Well that was fun while it lasted.
Honestly, it was quite entertaining to believe against all available evidence that Jason Campbell was a serviceable starting quarterback in the NFL; one who Cleveland Browns fans (myself included) believed was a viable threat to lead the Browns to the playoffs, possibly even via an AFC North title. But, deep down under all the misplaced optimism, Browns fans had to know that the journeyman’s strong performances were almost surely unsustainable.
Campbell has now played four games (three starts) this season for the Browns. Let’s ignore his one series in relief at Baltimore in Week 2. That leaves us with just his three starts: at Kansas City (L), against the Ravens (W), and at the Bengals last week (L).
The Browns split Campbell’s first two starts, but the loss to Kansas City was a hard-fought one on the road against (at the time) the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL. Further, Campbell did more than enough to lead the Browns to victory. If not for a few untimely mistakes by Davonne Bess, he might have even done just that. Look at Campbell’s stats in those first two starts and you get a sparkling line: 45 of 71 (63.4%) for 555 yards (277.5 per game) with five touchdowns and no interceptions. All that adds up to 7.82 yards per attempt and a quarterback rating of 110.9.
Those numbers aren’t just serviceable, they’re Pro Bowl or All-Pro level. Those figures would rank him 7th in yards per game (ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, and Tom Brady), 7th in yards per attempt (ahead of Matthew Stafford, Romo, Brady, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton), and 3rd in quarterback rating (behind only Nick Foles and Peyton Manning). If anyone were to look objectively at those absurd numbers and compare them to Campbell’s career statistics (60.6% completions, 6.7 yards per attempt, and an 82.4 quarterback rating), it would have been easy to see that he was ripe for regression.
And, last Sunday, that regression came to pass at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. In spite of a pretty dominant performance from the Cleveland defense, the Browns fell to the Bengals 41-20, a result that tightened Cincinnati’s grip on the AFC North lead. The loss was due in large part to Campbell’s abysmal performance. The Browns were unable to move the ball or capitalize on red zone chances. Campbell’s 27 of 56 for 248 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions (4.43 yards per attempt and 44.3 rating) were a key factor in those failures.
With the addition of that Cincinnati game (and the one series in Baltimore), Campbell’s season numbers look like this: 55.7% completions, 6.18 yards per attempt, and an 80.0 quarterback rating. All three of those numbers are just slightly below his career marks, but that is to be expected from an aging ninth year pro playing in a new offense completely devoid of any effective rushing attack.
So the Jason Campbell crash was pretty easy to see coming if you were able to eliminate emotion – specifically optimism – from your evaluation model. But, for Browns fans, the decision to ignore all reason and empirical evidence is often the only path to any enjoyment. It is more fun to adopt that blind optimism and make it your friend. Clevelanders have learned that fact from years of practice.
So, no matter how Jason Campbell plays next game or the one after that or the one after that, I challenge Browns fans not to lose the hope that maybe this week will be better than the last. Besides, we can always take solace in the fact that, no matter how far he regresses, at least Campbell isn’t Brandon Weeden.