The six-foot-four-inch, rocket-armed rookie leads the NFL in batted passes by a wide margin, having added four more to his first-year resúmé in his most recent loss. Said to have been mature beyond his class, having leadership qualities unparalleled, Weeden is nearing 30 years of age. But what he has in measurables and intangibles, he lacks in instinct and whatever quality it is that allows one to learn, manicure and progress over time — let’s call it adaptability. When asked what Weeden plans on doing to rectify this glaring, season-long issue, he offered the most telling of quotes.
“I don’t really know,” Weeden said. “It’s been one of our better plays. I don’t have an answer for you.”
The plays being referenced are the short, middle-of-the-field passes which are hallmark of the West Coast Offense. Weeden’s downfall, however, comes when several of these “plays” are check-downs following the quarterback’s progressions, mis-reads and receiver watching. Defensive linemen, stoutly blocked by the Browns’ stellar offensive line, simply have to sit back, watch the rookie’s eyes and time his release — the result: batted ball after batted ball, killing drives, crushing morale and wasting crucial downs.
Potentially the most damning of the entire debacle, Weeden knows why these passes are being swatted out of the air like mid-summer mosquitoes.
“If the defensive linemen aren’t getting to me, they just kind of stand there, watch my eyes and stick their arms up,” said Weeden. “I’m trying to throw over guys three yards down the field [on shallow crossing routes] and that can be challenging.”
Understanding the problem is half of the battle; making the changes necessary over the course of the four-plus months of practice is the larger half. Weeden, however, has decided to be the problem rather than the solution.
This is not to say that the fault exists solely on the shoulder pads of the red-headed wonder. Weeden’s head coach is an alleged offensive mastermind; a former quarterback coach in his own right, Pat Shurmur’s know-how earned him the subsequent positions of offensive coordinator and, alas, head coach. Shurmur’s right hand man, Brad Childress was also a quarterbacks coach in addition to his multiple roles as an offensive coordinator. Mark Whipple, Mike Holmgren’s hand-picked molder of the pass-throwing clay, has multiple line items on his resúmé that say that he too was a quarterbacks coach prior to landing in Cleveland.
This is not to say that this troika of terror has not attempted to correct their quarterback’s mistakes — this is, after all, a correctable offense. Even the John Madden football series allows one to obtain medals and extra accolades, along with added experience with game play, in a pocket presence mini-camp; the user forced to move the quarterback around the pocket prior to lofting passes toward the desired target. The allegedly cerebral Weeden merely has to step a few inches up into the pocket (or left, or right) to create new passing lanes, allowing the ball to fly unabated toward his receiver of choice. Instead, Weeden acts as if he is still on the mound, donning a High Desert Mavericks uniform, throwing pitches from a statuesque set.
Shurmur reiterates that the reason Weeden’s passes are batted due to the playbook and the location of the receivers with regard to the quarterback and the defensive linemen. He too knows the issues, issues that have been prevalent all season but were previously chalked up to a rookie quarterback having to deal with a professional pass-rush. But on Week 15 when the game is supposed to start slowing down in the minds of the men who are tasked with executing plays, things appear to still be flying through Weeden’s head at ludicrous speed — he admitted to not even seeing the defender who intercepted his pass early in the third quarter, subsequently setting up a lead-snatching drive for the Redskins.
The result? More of the same. No snaps from the shotgun, allowing more space and alternative passing lanes; no bootlegs that allow the admittedly immobile Weeden to throw the ball in space. An inexplicable avoidance of in-game (or in-season change), four more pass attempts falling to the earth behind the line of scrimmage, and another losing effort in an otherwise winnable contest.
Weeden would call the Browns’ 38-21 home loss “frustrating.”
It’s easy to attribute the same adjective to many layers of what transpired. And not just in that game — this has been a season-long drip that continues to only serve to further submerge the Orange and Brown dinghy known as Shurmur’s playbook. Getcha life jackets ready.