By now, we all know what Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden's debut looked like. He completed just 12 of his 35 pass attempts for a total of 118 yards and four interceptions. It was one of the most disastrous first outings for a rookie in decades, and it certainly proved that Weeden has a lot of work to do between now and next Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
There are a few things he did right: He looked more comfortable in no-huddle situations thanks to his experience doing so in college, and when he threw quickly, he had his greatest success. But clearly, his mistakes ruled the day in the 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Let's take a look at a few of his throws and see what areas he must improve the most.
It's not surprising that Weeden had a few overthrows to his receivers on Sunday considering that that's almost a trademark error committed by rookie quarterbacks, no matter their pedigree. There's still a learning curve when it comes to having solid communication with the receivers, regardless of how much work they had together in training camp and the preseason.
Weeden's first overthrow came early in the game, on a 2nd-and-9 at the Philadelphia 25. As you can see, the Browns offensive line gives Weeden time to make a deep throw.
He's targeting Mohamed Massaquoi, who has about a yard on the defender covering him. You can see him looking up; he knows already the pass is just way too high and thrown too hard for him to pull it down.
Massaquoi is right. The pass is thrown too hard. There's no way he can pull it down in bounds and score.
That's not the only overthrown ball to Massaquoi on the day. This one comes with 4:47 left in the first half on a 3rd-and-10 at the Eagles' 49-yard line. Again, Weeden has time.
And again, he overthrows Massaquoi, to the point that Massaquoi knows this as the ball approaches and doesn't even make much of a play for it.
This is probably the easiest problem for Weeden to fix. It's about comfort, communication and timing, and that simply requires more on-field experience. It's not the most troublesome of his problems.
Weeden curiously chose to throw to heavily-covered receivers on Sunday, trying to thread the needle and play hero instead of finding a safer target or throwing it out of bounds when he saw no one open. This example of that, on a 2nd-and-10 at the Philadelphia 13 yard line, ended with a deflection into an interception. Greg Little was the target.
This next interception, in which Weeden targeted Travis Benjamin, was thrown directly to Eagles corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a crowded area of the field where two receivers and two defenders were in the area.
Part of the problem rests with Weeden also staring down his receivers. Just as in the preseason, Weeden continues to look straight at his first read, which draws coverage in that player's direction. At the same time, after drawing that coverage, Weeden stays with the receiver instead of moving on, resulting in questionable, heavily-covered throws that caused interceptions on Sunday.
Another common problem for Weeden in the preseason that he's yet to fix is his inability to control the ball when being hit. He fumbled multiple times prior to the regular season opener because of poor ball awareness during a sack. It happened again against the Eagles on Sunday.
At first, it appears Weeden has time to get a pass out.
However, Jason Babin breaks free of two offensive linemen and barrels towards Weeden, who is still committing to passing the ball regardless, rather than securing the ball in anticipation of the sack:
Ultimately, the play results in a fumble, luckily recovered by Browns tackle Joe Thomas. That was the only lucky break for Weeden and Cleveland on this play.
With just over one minute left in regulation, down by one point, all Weeden needs to do is move the ball in order to get in field-goal range. He has the ball at the Browns' 30-yard line and time to get the pass out. Notice the receiver short to his right; it might not have picked up all the yards in the world, but the receiver is open.
Weeden instead wants to go deeper, again to Massaquoi. Like earlier, Weeden overthrows, but this time he does so with Eagles defender Kurt Coleman directly behind Massaquoi. There are also three (three!) other Eagles in the area.
Weeden wants to make a play, but he's also thrown off by too many defenders in coverage. Instead of finding another solution, he throws the ball, Coleman intercepts it and the game—one that was very winnable for Cleveland—is over.
These are a great number of problems to overcome, and it appears that, at least in this game, Weeden didn't make much progress to correct them between preseason's end and the regular season's beginning.
Granted, these are mistakes that can be corrected in time, with more playing experience. However, if he keeps making these errors, Weeden may soon find himself pulled from the starting job and unable to get many opportunities for improvement.
Rookie jitters or fundamental flaws? Either way, Weeden needs to fix this, and he needs to do it fast.
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