Let me start out by saying I'm sorry if I ever lead you on with the "Quarterback of the Future" talk. I've just been so hurt by the scores of past relationships with weak armed "leaders" with great "intangibles" that I let your big arm and enormous stature woo me into a false sense of security. You were understandably upset catching me checking out the other rookie quarterbacks; I just can't help but notice how Sweet Baby Russ and Bob treated their teams.
We need to know that you're going to be able to provide for us and our NFL family.
The City of Cleveland
The Brandon Weeden debate is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested debates of the "silly season", the period of time between the Super Bowl and the Draft, when football junkies are being forced to read the assorted ramblings of the Mayocks and the Kipers of the world. It's a debate that's been fueled by the distinct waffling the front office has appeared to do regarding whether Weeden has their confidence and support. Each comment and gesture has been analyzed and magnified for hidden meanings. Cleveland beat reporters are then happy to oblige the frenzy by asking for more quotes about him in every interview. The results have been thoroughly underwhelming thus far.
For those of you following at home, here are the five greatest myths regarding Weeden and his ability to be the long term answer for the Cleveland Browns at quarterback. (By long term, I obviously mean for the next 7 years until he starts doing Slim Fast commercials or checking in for his local radio host gig)
1. The Brandon Weeden we saw is what we're likely to continue getting.
It's important to compare contemporaries in the same era of football. Trying to compare a running quarterback from this previous season against the running quarterbacks of yesterday is a foolish venture. Kordell Stewart, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, and Steve Mcnair (to name a few) don't have the accuracy or the virtual howitzer's attached to their arm that the current crop of runners like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick do. As sports science and athletes bodies advance and the rules of the league favor a passing-centric game,progress, so do the capability of the quarterbacks.
Likewise, stats from pocket passers like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning cannot be compared against previous generations. With this in mind, here are the rookie stats from the brightest stars of the last 10 years:
Mark Sanchez: 196 of 364 (53.8%), 2,444 yards, 6.7 YPA, 12 TD, 20 INT, 63.0 passer rating
Peyton Manning: 326 of 575 (56.7%) 3,739yards, 6.5 YPA, 26 TD, 28 INT, 71.2 passer rating
Matt Ryan: 265 of 434 (61.1%), 3,440 yards, 7.9 YPA, 16 TD, 11 INT, 74.1 passer rating
Joe Flacco: 257 of 428 (60.0%), 2,971 yards, 6.9 YPA, 14 TD, 12 INT, 80.3 passer rating
Eli Manning: 95-197 (48.2%) 1,043 yards, 5.3 YPA, 6 TD, 9 INT, 55.4 passer rating
Brandon Weeden: 297-517 (57.4%) 3385, 6.5 YPA, 14 TD, 17 INT, 72.6
Let's discount the obviously record breaking seasons that once-in-a-lifetime rookies Luck, Kaepernick, and RGIII have had. If Weeden is placed in the offense of any of these other teams, his success would have likely been very similar. (Hyperbole not required; the Browns offense was archaic and highly predictable last year)
2. The improvement of the supporting talent should have provided a stronger platform for Weeden than Colt Mccoy.
It's easy to point to the improved offensive line and talent of the backfield as reasons why Weeden had a better opportunity than his predecessors. It's also easy to say that the waffles at Denny's are better than those at Eatin Park......which is completely ridiculous.
Cleveland actually possessed the ball LESS time in 2012 than in 2011. (28:08 to 29:06, respectively) Comparing the Receivers? Statistics were nearly identical, despite the influx of "talent":
The Pat Shurmur offense stuttered regardless of who the captain manning the helm was. The best memories Browns fans have of 2012 all have one common denominator not seen in the previous season.... STRIKES. DOWN. FIELD. The result? Feh. More feh.
3. Brandon showed improvement as the season progressed
2012 was a roller coaster of performances. Weeden understandably had ups and down commensurate with a typical rookie season, but it didn't reflect gradual improvement. The majority of "correcting" a rookie qb does is in the offseason, and in spring training, with the more gradual tuneups and learning done as the season progresses. This statistical trend is evident in the 2012 game log as Weeden had his only "above average" games this season against weak opponents. His four best stat lines, without question: Cincy (2x), Oakland, and Indianapolis. His season ended with 5 straight below-average performances, against solid defenses.
The key for Brandon to make the team in 2013 and beyond will revolve around his ability to do two things, effectively: Move the ball efficiently and put pressure on the defense with a vertical (attacking) offensive scheme, and keep the game from slipping away from him when his offense is in a difficult spot. (When another team took the lead on Cleveland and tightened the screws late in games, the card table collapsed; leaders must overcome adversity in these situations. The great quarterbacks in the game all make mistakes, but they succeed more often than they fail)
4. There is something that can reasonably be done about our mediocre QB play, right now.
Despite the ups and downs from the position in 2012, the right long term answer for Cleveland's quarterbacking woes is not available at the moment. Short term patches and stopgaps litter the free agent/draft landscape, and the need for a strong armed "vertical" quarterback limits the options the Cleveland front office can capitalize on. The free agent class features quarterbacks that are suited to a short and accurate passing game, and the draft lacks a true blue chip prospect. Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, and Matt Barkley have all had gaudy numbers and great games at the college level, but none feature the complete package teams are looking for. Geno Smith comes the closest to having star potential, yet his game tape against any quality competition that sent a heavy pass rush shows an indecisiveness in the pocket and lack of quality decision making ability in pressure situations. Cleveland has already invested in a quarterback with this rap sheet.
The "best" potential tall, big armed quarterbacks that are available for acquisition are Matt Moore and Ryan Mallet. Neither is a blue chip prospect; Moore possesses NFL experience and has had limited success, but doesn't have the arm Mallet possess. He also made his living out of dunderhead decisions in the college ranks, and went in the third round due to the combination of maturity issues and the aforementioned decision making.
Brian Hoyer and Chase Daniels are nice veteran backups, but lack any real success. The lack of buzz surrounding the prospects of either starting is a telling omission.
Choosing between these quarterbacks is like choosing between an enema and root canal; if it's necessary, you do it.....but neither is going lead to anyone wanting to watch. (I think that's the correct anecdote)
5. Weeden has superb dance moves
Seriously, this happened. I don't think anyone truly remembers or should forgive him for it. The extended version that we saw on "NFL Road Tested" was even better, but the internet has deleted that version after the plaintive cries from Brandon's agent.
Good lord, I can't believe this is a professional athlete.
When evaluating Brandon Weeden, don't kid yourself into using RGIII or Luck as his peer group. Because BW3 isn't a once in a lifetime talent doesn't mean he can't perform well at the NFL level. He likely will never reach an elite level, but there's an acquisition cost for finding a replacement. Spending multiple first round picks or overpaying for another average quarterback will do nothing but further degrade the Browns ability to improve in the future. Publicly, it appears Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi are willing to give him the year to prove his worth; he may not have earned it, but he's certainly the best available option, at the moment.