July 31, 2014

WFNY Roundtable: Talking Browns quarterbacks, coaching and the future

Jacob: (to Craig) Rescind all of my comments about Weeden from last week’s podcast. He was miserable yesterday. Ugh. Bring on the Alex Smith rumors!

Andrew: After both Jacob and Brendan’s comments on the pod, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. If Heckert goes and Shurmur is fired, there will be nobody in the front office or coaching staff with any allegiance to Weeden. Banner wouldn’t necessarily feel any obligation to stick with Weeden. If he feels Weeden isn’t good enough to be the future of the Browns, he might bring in a veteran like (Alex) Smith as a bridge to the next would-be savior of the Browns.

Craig: That’s what I’ve been feeling too Andrew. Plus, I truly think Weeden has Holmgren’s fingerprints all over him all “media spin” aside. The problem for Weeden is that he has a couple signature drives on the season and maybe a few signature plays, but he’s not put anywhere close to an entire game together I don’t think. Correct me if I’m wrong, of course. So if you have to play a 29-year-old rookie to see what you have, when he doesn’t show you anything, you’ve got a 30-year-old sophomore who has a short and dim looking future.

BTW, there’s still much discussion in the wake of Alex Smith / Colin Kaepernick about all these fake rules regarding NFL rosters and starting spots. This isn’t aimed at other WFNY writers mind you, but the Cleveland fan collective…

“You can’t let Colt McCoy play because it will start a QB controversy!”
“You can’t sit a first rounder behind Colt McCoy at age 29!”

I’m tired of all these pretend rules when you see anyone with fortitude breaking them on their way to success. This is not to say that the Browns are capable of coaching up anyone to the Alex Smith / Kaepernick level, but just that we need to stop pretending like common NFL conventions have gotten us a damn thing as Browns fans. There are no rules except the real rules. And boxing yourself in otherwise, is what lets you sit your 29-year-old rookie in the fourth pre-season game and then have him come out with an historically horrendous opening game against Philadelphia.

That’s water under the bridge, but for goodness sake, please STOP talking to me about things you can and can’t do.

Brendan: (Tweet link below) Fwiw, this seems to be a pretty popular notion – wonder what some of your thoughts are?

Scott: Completely agree. Said as much in our podcast. Shurmur was glaringly out coached yesterday.

Jacob: Agreed entirely. I was sitting fourth row behind the Redskins bench yesterday — was with a family friend who was great seats. I could go on and on about how many Washington fans there were and how confident the Redskins team was from the start, etc.

But you could clearly tell in all of those play-actions/bootlegs that Shanahan had designed plays to make Cousins feel comfortable and also to limit his possible mistakes. That was never the case for Weeden yesterday. So many tips at the line of scrimmage again.

Over half of Weeden’s yards and nearly half of the team’s total yards of offense were on three plays (69 to Benjamin, 30 to Little, 28 to Cameron). Browns had just 13 first downs and only had the ball for 23 minutes. They were never in control, except for that early pick and 6-yard TD by Trent.

TD: About to lock into your podcast on my flight. All I will say is what I tweeted yesterday: Kyle Shanahan played to Cousins’ strengths yesterday and schooled Shurmur. Cousins’ success made Weeden look extremely bad. And that’s not a good look or timing for Shurmur, Heckert, and Weeden.

Andrew: “Yesterday”. As opposed to every other week……

But yeah, I mean, here’s the thing. When you watch Washington with RGIII, it’s striking how far they’ve gone to make him feel comfortable in the offense. They tailored the offense for him. Read options, quick bubble screens, short throws, designed runs, plenty of shotgun, etc, etc, etc.

The Browns took Weeden and demanded he fit into their West Coast system. They’ve done nothing to make him comfortable and have hurt his development from day 1, IMO.

I don’t think Weeden is great or anything, but I promise you he’d be more comfortable with coaches who were willing to call plays and design an offense to his strengths.

Jacob: Not to go all large-scale on y’all, but isn’t tailoring an offense to an individual QB a relatively new NFL phenomenon? Historically it seems, and that certainly was the mindset of Holmgren initially, offenses seemed to run per a team’s philosophy.

