Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Weeden ready to let it rip

temp4X9E1461--nfl_mezz_1280_1024With two games to go in the Cleveland Browns season, quarterback Brandon Weeden may have finally realized that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

Coming off a disappointing game in the home finale against Washington – and with rumors swirling that the Browns may want to replace Weeden next season with Ryan Mallett (career stats: four pass attempts, one completion and one interception ) – the rookie is ready to let it fly.

“If you get in the mindset of thinking about being too cautious with throws, that’s when you’re a little more errant,” Weeden said. “You’re not as accurate; you’re not as aggressive, but there’s times where you’ve got to be smart. Whether it’s in the red zone or after a big play, you have to pick your spots. At this point, I’ve just got to let it fly. From here on out, just let it rip and be aggressive to take shots.”

To that we say: what took you so long?

It’s been obvious for a while that coach Pat Shurmur’s offense doesn’t fit Weeden’s skill set and with Shumur almost assuredly gone after the season, Browns fans should be embracing the possibility of Weeden taking control of the offense and, in the process his future.

“I haven’t played near well enough to have a chance to win,” Weeden said. “It’s on me. I’ve got to play better. Whatever it is, I’ve got to find a way to give our team a chance to win week-in and week-out, be more consistent. That’s one thing I’m going to have to dial in on this offseason. I have to get better. In order for us to be where we need to be, I’ve got to get better.”

The fact that the Browns are playing on the road may actually help Weeden, who has been significantly better away from Cleveland Browns Stadium. In two fewer games this year, Weeden has thrown for 261 more yards, has nine touchdown passes (compared to five at home) and just five of his 17 interceptions. He is also completing just over 60 percent of his passes on the road.

Some of Weeden’s struggles are perception and the fact that the Browns are not winning. His numbers are not that far off from fellow rookie Andrew Luck’s numbers and, while Luck is ahead in yards and touchdowns, he’s not that far ahead. But with the Colts looking like they are going to make the playoffs, Luck comes off as the better quarterback. (Oh, and Luck probably is a better quarterback, but you get the point).

“(Luck’s) experience is going to be the same as Brandon’s, providing that they both start 16 games,” Browns defensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “He’s had maybe a little bit more success in terms of the wins. He started probably faster than Brandon started. I would think maybe a 29-year old, maybe, would process faster than a 23-year old. We’re talking about chronological age. I don’t know that there are a lot of case studies on this thing. From a physical maturity standpoint, I don’t know how much he’s going to change. What kind of off-season he has is going to have something to do with it, how many off-season programs he has been in.

“I think (Luck’s) passer rating is below Blaine Gabberts, below the kid at the Vikings (Christian Ponder), below a lot of people. Perception wise, does it hurt him coming in? It doesn’t hurt him. It’s just going to be called a pretty doggone strong class as it goes forward I think.”

Childress is right, Luck’s rating is 75.5, good for 31st in the NFL – just one slot above Weeden.

The age factor is always going to loom over Weeden, obviously. Unfortunately for him – and the Browns – he doesn’t have the luxury of time on his side. The Browns need him to mature now and, hopefully, if he can have two solid games to end the season that will give him something to carry over into next year (provided there is a next year for him in Cleveland).

But we still can’t shake the feeling that in the right system Weeden can be a productive NFL quarterback. We keep thinking back to what Chris Brown wrote for Grantland after the NFL Draft in April:

“Weeden played in probably the best pass-first system in college football — and maybe all of football, including the NFL. The offense traces its roots back to the one designed by Mike Leach, but Oklahoma State and Weeden’s version was installed before the 2010 season, Weeden’s first as a starter, by Dana Holgorsen. That system has produced lots of prolific passers who didn’t go on to great NFL careers — and Weeden also happened to throw a lot of his passes to fifth overall pick Justin Blackmon — so there’s always the worry that Weeden won’t be able to replicate his prior success.

“But none of the other quarterbacks from that offense had arms like Weeden’s. And in any event, Oklahoma State’s system, which operated at a breakneck pace and required him to not only make complicated reads after the snap but often combined runs and passes into the same play, required Weeden to make more decisions about what to do with the football on a down-to-down basis than any other quarterback in the draft.”

That sounds like a quarterback that just needs to get back to doing – or be allowed to do – what he is most comfortable doing.

“(I want to go) back to the way I played the previous three weeks leading up to last week, I think just taking care of the football, being smart, helping do my part, continue to put together good drives, good plays and finish strong,” Weeden said. “I think numbers being thrown out of the window, obviously now, we’re not in the playoff hunt anymore; now, it’s just going out, playing well and getting better. We have eight quarters of football to play, so it’s just finishing strong and leaving it all on the line.”

Sounds like a good plan to us. The Browns still have holes to fill on this team and if they don’t have to spend yet another off-season worrying about the quarterback position that will go a long way in helping them continue to get this thing turned around.

So, by all means, let ‘er rip on Sunday. After all, this late in the season what’s the worst thing that can happen?

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