By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Here we go again: One game does not a season make? Agreed. But one game – the first game – can establish a theme.
The theme of the Browns’ season was written Sunday when Brandon Weeden laid a giant egg in the first game of his season trial. And make no mistake he is on trial with his new bosses.
Weeden’s misfortune is that he is pushing the age of 30 even though his NFL and Browns career is but 16 games old. He doesn’t have the benefit of time to develop like a typical young quarterback.
Besides, there are too many quarterbacks young enough to be his little brother that are racking up touchdowns and wins, and simply redefining the way the position is played in the NFL.
In an era when Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and RG3 are running and gunning – and winning – Weeden is a veritable dinosaur. He is a dropback passer with little mobility. Worst of all, he appears to be a very slow reader of the field.
Weeden is the slow driver in the fast lane. And in the line of traffic tailgating him, honking horns to get out of the way, are Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi. Weeden has a decision to make right now – pull over or press the pedal to the metal.
Blood in the water: Everyone knows that Weeden’s days as Browns starting QB were numbered until he was saved by new coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner. They viewed his big arm and stature as assets for their offense. They weighed the options available and decided that Weeden was the best fit. For now.
The offseason project was to speed up everything about Weeden. His footwork, his delivery, his release, his read of the field. Weeden worked hard on the physical drills. But the mental aspect couldn’t be really measured until the real speed of the real games.
Three days before the opener, Turner gave a curiously lukewarm endorsement of Weeden.
“I think Brandon’s got the physical ability to play,” Turner said. “I think he’s done the things we’ve asked him to do. He’s made progress. Obviously, we want to see him go do it now.”
Weeden proceeded to lay an egg, getting outplayed on his home field by Ryan Tannehill, who was passed over by the previous Browns regime and may be a comer in his second season.
Weeden was victimized by the usual Cleveland demons – porous pass protection, penalties, and receivers who couldn’t separate from defenders or keep their footing or catch the ball. Weeden’s passes were early or late, rushed, forced, too low, too high or behind. He had three interceptions in the first half, two off the hands of his own receivers.
He directed an offense that converted one of 14 third-down situations.
While Tannehill gassed out the Browns’ defense, Weeden succumbed to the Miami pass rush and limped home with red welts all over his backside. After one game, Weeden resided near the bottom of the league rankings of NFL quarterbacks, a notch below Christian Ponder and above Blaine Gabbert.
The performance begat a new round of national speculation on Weeden’s imminent demise.
Peter King wrote on theMMQB.com: “ … there’s just something missing with Weeden, something about knowing when to take chances and when to play safe.”
Jason LaCanfora of CBS.com, a former teammate of Lombardi’s at NFL.com, wrote: “It wasn’t pretty and with Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer in the wings, Norv Turner capable of calling an excellent game and a defense that can make plays, Weeden’s leash won’t be long.”
CBS game analyst Rich Gannon, another former teammate of Lombardi’s from their days together with the Oakland Raiders, said, “Weeden can not throw the ball 50 or more times in a game with the talent that they have right now and expect to win. I thought it was some bad coaching and bad quarterback play that we saw (Sunday) in Cleveland.”
The clock is ticking: On Monday, Chudzinski praised Weeden’s toughness and sidestepped a question about how long a leash he has on Weeden’s starting job.
To a question about whether Weeden has the ability to elevate the play of those around him, Chudzinski struggled for a response.
“Yeah,” he said. “I think he has improved and he has shown that to this point. Ultimately, it has to happen out on the field and in the performance. We have to be good around the quarterback. That’s the key to success.”
Weeden defied the odds to become only the fourth Browns quarterback since 1999 to start a season opener in consecutive seasons. Already the odds are diminishing of him finishing the season in that role.
After a dismal debut, Weeden has to do something fast to change the early theme of this young Browns season. Winning a game in Baltimore would slow talk of another quarterback change.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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