Monday, September 10, 2012

So You Had a Bad Day

I'll bet you a good bit of money that Brandon Weeden didn't think getting caught under the giant American flag was going to be the high point of his afternoon, but it sure turned out that way.  The word "catastrophic" is not too strong to apply to Weeden's debut, which may have been the single worst performance that I've ever seen by a professional athlete in any sport.

Of course, he had a lot of help.  Weeden may have been staggeringly inept, but nobody on the offensive side blocked, caught, or ran the ball with distinction, and Pat Shurmur continues to remind me of Henry Winkler in The Waterboy before Bobby Boucher showed up.  In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that anyone other than D'Qwell Jackson deserved to be named the Browns offensive player of the game.

All of this is a crying shame, of course, because the Browns defense was shockingly good at preventing the Eagles from scoring for most of the contest.  It seemed like on every series, some player that nobody ever heard of was making a spectacular play to stuff an Eagles drive.  While Dick Jauron certainly deserves a lot of credit for his squad's performance, there is the troubling matter of the amount of yardage that the Browns gave up yesterday.  It gets a little bit lost in the glow of all of the big plays they made, but the fact remains that the Browns still gave up more yardage (456 yards) than any other team in the league except the Saints (464 yards).  Still, all things considered, when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, "that'll do, Brownies, that'll do."

The defense yesterday was so stout that even a marginally competent performance from the offense would've resulted in a Cleveland victory.  Colt McCoy is a proven master of marginally competent performances, and a timely substitution of him for Weeden might have been enough to do the trick.  Of course, there was absolutely no chance of that happening.  The moment that the Browns decided to spend a first round pick on Weeden, the die was cast.  Get used to it -- unless his arm falls off or James Harrison gets a piece of him, Weeden's the guy for 60 minutes every week.

A fair amount of the blame for Weeden's performance yesterday can be placed squarely on Pat Shurmur and his staff.  The guy played very little in the preseason, and it showed. Somewhere along the line, the Browns appear to have forgotten that while Weeden may have been anointed the starter in April, he still needed plenty of reps in game conditions, and he plainly didn't get enough of them. That's on Shurmur.

There are also plenty of rookie QBs who've had inauspicious debuts yet have gone on to successful careers.  For example, Troy Aikman was a train wreck his entire rookie season. He went 0-11, and threw for only nine TDs.  He was intercepted 18 times, and threw for only a little more than 1,700 yards.  Terry Bradshaw only started eight games his rookie year, but still managed to throw 24 interceptions and complete less than 39% of his passes.  Both of those guys ended up in the Hall of Fame.  Just sayin'.

So, I guess my point is that we all need to chill out about Weeden, at least for now.  I'll admit that based on yesterday's performance, it is awfully hard to see what made the Browns front office believe that he was any different than Andre Ware, David Klingler or the other spread QBs who've posted big numbers in college and flopped spectacularly in the NFL.  Still it's way to soon to tell whether he'll be a bust or the first decent QB we've had in this town since Bill and Art ran Bernie out of town back in 1993. 

Nevertheless, a lot is going to be at stake for a lot of people as we watch Weeden over the next several weeks.  First round picks usually get a few years to prove themselves, but given Weeden's age, Matt Barkley's potential availability in next year's draft, and another regime change looming in Berea, it wouldn't surprise me at all if a final judgment about Weeden is made based on his performance this season.  Remember, the first question Jimmy Haslam asked Mike Holmgren was "Can Weeden play?"  The careers of Weeden, Heckert and Shurmur all depend on the answer to that question, and I've got a feeling that the new ownership is not inclined to wait a long time for it.

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