It has become more than obvious that Browns coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress are determined to turn Brandon Weeden into a pro-set quarterback.
In the Browns’ 35-10 victory over Green Bay Thursday night, the rookie quarterback took 39 snaps in what Shurmur labeled the dress rehearsal for the regular season. An incredible 31 of those snaps, or roughly 80%, saw Weeden under center Alex Mack.
Why is that so incredible? And what’s the big deal?
Before taking his first snap under center during OTAs this past spring, Weeden was a shotgun quarterback. Lining up seven yards behind the center and latching on to a sailing snap was his comfort level. That’s all he knew.
At Oklahoma State University and at Santa Fe High School in Edmond, Okla., the ball slapping against his hands on a direct snap from the center was foreign to him. His view of opposing defenses was anything but up close and personal.
All that is changing now with the Browns. We are witnessing a transformation, a reinvention, so to speak.
Weeden is used to that. The reason he became the 22nd pick in the first round of last April’s college football draft was because he reinvented himself as a football player after a failed pro baseball career.
And if anyone can make the switch with seamless ease, it’s Weeden. Watching him make his three-, five- and seven-step drops against the Packers in effortless fashion, one would guess he’s been doing it his whole career at all levels.
It’s much easier taking a shotgun snap and surveying the field. More time for the receivers to get open, more time for the offensive line to pass protect, more time to be successful.
And yet, there was the force-fed Weeden making plays from the pro set. Not once did he stumble back after taking the snap from Mack. Not once did his feet become entangled as he set up to throw. He made no apparent mistakes.
He threw no interceptions, even though one should have been picked off, and was not sacked, although Packers cornerback Brandian Ross nailed him hard in the ribs late in the first half a split second after releasing a pass.
He completed 12 of his 20 passes (would have been 14 if not for two drops) for 118 yards on five drives, not including the first drive when Montario Hardesty fumbled away the ball on the first play of the game, and the last drive with just seconds remaining in the first half.
Of the eight shotgun snaps, all were passes. That’s got to change. Otherwise, it becomes predictable. Some run plays need to be used from the formation.
Five shotgun passes were on third down with three completions, none resulting in a first down. Half of the eight shotgun snaps occurred late in the half when the Browns ran the two-minute drill.
Other than that, Weeden looked extremely comfortable. That’s because he’s a good athlete who seems to have very good pocket awareness, something you can’t teach.
Whether or not it was by design, he rarely threw downfield. Stretching the field was not in this game plan. He’s got a strong arm. Use it. Keep opposing defenses honest. That might not happen, though, with a play-calling head coach who leans toward the conservative side.
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Much like last season, the Browns are relying too much on the field goal. The offense scored just two touchdowns against the Packers. That’s not enough. If that trend continues, we could see a replication of last season when the club averaged just 13.6 points a game.
When Phil Dawson is your best offensive threat, you’re in trouble, although you can’t quarrel with field goals of 53, 47 and 52 yards. His 56-yard attempt sailed wide in the closing seconds of the first half. The guy’s not Superman.
Still, Shurmur and Childress have to be able to give the offense a better chance to put points on the board while Dawson watches from the sidelines. The veteran placekicker would like nothing better than to add to his extra-point total.
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If Colt McCoy was trying to impress scouts from other National Football League teams in his brief stint against the Packers, he succeeded. The kid from Texas maximized his one-series appearance, taking seven minutes and 22 seconds off the clock with a near-flawless 14-play, 75-yard drive in the third quarter. He was 4-of-6 passing, including strikes of 19 yards to Josh Gordon and 21 yards to Dan Gronkowski.
That has to impress Shurmur and his staff. Question is whether the Browns hope to use that showing as a springboard for a trade, or will it convince them that holding on to McCoy is the road better traveled.
The way Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell played against the Browns, it wouldn’t be surprising if Green Bay is thinking about knocking on the Browns’ door. Or maybe the Arizona Cardinals, who have experienced quarterback problems.
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It’s nice to see the defense show up against the Packers, although their regulars played just three series. Still, you can’t quarrel with four turnovers, one pick six and a run defense that limited Green Bay to a paltry 69 yards. Subtract Aaron Rodgers’ 24 yards on a couple of scrambles and the Packers compiled just 45 yards on 16 carries. And that was with veterans Ahtyba Rubin and D’Qwell Jackson on the sidelines.
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Other observations: The defense was unusually active pre-snap against the Packers, giving Rodgers and Harrell many different looks. . . . Hardesty redeemed himself nicely after the opening-play fumble with some hard running. If he can stay healthy, and that’s a huge if, the Browns are in good shape at running back. . . . That’s two weeks in a row now that safety David Sims has made a spectacular interception. His 38-yard pick six early in the third quarter gave the Browns a 23-7 lead. . . . Fellow defensive back Trevin Wade had another strong game. The rookie is not afraid to stick his nose in there on run support. . . . Browns offensive tackle Oneil Cousins should be ex-Browns offensive tackle Oneil Cousins after his performance on special teams. He racked up 25 of the Browns’ 67 penalty yards, once on a hold and the other a facemask. Both were on placements. . . . Unless the Browns are willing to overpay his salary for his special teams contribution as a gunner, it’s hard to see Joshua Cribbs sticking around. Based on early returns, Cribbs is no longer a threat on punt and kickoff returns. And it’s already a foregone conclusion by most fans that he is not a reliable wide receiver.