While the rookie has made plenty of rookie mistakes at the NFL's midseason mark, there are definite signs that Weeden is the answer for the foreseeable future. At a position the Browns have failed to nail down since reentering the league in 1999, the former Oklahoma State star has given the team hope.
Considering the circumstances—far more pass plays called than run plays, inexperienced skill position players and often playing from behind—Weeden has done an admirable job. This is especially so because of the traditionally negative stigmatism that comes from playing quarterback for the Browns.
Here is a closer looks at some defining moments from the year to chart Weeden's progress halfway through 2012.
(Note: All captured stills are courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.)
Week 1: 4th INT vs. Philadelphia Eagles
In one of the worst-looking debuts in NFL history, Weeden seemed totally overwhelmed and gave away the ball too many times for the Browns to pull out the game despite inspired play from their defense.
This is the first play of a two-minute drill to drive for a potential game-winning field goal. The Eagles got pressure all day rushing only four, which they did not change here. It is a two-deep zone look, and Weeden is trying to redeem his poor outing.
Unfortunately, the inconsistency of Weeden's footwork—and nerves of his first NFL start, partially—turn out to be his undoing.
He throws the ball ever so slightly across his body, falling away from the target. His hips end up way open to the left from where he's throwing, and his feet are very close together at the release point. Sometimes Weeden can deliver the ball from awkward spots due to his immense arm strength, but the mechanics here were too much to overcome.
Weeden doesn't step into the throw and has to put the ball up with velocity to clear the dropped linebackers.
The result: the ball sails well over the head of Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi, and Kurt Coleman easily makes his second pick of the game.
Based on how poorly Weeden played, it was nearly unfathomable how well he would fare the very next week in Cincinnati.
Week 2: First NFL Touchdown
I don't know precisely who "they" is, but they say patience is a virtue. What turned out to be Weeden's first touchdown pass of his career in Paul Brown Stadium was a result of this supposed virtue—and due to the virtuosity of the man on the receiving end.
This is a straight up play-action, first-down call from head coach/play-caller Pat Shurmur to take a shot at the endzone.
At the top of his drop, Weeden is looking to take that shot. The pocket around him is incredibly clean—not the typical scene in a road opener.
An enticing initial option that Weeden eyes up is down the seam to Mohamed Massaquoi, who looks to be covered. Tight end Benjamin Watson is running a flag route, which draws the coverage of the corner and free safety his way.
Instead of perhaps forcing a lower-percentage throw down the field, Weeden utilizes the unique talents of No. 3 pick Trent Richardson as a receiver out of the backfield. There is nobody home on the weak side for Cincinnati, and the 5'9", 230-pound back has a head of steam and a lot of green in front of him.
What happened from there was truly special:
Let's fast forward to the fifth game: a road test against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Week 5: Situational Football
One concept New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and a slew of other successful football minds preach is this one. There's a reason for it, and it was on full display for Weeden in MetLife Stadium.
The New York Giants got pounced on by a rare strong start from Cleveland. An Ahmad Bradshaw fumble on the first play from scrimmage set up a Richardson touchdown run, and Weeden found talented wide receiver Josh Gordon for the first of four TD connections in a three-game span.
Of course, the resiliency of the G-Men was on display as they rallied back from a 14-0 deficit to pull within 17-10. But this was late in the second quarter and the Browns were driving.
On 3rd-and-1 just outside of the red zone, Weeden rolled right and essentially had three options to choose from—Jordan Norwood on a quick out, Gordon on a stop, and running back Chris Ogbonnaya slipping off his blitz pickup duties.
New York brings five men and applies heat on Weeden. The play breaks down immediately, and no one is open. Rather than throwing it away to set up a possible fourth-down conversion scenario—and at worst a field goal attempt to make it a two possession game—Weeden presses the issue and throws off his back foot, flat-footed.
Gordon isn't open even after adjusting to the broken play, which obviously lends itself to miscommunication. The ball sails on Weeden and is slightly behind Gordon. Giants safety Stevie Brown is there to reap the benefits.
What could have been a two-possession game morphed into a decisive, 41-27 romp by the more experienced Giants.
The game can so quickly change on one play, and the Browns were on the wrong end of it in Week 5. This is the epitome of situational football, and the most valuable experience Weeden could learn from on a bad play.
Let's hit a time jump one more time, this time one game ahead.
Entering this past weekend's game in Indianapolis, Weeden and the Browns were looking to build off their first victory of the season.
Week 7: Adjusting On the Fly
A play to his college teammate Josh Cooper showed the maturity in Weeden and the confidence the staff has in him to adjust to what he’s seeing.
In this set, it looks as though the Browns will run it on 3rd-and-2—much to the delight of the Cleveland faithful in the context of what turned the Giants game.
Weeden sees blitzers coming at the line of scrimmage, though, and checks into a passing play.
Sliding into the gun, Weeden faces pressure up the gut from the Colts’ defense. He signals Richardson to stay in to help in pass protection.
It’s single-high safety and man-to-man coverage across the board, and the rapport between Weeden and Cooper makes this an easy read for the rookie tandem.
By putting Cooper into motion, Indy DB Josh Gordy has to chase him down the line of scrimmage pre-snap. That results in Gordy not getting totally set, and with help from a slight rub by Browns WR Travis Benjamin, Cooper gets great separation on a crisp, quick out pattern.
It's impossible for Gordy to defend. Weeden hits his longtime favorite target for a 12-yard gain and the Browns rack up a first down. This type of execution and diagnosing the defense is a significant sign of progress from Weeden.
Another knock on Weeden entering the NFL was his tendency to wilt in the face of pressure, which has surfaced at times on his negative plays. Linebacker Jarrell Freeman gets a late lick on Weeden, but the QB still stands in to make a strong, accurate throw.
The Browns ultimately lost on Sunday, but Weeden didn't turn it over and made what could have been a game-winning throw that bounced off of Gordon's hands in the endzone late.
Although smaller in the grand scheme of the game, this play encapsulates how Weeden is addressing the concerns scouts initially had about him and how he could adapt to the NFL. His footwork is improving, he is making more plays against the blitz and any perception that he couldn't pick up a pro-style offense after playing in the spread has been put to rest rather quickly.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding the franchise. Most relevant in regard to Weeden is why he has been asked to throw 272 passes through seven games—third-most in the league.
Plenty of room for improvement still remains for the rookie signal-caller, but it looks like Cleveland finally has its answer under center in Weeden.
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