The Cleveland Browns lost to the New York Giants on Sunday, dropping their record to 0-5 and cementing their status as the worst team in the entire NFL, but it would be unwise to place the brunt of the blame on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Weeden has by no means been spectacular after the Browns made him the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. In five career games he has thrown for 1,288 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The numbers for Weeden are misleading. Statistically, he would be having a much better start to his NFL career if the roster around him were not the worst in the league in most areas. Contrary to the numbers, Weeden has made some outstanding throws and reads considering he is a rookie.
It is clear that Weeden will do nothing but improve, but the roster around him needs to as well for the record to change. Let's examine the factors that allow us to take the blame off the rookie quarterback.
The Browns happen to have one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Joe Haden. Unfortunately for them, this season he has only appeared in one game courtesy of a suspension handed down by the NFL.
In Haden's absence, the defense has suffered. An elite cornerback like Haden changes the entire complexion of a defense. With Haden on the field, the defense can blitz more and focus on other receiving threats while Haden shuts down the offense's No. 1 option.
With Haden gone, the Browns have been forced to put lesser corners on the opposing team's best receiver, and at times have had two players combine to have the same effect Haden could achieve alone—all while sending the same number of blitzers.
Others have been injured in the Browns secondary, but Haden's is the most prominent absence.
Lack of Legitimate NFL Receivers
The Browns selected wide receiver Josh Gordon in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, and that decision finally paid off against the New York Giants on Sunday as he exploded for 82 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort.
Outside of Gordon's one great game, Weeden has had literally no above-average receiving threats to whom to throw at this point.
Mohamed Massaquoi continues to be injured, and Greg Little, who was supposed to develop into a No. 1 receiver, cannot catch a football to save his life.
To date, Little has caught only 11 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown in five games. Little even managed to drop a surefire touchdown pass that would have won a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. He possesses literally every trait of an elite receiver—except hands.
The rest of the receivers are below-average options or youngsters such as Jordan Norwood who have to develop. Until they do or more talent is added, Weeden is going to continue seeing his passes bounce off his receivers' hands.
Expectations for a Rookie
Realistically, expectations for Weeden in his first NFL season should not have been dramatically high. He is likely performing at the highest level possible for this stage of his development and taking into consideration the talent around him.
Is Brandon Weeden mostly at fault for the Browns' struggles?
Weeden played in a pass-happy offense primarily out of the shotgun in college, and was in danger of not even starting this season, as he was in a training-camp battle with backup Colt McCoy. There was a point early in the offseason when he was having serious issues even taking snaps from under center.
To expect Weeden to carry this roster to even an 8-8 record was unreasonable. Yes, he was drafted in the first round, but was viewed as a project pick, and a risky one at that.
Weeden is performing to the best of his ability at this point in his career. The Browns' horrible record is in no way his fault. In fact, Weeden has been one of the only bright spots on the roster.
Cleveland has much bigger issues than the quarterback position moving forward.