Vick, Tebow, Newton, RG3, et al seem to have changed the mold in the last few years. So while the blame certainly is on the Browns for not making Weeden comfortable in whatever way possible, I don’t think it’s necessarily just them doing this.

Andrew: Well, I feel like Shannahan was particularly successful at tailoring the Broncos offense to fit Elway and Davis in a way nobody was able to previously. Certainly the Colts offense was morphed to fit Peyton Manning.

I don’t know enough about Xs and Os of 90s offenses to project any further back. I just think the best coaches are the ones who can adjust their system to fit the skills of their players.

Jacob: It just seems that no one in the NFL level was talking about these things 5/10 years ago. Like Andrew wrote in his email about the items Washington does for RG3: “Read options, quick bubble screens, short throws, designed runs, plenty of shotgun, etc, etc, etc.”

Historically, those seem to be college offense topics. Correct me if I’m wrong since I’m the youngin’ of course, but I want to really say that we’re witnessing a new NFL and the Browns just seem to be slow to adjust to that trend, not necessarily just bad at making Weeden comfortable. I think it’s a bigger conversation.

Craig: I think it has changed a bit Jacob, but only due to the recent phenomenon of drafted QBs not sitting and learning. With guys on the clock immediately to start playing, it has become more important for these coaches to cater their systems to what the guys show up carrying and slowly work them toward the more core of the coach’s philosophy.

But in two straight years with really inexperienced guys, Shurmur and company have desperately pushed the square peg into the round hole instead of taking the square peg and slowly whittling the corners off over the course of a season or over multiple seasons.

This was my whole point about Colt McCoy too, BTW. After going through all the pains of Colt McCoy trying to learn the system and not putting him in shotgun, instead of giving Colt the first half of this season to build off of what he spent an entire season learning first-hand, they decided to push Weeden straight into the first chapter of the book. And yet again, they didn’t add even 10% extra plays out of the shotgun to make him feel at home at least part of the time.

Shurmur is going to pay with his job, but that hasn’t been Shurmur’s only problem. He’s piled other major flaws on top of his unwillingness to bend on his philosophy. Ultimately though, the shorthand for Shurmur’s time in Cleveland will probably be his inability to get anything out of the QB position even if they turn out to be mediocre-ish QBs in their entire careers.

Andrew: I guess my response to Jacob would be to say that I think that’s more of a testament to the evolution of the QB than the evolution of coaching to your players’ strengths. I think coaches have adapted to their players in the past, it’s just that we’ve never seen players with this kind of specific tool set in the NFL before. At least not this many of them all at once.

I don’t think the Browns should have let Colt start Game 1 at all. I think with Weeden’s age, you had to let him start right away and work through the growing pains.

But as Craig has said countless times, it’s insane that Weeden didn’t start Preseason Game 4 or get more snaps in the previous 3 games. And it’s ridiculous that Shurmur wouldn’t budge an inch on his offense to help Weeden develop.

  • EdgewaterJoe

    Great discussion — and all of it points to 2013 being a year where whoever comes in as coach may be better served figuring out what one (or both) of these guys can do best and call those plays vs. bringing in someone else. It’s stunning how easily the real progress that this team has made this year has been obliterated by one game, and I will not be happy if they let Heckert go (especially if Lombardi is the guy they replace him with).

    Weeden has the arm and everyone knows it, and the WRs are starting to put things together. Seems to me the best system or plays to run for Weeden would be something like the old Lamonica/Stabler Raiders: fling it deep and augment it with the running game (which may back those LBs off the line and finally give Richardson a chance to break a run or two), while Colt feels like more of a prototypical West Coast-style game (move him around and throw to a spot and trust the receiver will be there).

    Two more games. I watch for a breakout Richardson game, beating Pittsburgh twice, being in position for Te’o or Milliner, and thinking about who will be the coach.

  • mgbode

    there is one play that we put in that Weeden was a master with at OkieState. the short yardage fade route. Weeden->Blackmon was money on that route, but largely because that window was much bigger as Blackmon could box out the smaller CBs easier at that level.

