Why QB Brandon Weeden Showed He's Ready to Be Tony Romo's Backup

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Why QB Brandon Weeden Showed He's Ready to Be Tony Romo's Backup
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

When quarterback Brandon Weeden was signed by the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year, my main concern was that he was horribly inaccurate during his time with the Cleveland Browns.

Despite coming into the league at age 28, Weeden managed to complete just 55.9 percent of his passes in two years with the Browns. That’s Mark Sanchez territory (55.1 percent career completion rate).

Weeden was inefficient, too, averaging just 6.53 yards per throw during his time with Cleveland. There were clearly other problems with that offense, and we can’t pin it all on Weeden, but we really didn’t see much progression from Weeden from his first year to his second.

That was pretty surprising given his age and the fact that Weeden was an all-star in college. Sports-Reference.com indicates he completed 69.5 percent of his passes and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt.

In the Cowboys’ first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, however, Weeden showed that he has the ability to throw the football with accuracyeven when under pressure. Weeden ended the game 13-of-17 for 107 yards and a touchdown, even though he spiked one pass into the ground to kill the clock and had another one dropped.

I watched all of Weeden’s throws using NFL Preseason Live and came away impressed.

It was just one performance, of course, but if we’re debating whether or not a highly coveted college prospect failed early in his NFL career because of a lack of skills or his supporting cast, the early signs in Dallas suggest maybe it was primarily the latter.

 

Poise

Weeden’s touchdown came on a 3rd-and-goal at the Chargers’ 4-yard line. The Cowboys lined up in “Strong Right”:

NFL.com

The play was a bootleg with Weeden rolling out to the right. Nothing was immediately open as the quarterback moved toward the sideline, keeping his eyes in the end zone:

NFL.com

As Weeden threw the football to tight end James Hanna, he was being pressured with a defender a foot or two away. Nonetheless, he delivered a strike in between two defenders into the back of the end zone:

NFL.com

On this particular play, Weeden really made something out of nothing with his poise and arm strength:

NFL.com

 

Accuracy

Weeden’s accuracy was outstanding all night. On a 3rd-and-6 to start the second quarter, the Cowboys lined up in “Gun Tight End Trips Right”:

NFL.com

Weeden dropped back and looked for tight end Gavin Escobar on an out route, throwing the football with defenders in his face again. Pressure from the right side actually altered Weeden’s throwing motion just a bit:

NFL.com

He threw the football right into the chest of Escobar, who was able to get upfield as he didn’t need to break stride:

NFL.com

 

Ball Placement

One of my favorite throws of the night came on a 1st-and-10 at the Dallas 20-yard line with the ‘Boys again in “Gun Tight End Trips Right”:

NFL.com

Weeden was looking to hit wide receiver Devin Street on a curl, and he had a decently clean pocket with which to work. A San Diego linebacker attempted to jump the route underneath, though, as Weeden began to deliver the ball:

NFL.com

The quarterback used perfect ball location, forcing Street to run back and out toward the sideline so that the pass wasn’t picked off. Throwing with accuracy isn’t always about hitting the receiver in his chest, and this ball placement from Weeden was outstanding:

NFL.com

 

Play Action

Finally, I just wanted to mention that Weeden’s play-action fakes were really nice. Here’s a look at one of them:

NFL.com

Whereas you can at times tell that Tony Romo is going to be running play action based on how he fakes the handoff, you couldn’t make that distinction with Weeden against the Chargers. Hopefully, this is a change that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has made that will extend to Romo’s play fakes as well.

 

Summary

Weeden has a poor history in the NFL, but we need to figure out how much of that was due to playing in Cleveland. While the early results in Dallas are positive, we need to see a lot more from the quarterback.

The goal of any backup is to be able to hold down the fort for a little while should the starter go down.

I don’t think anyone really knows yet whether or not Weeden can play at the level of a starter if he's surrounded with the right players, but last week’s game was a good sign that he’ll at least be a capable backup.

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