Want Brandon Weeden to improve? Well, he'll need to play to do that.
Four interceptions. A 5.1 passer rating. Just 118 yards and a completion percentage of 30. That's the regular-season debut of quarterback Brandon Weeden in the Cleveland Browns' 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
But no, it's not time to make Colt McCoy the starter. It's not time to curse the Browns for selecting Weeden in the first round of this year's draft. It's not the beginning of the end. It's merely the beginning of Weeden's career, and though it was an unadulterated disappointment, he shouldn't be thrown down the depth chart and forgotten.
No, this game cements that Weeden should remain the Browns starter, in Week 2 and for the duration of the 2012 season.
Weeden may be pushing 29 years old, but he's a rookie. He's not Robert Griffin III, nor is he Andrew Luck, and no one ever thought he was. It is a learn-as-you-go job when you're named starter in your first year, and Weeden certainly has a lot to learn from after his debut performance.
The hope was that Weeden could step in and right away play better than his predecessors McCoy and Seneca Wallace, but there was also clearly a chance that he wouldn't—and that he couldn't.
Remember, Weeden is still surrounded by questionable and unproven talent. Greg Little still has issues holding onto the ball, Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin are rookies, and if there's an adjective to describe Mohamed Massaquoi, "reliable" isn't it.
Further, the Browns offensive line was under siege throughout Sunday's game, outmatched by the Eagles defensive front. This was a major worry heading into this game, considering we saw this very thing happen in Week 3 of the preseason, and it proves that Cleveland seriously needs to improve its protection in order to help Weeden out.
Weeden threw four picks. So did his Eagles counterpart, Michael Vick, but only the strangest of fans would call for him to be benched in favor of Nick Foles after the first week. Matthew Stafford threw three picks against the St. Louis Rams—should he of the 5,000-plus-yard 2011 season be worried about losing his job?
There are rookie mistakes that Weeden needs time—actual, live-game, on-field time—to correct. Only by making these mistakes, like throwing in coverage that should give him pause, like holding onto the ball too long in the pocket, like failing to secure the ball while being hit, can he possibly learn how to prevent and correct them.
McCoy seems like a better option now because he has a greater knowledge of the Browns offense as well as experience against some of the better defenses in the league. But if the Browns wanted McCoy to start, if they wanted him to spend the summer truly competing with Weeden for the job, they would have let him done just that. Weeden's the guy, and while his performance against Philadelphia was honestly terrible, Cleveland would be making a massive mistake by benching him based on that one game.
Want Weeden to be a better quarterback? He's not going to do that by sitting on the bench. This was a disappointment, but it's not a reason to panic. If Weeden still looks like this with the season halfway in the books, that's one thing, but at present, Weeden's had just 24 out of 60 minutes of NFL experience and deserves the benefit of the doubt.