Brandon Weeden's had a highly scrutinized start in Cleveland, the conversation impacted by a 2-7 start, an inexperienced supporting cast and a fanbase that's hungry for a shift in the right direction.
About 15 minutes ago (as of this writing), Barack Obama was reelected president of the United States. It's an evening of reflection and super obnoxious Facebook updates, but this historic moment also draws our collective eyes to the future. Amid the cries of "four more years," Browns fans are left to wonder; can we expect the same from Weeden?
Here in Cleveland, it seems like we change quarterbacks more than we change underwear. Questionable hygiene aside, though, great teams throughout the NFL are repeatedly being formed through consistency and strong leadership.
We're in an undeniable Age of the Quarterback, and the sooner the Browns establish that position, the sooner we can nurture a bit of hard-fought hope in seeing the postseason again.
So should we buy or sell Weeden as the quarterback of the future? That's not quite clear. Conclusions (good ones, at least) require patterns, and I'm not convinced we've seen any meaningful ones just yet.
That said, here are the biggest long-term concerns for Weeden's future in Cleveland.
It's the big wrinkly elephant in the room. Weeden's a 29-year-old rookie, something of an anomaly in the NFL and an even more unusual centerpiece for rebuilding.
Several of the B/R community have pointed out, rightly, that the NFL's best QBs didn't hit their peak until the early to mid-30s. Right, but that assumes several years of coaching, mistakes, corrections and self-awareness. Weeden doesn't have that luxury.
He'll have to learn, and he'll have to learn quickly. It's not fair, but Weeden's being held to a different standard than your average rookie. He'll have to work with that.
Turnovers and Inconsistency
Weeden looks awesome! Cheers and gloating and Cheetos scattered about like confetti! An hour later, he makes a play that makes me facepalm myself backward off the couch. I have the bruises to prove it.
These are the stories the statistics only begin to tell. Weeden has 12 interceptions on the season, second only to Tony Romo. However, he also boasts 2,088 yards passing, putting him squarely in the top ten passers in the league.
He's arguably one of the most controversial rookies, players, in the NFL. He inspires impassioned debate in the national media and right here on the B/R message boards.
His play has as many ups and downs as his public reception. Good quarterbacks can be erratic, but great ones must hit some kind of a stride. A bad game or poor decision must become the exception rather than the rule, and Weeden's not quite there yet.
Brandon Weeden has to get mentally tougher.
This is a view I've held, unapologetically, for some time now. To make the point, I invite you on a delightful little digression about a girl and her Tuesday night softball league.
Dwight Schrute's Future Beet Farmers of America is not unlike the Cleveland Browns. There's a lot of raw talent on the diamond, but the season wound down with a depressing 1-7 record.
Our shortstop, arguably the best player on the team, was notorious for making huge plays on line drives or nearly impossible catches. He was also known for getting frustrated or overly excited and massively overthrowing the first and second basemen, nearly taking heads off in the process.
Sound familiar? I've even shouted his catchphrase at the TV on Sundays ("heeeeeere comes the rocket!")
The point is, it's not a question of talent; it's a question of a steady hand. Just last week, Weeden overthrew Greg Little on a couple of promising opportunities. There was also a premature pass to an unsuspecting Jordan Cameron that nearly resulted in another interception. Other times, he failed to connect with an open Chris Ogbonnaya or Ben Watson.
Weeden may have hesitated for fear of another turnover or dropped pass; perhaps he just had an unattributed lapse in judgment. No one can truly be inside his head, but it was fairly clear that he was starting to spiral at a couple points.
Does he miss every pass? Of course not; in fact, Weeden's made some incredible connections this year. But when he does miss the mark, it appears to be a question of nerves and decision-making, not of ability.
He'll even sound intimidated on occasion. "When you've got 20 (Reed) back there ballhawking in the center of the field, that makes it tough," Weeden said after Sunday's game. He's right, of course, but his red-zone efficiency on Sunday suggests that he was preoccupied by Reed during the game, not just afterward.
There's an important difference between acknowledging an opponent's skill and being paralyzed by it.
Ideally, Weeden will get to the point that he's trusting his receivers to worry about the defense and trusting himself to connect with them when they do.
Closing the Deal
The real-estate agents in my office tell me every day, "ABC: always be closin'." It's difficult to take advice from someone in a piano-key necktie, but the point remains. The Browns aren't a bad team, but they profoundly struggle with closing out a game.
- 31st in the NFL for third-down passing
- 32nd in fourth-quarter passing
- Second-to-last in red zone efficiency
The statistics speak for themselves; the Browns offense hits a skid in high-pressure situations. Weeden's got to turn this trend around by working with the team he has and playing all four quarters.
Brandon Weeden has been hampered by several factors out of his control; dropped passes and an evolving offensive line aren't helping his case. However, if Cleveland fans (and management) are going to buy in, he has to step up in the ways that he can control.