Cleveland Browns vs St Louis Rams: Browns Quarterbacks Observations
Saturday night in Cleveland: It was muddy. It was messy. It was very, very ugly. This is true of both the field and the game that was happening on it.
The Browns played a sloppy game on a sloppy field, and the quarterbacks were unfortunately no exception to the messy, ugly play that went on. But in amongst the rain and the mud and the fumbles and the interceptions, there were also some instances of very good play by the four gunslingers the Browns sent out into the storm on Saturday.
Following are 10 observations on the performances of the Browns' quarterbacks on Saturday night, ranging from the good to the bad to the just plain muddy.
10. The Weather Factor
The greatest challenge in Saturday night's game was playing good football in bad weather. The biggest problem for the Browns, and the quarterbacks in particular, was that they largely failed to do that.
Jake Delhomme fumbled the opening snap of the game, and then fumbled another. To be sure, he wasn't the only person on the team having trouble hanging onto the ball in the rain, as the team fumbled five times in the first half alone, but that isn't exactly comforting.
This could be a huge, huge issue. The Browns, based on their geographical location, must by definition be an exceptional bad weather team, which they certainly didn't look like on Saturday.
Even more concerning, St Louis and their quarterbacks handled the situation far better than the Browns, and they play eight home games a year in a dome.
In his post game press conference, a frustrated Delhomme said he and center Alex Mack would be working diligently on their exchanges this week. Hopefully, they'll do so under the sprinklers Mangini threatened to turn on the team during this week's practice.
9. The Good News on Jake Delhomme
Despite two fumbled snaps to open the game and two tipped passes, Delhomme did save some face with a 77 yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. To be fair, it was Hillis who really took them down the field, getting the offense to the Rams 19 on third down, and thus allowing them to gamble on fouth and three.
It was after that when he truly salvaged his night, when he converted the first down on a pass to Cribbs, then hit Ben Watson two plays later in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown pass. (The play was initially ruled no catch, but overturned when Mangini challenged).
On the next drive Delhomme missed a scoring chance when he overthrew Robiskie on a corner route. The drive ended with the Browns going for it on 4th and three once again, but this time coming up short.
His performance was far from exceptional, but his overall numbers really weren't too bad. Delhomme played the whole first half and went 12 of 16, 127 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 118.5.
Sure, he got lucky on the two tipped balls by the Rams' line, but luck or no, he still had no interceptions, and the fumbles were mercifully recovered.
One other thing to consider: the running game put up just 33 yards in the first half, and the team's number one receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was held out of the game with a hamstring injury, both factors beyond Delhomme's control that made his job more difficult.
8. A Look at Delhomme's Cumulative Effort Throughout the Preseason
For further proof that there's no cause to fret too much over Jake Delhomme's abilities just yet, take a look at his cumulative totals through two preseason games:
Thus far, Delhomme is 18 of 23 for 193 yards with no interceptions and has posted a noteworthy quarterback rating of 116.1.
One also has to appreciate how well Delhomme stayed calm and collected himself after opening with two fumbles, brushing off the mistakes and staying poised and in control afterward in his attempts to save face rather than getting rattled and crumbling under the pressure.
This is exactly the type of situation where Delhomme's reputation as a respected, extremely professional veteran becomes evident. And while he was able to quickly put aside his mistakes and focus on the plays ahead of him, that certainly didn't mean he took them lightly.
Delhomme was appropriately frustrated and upset with himself for the botched snaps. After the game Delhomme said "I'm ticked off. We're gonna do a lot of work together, me and Alex (Mack). It bothers me."
Delhomme gets a lot of credit for quickly and emphatically owning his mistakes. Remember when Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson took responsibility for their errors publicly and proactively? Oh that's right—that never happened.
7. Seneca Wallace: As Advertised
Seneca Wallace didn't see a ton of playing time in Saturday's game, but he continued to prove his worth as a high grade backup quarterback and alternative starter for certain offensive formations, even if his performance was much shakier than last week.
Wallace went 5 for 9 with 67 yards and one touchdown. He opened the second half with a 78-yard, 11-play touchdown drive that ended with a 15 yard pass to Josh Cribbs in the end zone. He was intercepted on his only other series.
Wallace certainly had a poorer outing than he did a week ago versus Green Bay. He had a passer rating of 120.8 against the Pack last week, but posted a rating more than 40 points lower this week of 76.9. He also averaged 7.4 yards per pass this week, slightly less than the 9.0 yards per pass average he posted last week.
He also had two touchdowns and no turnovers last week, while this week he broke even with one touchdown and one interception.
Regardless, there doesn't seem to be much cause for concern about Wallace, even if he slipped a bit from last week. Aside from the interception, he threw the ball well, and also posted an impressive 16-yard run.
6. Colt McCoy Remains a Question Mark
It's tough to evaluate McCoy's efforts based on the very limited playing time he's seen so far. He was 5 for 10 in Green Bay and 0 for 2 on Saturday against the Rams. You can't place much value on completion rate when there are only 12 attempts to work with.
Thus far he's posted quarterback ratings of 16.7 and 39.6 in his first two professional outings. Pretty lousy numbers, but not based on enough information to mean anything concrete.
