That noise in the background? That’s the pressure being ratcheted up on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The Browns no longer treat Weeden as a rookie. They seem to want results, now.
“He’s our starter,” offensive coordinator Brad Childress said at his weekly media gaggle. “And he’s given a pretty good representation of himself here. Can he iimprove? He’d be the first to tell you that, yeah. I think he’s doing OK for a first-year signal caller in this league.”
Note the qualifier.
Coach Pat Shurmur weighed in pointedly when asked what he wants to see of Weeden the final seven games, starting Sunday in Dallas.
“Don’t throw interceptions,” Shurmur said. “Done, end of story.”
He added that Weeden has a “chance to be an outstanding player,” but made his point clear when he said: “I think the essence of a quarterback is you have to be a good decision maker.”
Weeden, then, needs to start making better decisions.
Criticism isn’t easy, but that’s the nature of the position (ask Colt McCoy). It brings high praise and serious criticism. With the Browns, the tone of the words seems to have gained a slight edge, as everyone deals with the reality of a new management team deciding the future of the front office, coaches and players. Jobs could rest on these final seven games, and as the guy under center Weeden will have a large say in how it goes.
This more focused critique seems to be caused by several factors:
— The frustration of continued losing and a 2-7 record.
— Weeden’s bad game against Baltimore, when the Browns scored no touchdowns (one was called back) despite five trips inside the red zone, and lost a game they could and should have won.
— Weeden’s general play. The guy brought in to replace McCoy does not have many numbers better than McCoy — aside from Weeden’s ability to throw deep. Weeden has 12 interceptions (tied for second most in the league) and a rating of 67.9.
— The new ownership of Jimmy Haslam and new management run by Joe Banner. They have not given one inkling of their feelings toward Weeden except to say he’ll be evaluated at season’s end.
Even Childress said he’d hold off on a complete evaluation.
“I want to see him grow here in the second half of the season, in the last seven games and play through this Cleveland-Pittsburgh weather,” he said. “I want to see all of that. I want to see the whole body of work before I venture an opinion of where he’s at.”
If there’s a new coach, he’ll be involved in said evaluation. Which raises the possibility that the Browns’ quarterback merry-go-round could be turned back on in 2013, with the team starting its seventh different opening day quarterback in the last seven seasons.
Weeden said he understands, and he knows he has to walk the fine line between being aggressive to prove himself and making mistakes by being too aggressive.
Until the Baltimore game, Weeden seemed to be coming along nicely. That game might have brought a little extreme reaction, which isn’t unusual in Cleveland.
Kelly Holcomb lost his job because he threw two interceptions on a Monday night when a receiver twice ran the wrong route. The Browns then told Tim Couch he was their guy for years — then signed Jeff Garcia.
Robert Griffin III
Compare Weeden to other rookies starting this season (see chart) and he does not fare well. He has the second highest attempts, lowest completion percentage and lowest yards per attempt by far — a full yard lower than Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck.
Weeden has more interceptions that the other rookies, and the poorest rating — ahead of only Matt Cassell and John Skelton in league standings.
It would be tempting to say that Weeden’s numbers would look better had Greg Little not dropped a potential touchdown in the opener that turned into an interception, and had Little not dropped a sure touchdown in Baltimore and had Josh Gordon not dropped an easier touchdown in Indianapolis. Add the last two, though, and Weeden’s passer rating only jumps to 71.3.
Weeden has carried himself with poise. He has NFL arm strength, acts like he belongs, and until this week never used the rookie card to explain his struggles. He is a rookie, and a lot of talented players have struggled in their first season; Peyton Manning had a 71.2 rating with 28 interceptions and a 3-13 record as a rookie.
But nobody cares because the NFL is a bottom-line, win-lose league.
Weeden has had moments, but it almost seems as if the Browns and the new management are saying the training wheels are off and it’s time to play, and play well.
The Browns believe in Weeden, but the guys who believe in him most were on the management team that might be changed. Like the coaching staff, Weeden has lost his air cover.
“I got to play better,” he said. “I know that. I’m not a moron.”