    I agree with much of the above. Having some shotgun should not be considered so taboo by our coaches. I liked that they threw in some play-action just to force him to not stare down the WRs, but they didn’t seem to do much more to get him to adjust, etc.

    We’ll see what happens, hopefully we beat Pitt and then we can go through the busiest time of year for a Cleveland sports team: the offseason.

  • thepaledragon

    Even though Weeden won’t have advocates in the building in Holmgren and (hypothetically) Heckert and Shurmur, doesn’t the fact that a first round pick was spent on him earn him at least another year? Should it?

    I don’t want a coach with a “system” I want a coach who does what you guys describe: adjusting his scheme to fit the talents of his personnel. Let’s see what a new OC can do with Weeden….who certainly has the physical tools to be an NFL QB, which is why he was a late first/early second round target in the first place.

  • dwhit110

    The second half of this conversation is why I think Weeden should get a pass for the season (though I won’t go scorched earth or anything if he doesn’t). With our poor coaching, the deck is really stacked against him. If we were able to bring someone in who was willing/able to build an offense that complimented Weeden’s skillset he could play significantly better. Combine that with the fact that there aren’t any amazing options on the FA wire or in the draft…

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I don’t know if it should or shouldn’t, but I think the new regime views this as year zero. Whatever happened in the past is the past. So they’re not going to get hung up on where guys were drafted and how fans feel about them. Brandon Weeden’s cap hit under the new CBA with slotted salaries isn’t too bad at all, so if Banner and company (whoever that “company” is) feel they can do better than Weeden, they probably will. And in my opinion, they should.

    That’s not to say that Weeden isn’t going to be here or be the starter. That’s not my point at all. This is more a reflection of the evolving front office than of Weeden. Banner and company might feel that Weeden with better coaching could still be good. We’ll have to see what happens.

  • REEPJP

    A guy at work today asked me if I’d prefer Alex Smith over Brandon Weeden for the Browns next year. I said absolutely not. His response caught me off guard and made me think….What if I told you that Alex Smith is 1.5 years younger than Brandon Weeden? Made me question my decision a little…Smith is a year and a half younger and this is his SEVENTH season in the NFL. Ultimately I’d probably still take Weeden and his big arm as opposed to the wet noodle Smith, but it is pretty interesting.

  • Harv 21

    I think the topic you’ve chosen is right on the money. Holmgren is the ultimate systems guy and it’s important to recall that he chose both his coach and his quarterback as those he thought would fit the WCO. Presumably he also thought Heckert knew how to spot players with strengths that fit this system.
    In that situation – a head of org and his acolytes who believe so strongly in the effectiveness of a particular system – it’s hardly surprising that everyone is expected to learn the system. Shanahan has the power and bona fides in Washington to tinker and fail; doubt Shurmur has had that leeway. I do have some sympathy with the outgoing regime since they’ve seen talented players adapt. With the young veteran Steve Young – who was Mike Vick with a brain – Holmgren spent a few years training him while a back up to Montana to try and channel all that physical talent and lose bad habits. When Young was ready it was hall of fame caliber stuff, but it took a few years.

  • BenRM

    That Weeden appears to be regressing in the latter half of the season seems to indicate, as was pointed out, that the problem is coaching. Whatever the “system” is and whatever “safeguards” have been installed to try to limit turnovers have resulted in a number of poor showings by Colt and Weeden.

  • Dee P

    I still find it very interesting that during the Haslem interview that was published a couple weeks ago, Haslem, when asked about Weeden was very hesitant to give him a compliment, only commenting on how Weeden has 5 more games before being evaluated.

    Then in the same interview Haslem glowed over McCoy, calling him the best person he has basically every met.

    Not sure what it means, if anything, but found it very interesting then, and find it even more interesting now.

  • Dee P

    And on top of that the whole Banner comments about preferring a mobile QB….I just think things are adding up on the wrong side of the equation for Weeden.

    At this point I don’t care. Just who ever starts at QB in 2013 for the Browns – make it the right choice. Please.