“We definitely think he’s the guy that can lead us this year to the playoffs.”
That’s Browns all-everything left tackle Joe Thomas talking about embattled starting quarterback Brandon Weeden. I don’t know what Thomas really thinks, but it seems to me like he’s either lying through his teeth and playing the good soldier, or he’s delusional about Weeden’s abilities as an NFL quarterback.
Thomas wasn’t the only teammate backing Weeden. Running back Willis McGahee said there were “no worries” about Weeden. Linebacker Quentin Groves pointed to the way Weeden has responded to the criticisms as a sign that he is capable to lead the Browns. Now I’m no expert, but it seems to me that when you’re grasping at your starting quarterback’s ability to handle scrutiny as a great positive, then he’s probably lacking ability in some other more important areas, like reading defenses and getting rid of the ball quickly.
But these discussions won’t go away. Not for the rest of this season at least. The Browns sit at 3-3 and Weeden has started all three losses. Rob Chudzinski has given Weeden the dreaded vote of confidence, so each and every week will only bring more questions about his quarterbacking acumen. With each loss, the questions will get louder. Prepare yourself Browns fans, because this probably gets worse before it gets better.
The worst part is that Weeden actually didn’t play that poorly last week against Detroit. If I told you that he would go 26/43 for 292 yards (a 6.8-yard average) and throw two touchdowns, you almost certainly would have assumed that the Browns would have won the game thanks to that solid performance and their stout defense. However, those stats conveniently fail to note the two crushing interceptions that Weeden threw to Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy.
The first pick came as the Browns were driving early in the second quarter. Weeden stepped up in the pocket but appeared to be hit as he threw, causing his pass to sail and allowing Levy to make a leaping interception. Not his worst throw ever, but still one that ended a promising drive.
At least the Browns were throwing past the first down marker on third down.
Many fans and other observers have pointed out the defense’s poor performance. That analysis conveniently ignores two facts. First, the Browns gained only 130 yards in the entire second half after racking up 276 in the first half. Take out the game-ending 72-yard garbage time drive, and the Browns managed just 58 yards on five second half possessions. Second, while the defense did struggle – they couldn’t get off the field on third down (Detroit was 8-14 on third down conversions, and many of those conversions seemed to come on second efforts that saw them pick up the first down by a yard or less) and they couldn’t cover Lions rookie tight end Joseph Fauria (three touchdowns from Matt Stafford) – they played well enough to give Weeden and the offense a chance. With 6:04 left and the Browns trailing 24-17, Weeden took over at the Browns 16-yard line with a chance to lead the Browns down the field and tie the game. That’s when the absurd happened.
The drive started promising enough, with the Browns picking up 40 yards in four plays, getting to the Detroit 44. But Weeden just couldn’t contain the brain fart that every fan feared was coming. His lobbed backhand flip that seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, probably because it did hang in the air for an eternity. It’s almost surely the most incomprehensible thing I’ve ever seen a quarterback do considering the fact that this was the fourth quarter of a tight NFL contest. Weeden himself called it “a bone-headed play.” At least he’s aware.
So, say what you want about the defense, but they gave the offense a shot. Weeden just doesn’t have the tools necessary to take it. He can’t read defenses, causing him to hold the ball too long. That brings pressure that forces him to move around in the pocket, which exposes his blinding lack of speed, agility, or athleticism. When he is forced to move around the pocket or scramble, he looks like an infant taking its first steps; halting and unsure of where to go or if his next step will cause him to simply fall over.
But the Browns continue to pass on every potential quarterback who hits the market. Neither Josh Freeman nor Matt Flynn would have been a long-term solution – that’s what next year’s draft is for – but I am unwilling to believe they wouldn’t have been upgrades over Weeden. With one of them under center, the organization could have given fans a reason to believe the Browns had the signal caller to make the postseason, not just Thomas and the other Browns saying the right things in the locker room.
Instead, we’re left to watch a very good defense and some pretty talented offensive weapons go to waste for another 10 games. I’ve seen enough through Weeden’s now 18 career starts that I, like many other Browns fans, brace for the worst when the game is on the line.
For the foreseeable future, it will be the same every week. We’ll watch with dread on Sunday and then hear the same questions and read the same columns every week. It’s a painful cycle, but it’s become the Browns reality in this disastrous Brandon Weeden era.
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