Also, being fair to McCoy, I'm inclined to give him more of a free pass for Saturday based on the weather than I would give to the other quarterbacks, since this was his first experience trying to handle a football in the mud and driving rain while facing off against an NFL defense. The O-line didn't do him any favors either, allowing him to be pressured and forcing him to scramble in bad field conditions.
The line failed McCoy (and Ratliff too, for that matter), and contributed significantly to his ineffectiveness. However, as Chris Pokorny from DawgsByNature pointed out, "when pressure comes, McCoy can't just tuck the ball and try to run every time. It almost seems like he might be developing a habit of taking off even if the protection might hold for another second."
Still, we're probably over analyzing McCoy based on a very limited amount of game play. He's got a whole season to figure this out before it matters.
5. Brett Ratliff: Looking Every Bit the Practice Squad QB That He Is
Brett Ratliff did a nice job last week in Green Bay, playing above his station as the Browns' practice squad quarterback. On Saturday he looked more like a guy who belongs exactly where he is on the depth chart.
Ratliff played just one series, where he went one for four with an interception. He converted the first down, and had the chance to set up a game-winning play like he did in Green Bay the week before, but this time couldn't execute.
Ratliff wasn't entirely to blame—Carlton Mitchell dropped a very catchable ball, and as was the case with McCoy, the offensive line didn't do Ratliff any favors. Still, the Browns' fate was sealed on his ugly pass intended for Alex Smith that was intercepted.
4. A Few Words on the Opponents
The Rams' quarterbacks fared slightly better than the Browns' quarterbacks on Saturday, but their performances weren't the reason the Rams won the game.
Keith Null started the game by going 3 of 14. He set up the team to score adequately, but failed to connect in the end zone.
A.J. Feeley actually did a nice job during his brief appearance, going 5 for 6 with a touchdown and a passer rating of 137.5 and spreading the ball around nicely. He left the game with a thumb injury which will reportedly keep him out of the Rams game this Thursday against the Patriots as well, a huge blow to the St Louis offense if he doesn't heal up before the regular season.
Sam Bradford had another rough outing. He was 6 of 14 but was nearly picked off by Eric Wright, and looked slightly lost for a good portion of the time he was on the field. I guess now we all know what $50 million worth of uncertainty looks like.
3. As a Group, the Browns Quarterbacks Were, Eh, Adequate
Evaluating the Browns quarterbacks as a group is difficult for this game, considering the disparity between them in amount of playing time, but after two preseason games, we still may have enough information to determine if everyone is where they belong on the depth chart.
So far, it seems that Mangini has it right. Delhomme has easily stood out as the best quarterback on the roster, regardless of his snap snafus at the start of Saturday's game. He's proven to be the team's best passer for the most part, and is certainly the team's best field general in terms of the way he leads the offense.
Wallace, too, is right where he should be. He seems to lack the cerebral, strategic abilities Delhomme has that make for a good starting NFL quarterback, but he's a tremendous athlete, good at adapting on the fly, and is certainly the better passer on deep throws. Wallace has proven thus far that he is shaping up to be a reliable backup, and will be an excellent weapon on alternative offensive formations like the much-hyped Cyclone.
McCoy and Ratliff, the third and fourth stringers, respectively, also appear to be where they belong. Based on performance, Ratliff might be more deserving of the third spot than McCoy at this point, but that's really not the determining factor. McCoy needs to be on the roster experiencing a full NFL season (even if it's from the sideline), because the team's future lies with him. Ratliff is in many ways kind of endearing, but he's just a place holder—always has been, always will be.
2. How Concerning Are the Turnovers?
The plethora of turnovers committed by the Browns on Saturday have been discussed ad nauseum in the media this week. Not since Ernest Byner fumbled on the goal line and ruined all our lives more than 20 years ago has there been so much upheaval about the Browns giving away the ball.
The quarterbacks were intercepted twice, but largely they were not the facet of the offense responsible for most of the turnovers. Delhomme lost those two snaps, but both were recovered.
The interceptions were bad, to be sure, but the three fumbles lost (and five fumbles total in the first half!) were worse. Every part of the offense contributed in some way to the turnovers committed, but the quarterbacks were largely not the problem.
The most costly error by a quarterback was perhaps Ratliff's interception at the close of the game, or at least it would have been if this were a regular season game. Fortunately for Ratliff, losses, while still disappointing to the fans, don't matter in the preseason.
1. We've Come a Long Way Since 2009
Raise your hand if you never want to see Brady Quinn again for the rest of your life. Or Derek Anderson.
That's what I thought.
Delhomme and Wallace are not without their problems, but the Browns are without a doubt infinitely better off at the quarterback position than they were at this time last year. Even beyond just the talent level of the two available quarterbacks, the situation is worlds better this time around in terms of strategy and stability because the team actually has an established starter.
The waffling back and forth between Quinn and Anderson before the beginning of last season didn't do the team any favors. In Eric Mangini's defense though, how do you choose between two poor options?
This season Mangini has two good, even if they aren't great, options at quarterback, and he correctly identified the stronger candidate immediately and established him as the starter. The sense of security alone provided by knowing who your quarterback is before the season starts will stabilize the locker room and have the team as a whole in a much better place when the regular season begins.