Judging strictly from his first game as a professional, it looks as though Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is a lab experiment. Gone bad.
The offensive coaching of staff of the Browns is hell bent on turning Weeden into a pro-style quarterback. And the results of these mad scientists could cost Pat Shurmur his job.
Now I realize it’s just one game, but it has been a long time since I’ve seen such poor quarterbacking as I witnessed Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener.
And I place the blame on Weeden’s sad and embarrassing performance squarely and absolutely on the coaching staff. They are trying to make the rookie into something he is not – a pro style quarterback.
For his entire career in high school and at Oklahoma State University, Weeden has played in and is most comfortable with the spread formation, lining up roughly seven yards behind his center.
In piling up monstrous passing yardage at OSU, it was always out of the spread. It was a comfort level with which he was able to reinvent himself after a failed career as a minor-league pitcher.
Robert Griffin III operated with the same system at Baylor and won a Heisman Trophy. It caused the Washington Redskins to mortgage a significant chunk of their future to draft him in the last National Football League college football draft.
The Browns tried desperately to move up to get Griffin, but had to settle for Weeden. The two made their pro debut Sunday and the stark difference in their results was more than obvious.
Instead of trying to ease Weeden into a new offense, the Browns have force-fed him to play with his hands under center Alex Mack in the pro set. He looked uncomfortable at best, confused at worst in his three exhibition games.
Taking snap after snap in training camp was not going to make the transition easy. He tried hard and didn’t look awkward, but there was a lack of smoothness that comes with years of experience.
The rhythm of the position is dramatically different when getting set under center. Footwork is paramount with the three-, five- and seven-step drops a quarterback must take from the pro set when attempting to pass. In the shotgun, it’s far different. To someone who has never worked from the pro set, that footwork can be tricky.
Shurmur should know that. So should offensive coordinator Brad Childress. It doesn’t work that way, especially with a soon-to-be 29-year-old rookie who is more comfortable lining up seven yards behind the center.
Mike Shanahan knew that in Washington. He and his son, Kyle, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator, knew Griffin was much more effective when operating out of the shotgun. And it showed Sunday when the Skins upset the Saints in New Orleans.
The Redskins ran 71 plays from scrimmage and Griffin was in the shotgun on 40 of the first 58 plays. The Shanahans knew Griffin was more effective out of the shotgun and maximized his talents.
Then they put him back under center almost exclusively, but only when the Redskins forged a 33-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. In the shotgun, he threw 22 times, completing 16 and scrambling several times when pass plays were called.
The Redskins also ran out of the shotgun with sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris the major beneficiary. The rookie ran for nearly 100 yards and scored twice.
Conversely, Weeden lined up in the shotgun 18 times (in 59 snaps) against the Eagles and completed six passes for 79 of his 111 yards and threw three of his four interceptions.
And not once did the Browns run the ball from the shotgun. Not a single solitary time did Weeden hand the ball off. On several occasions he was in a naked backfield with only a lousy offensive line in front of him.
When the Eagles saw that, they threw a standard four-man rush at Weeden and flooded the secondary. They knew there was no way the Browns were going to run. Talk about predictability.
Conclusion: It is time to give Weeden an offense with which he can be successful. He is not a west coast kind of a quarterback. At least not yet. Shurmur and Childress are trying to make him into something he’s not.
Weeden is the round hole in the square peg that is the Cleveland offensive mind-set. You can see he’s not the least bit comfortable when dropping back from the pro set. He needs to work out of the shotgun to be effective.
Granted, it’s still early, but if there isn’t significant improvement in the next two games, his confidence will be shot. And there’s nothing worse in the NFL than a quarterback with no confidence
Weeden might be a 28-year-old with a lot of poise, but he’s now seeing sophisticated defenses he never saw at Oklahoma State. His confusion has led to uncertainty, which has led to bad plays. And thus, he’s not giving his team a chance to win.
In order for Weeden to reach his comfort level, he needs to do what Griffin has been allowed to do in Washington. He needs to get out from under center a majority of the time.
If Shurmur and Childress don’t see this, they’re fooling only themselves. And if they don’t leave their west coast comfort zone and adapt for Weeden, then we’ll see Colt McCoy a lot sooner than anyone thought.
And it won’t be because Weeden is hurt. It’ll be because it’s in the best interests of the Cleveland Browns.