There comes a time in the rookie season of a National Football League quarterback when consistency becomes the determining factor in judging how well he is developing.
Let’s take the case of Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has become maddeningly inconsistent in the last few games. We’re on the verge of game 14 and he is still making mistakes that jeopardize his team’s ability to win games.
For example, he was not officially charged with an interception in Sunday’s victory over Kansas City, but he threw a pair of easy picks right into the hands of Chiefs defensive backs Eric Berry and Tysyn Hartman. Both were dropped.
No harm, no foul, right? The Browns went on to score touchdowns following those near picks. But the no-harm, no-foul thinking is wrong. Ball possession is one of the most important ingredients in winning football. It’s quite simple. Own the football and the other team can’t score.
Weeden, who should have known better, was extremely fortunate against the poor Chiefs, who are suffering the kind of woebegone season that’s quite familiar to Browns fans. Do that against better teams and you pay a much stiffer price.
And the Browns play three pretty good defensive teams in the next three weeks. One would think by now that Weeden would have learned from his early-season rookie mistakes, which were almost expected in the first half of the season.
But it’s already game 14 and we’re still seeing the same mistakes. His coaches say those mistakes are correctable. The question is what is taking so long to make those corrections? Is he a slow learner? Is no one home from the neck up?
I’d like to think that a baker’s dozen games should be enough time to have a good idea what other teams are doing to try and stop him and render him ineffective.
There is absolutely no question Weeden has the arm to get it done in the NFL. He has shown it with some outstanding throws all season. Only problem is he might make the tough throws a few times a game and then make a bonehead play.
Two of his biggest faults dovetail into each other. He holds onto the ball way too long. And he has a surprisingly slow release. He appears to wait for the receiver to make the break before releasing the ball instead of trusting him and throwing early.
Passing the football is all about timing and rhythm. It’s all about the quarterback setting up and getting in sync with his receivers as they run their routes. The longer the quarterback hangs onto the ball waiting for his receivers to make their breaks, the more likely something negative will take place.
Weeden, it appears, seeks to try and make the perfect throw every time, but hesitates when no one is open. His uncertainty as to what to do when in trouble is what gets him into more trouble.
He was sacked three times by the Chiefs and had time to throw on all three. Rather than stepping up into the pocket or taking off, he just stood there and allowed himself to be sacked. It’s almost as though he issues an invitation to come get me. His decision making on such plays needs a lot of work. The game doesn't seem to be slowing down for him.
And then there’s the alarming number of passes batted down by defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. That shouldn’t be happening to a guy who is nearly 6-4. Pump faking a few times might solve that problem.
During the telecast of Sunday’s game, CBS analyst Steve Tasker, seemingly baffled by Weeden’s inconsistencies, said. “I can see a top-flight quarterback in there somewhere.”
Read between the lines and you infer there’s enough there to not slam the book shut on this guy. There are more than just a few glimpses that say he’s not that far from becoming a very good NFL quarterback.
But first, Weeden must concentrate on the mental aspect of the game. Understand the little things that go into making a solid quarterback. And one of the first is developing a consistency that gives your team the best chance to win,
The physical talents are there. He can still make the sweet throws. All he has to do to take that next step is show signs he is making an effort to minimize his mistakes. He clears that hurdle and there’s no telling how good he can be.
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Have you noticed a difference in Greg Little this season? It might be a coincidence, but the wide receiver has made significant strides ever since the emergence of rookie Josh Gordon.
He seems to be catching just about everything thrown his way if it’s within reach of his hands. Last season, those hands seemed to be made of stone. Dropping easy passes was a common, almost weekly, occurrence that led fans to believe this guy might have been a draft mistake.
Perhaps it was the pressure of being the club’s No. 1 receiver that led to the drops. But that certainly is not the case this season and it appears to have caught the attention of the coaching staff, which is incorporating more plays for him in the game plan.
Now that Gordon seems comfortable with being the top guy and makes weekly contributions, Little has stepped up his game to the point where opposing teams can’t concentrate on just one receiver.
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Chris Tabor has taken a lot of flak this season from critics, but the Browns’ special teams coach took a giant step toward redemption in the Chiefs game. The payoff was a happy alternative to what was originally planned.
With KC punter Craig Colquitt set to punt on the first play of the second quarter with the Browns down, 7-3, Tabor called for a punt block. Regular returner Joshua Cribbs dropped back to receive with Travis Benjamin head up with one of the gunners. At the last second, Benjamin raced back to receive and the much larger Cribbs sped up to the line of scrimmage, luring one of the gunners in to block.
The Browns didn’t get close to blocking the punt, but by reducing the Chiefs gunners by one half, it created more opportunities to block more effectively for the speedy and shifty Benjamin, who, despite being hit twice, sped 93 yards to score the touchdown credited with sparking the entire team.
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Notebook: Nice to see coach Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress jazz up the offense for a change. The wildcat provided two nice runs for Cribbs; a pitch play to Little produced big yards; so did a double reverse to Benjamin. . . . The Browns stand at 34 sacks for the season, two more than last season’s total. They are on a pace for 42. Season high since the return is the 43 registered by Butch Davis’ first team in 2001. . . . The Browns are 5-3 with cornerback Joe Haden in the starting lineup. . . . Nice to see Montario Hardesty running freely and running very well. Nice change of pace when Trent Richardson needs a rest. Besides, he hits the holes faster than the rookie. . . . The Browns' plus-minus ratio stands at plus-8, the highest it's been since 2001. . . . In case you’re wondering, the last time the Browns won four games in a row was the 2009 season when Eric Mangini’s club captured its last four games.