we people are suggesting its an outlier to be ignored or that similarly small samples suggest he’s past it, we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt.

  • mgbode

    well, outside of what Hasselbeck has been the past couple years…

    your WRs learn the offense. they learn the routes and adjustments and the QB delivers them the ball when they make the right read.

    the OL learns pass blocking, how to hold the blocks and where to siphon DL towards to open up passing lanes.

    the RBs are not hammered by defenses cheating towards the line and learn how to read lanes rather than just running into people.

  • mgbode

    85.6
    82.5
    Those are the only QB ratings above 80 by a Browns starting QB (who has started at least 8 games) since ’99.
    Couch never did it.
    Garcia never did it.
    Kelly Holcomb is the first rating in 8 games.
    Derek Anderson is the second one during his “magical” year.
    So, yes, I can enjoy a rating of 83.4 if it continues.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Sports blog comment sections are SERIOUS BUSINESS. Got it.

    Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. I’m not “pretending” anything. If Weeden plays well into his mid-late 30′s, that’s great. But we certainly should be looking to draft a “replacement” in the next 2-3 years to have ready to go when he starts to decline. Not sure where I ever said we shouldn’t do that.