Though the numerous injuries—to running back Dion Lewis, tight end Gary Barnidge and offensive lineman Jason Pinkston—might overshadow the day, the biggest story out of the Cleveland Browns' 24-6 Week 2 preseason defeat of the Detroit Lions is how well quarterback Brandon Weeden played.
In fact, there may be no better player in the NFL during these tune-up contests that precede the regular season.
In Thursday's win, Weeden completed eight of his 12 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was a nearly perfect 137.8, up from a not-at-all-bad 127.7 in Week 1's defeat of the St. Louis Rams.
In two games and six series, Weeden has completed 18 of his 25 pass attempts for 229 yards and three touchdowns, as ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi points out. Further, he's thrown zero interceptions and is reacting to pressure better than before, making accurate throws before being hit or smartly tossing the ball away instead of forcing bad passes as he did last year.
As further icing on this sweet preseason cake, the Browns' first team has put up 27 points to just three for the opposition, signaling both the offense and defense seem to be performing at a higher level than a mere year ago.
Though it's just preseason—and thus, the easiest level of competition the Browns will see this year, regardless of opponent—it's hard to not get excited. This is the best the Browns have looked with Weeden under center.
Forget the so-called battle that we're supposed to believe is still playing out between Weeden and Jason Campbell—this is Weeden's job, and he's earned it in these past two games.
Prior to this summer, Weeden's critics didn't have to look far to bemoan another year of him as Cleveland's starter. It wasn't just the Browns' 5-11 2012 record, Weeden's 57.4 completion percentage or that he threw just 14 touchdowns to 17 interceptions—it was Weeden's passes being batted; it was his tendency to stare down his receivers and pat the ball before throws that also drew ire and stoked the belief that the soon-to-be 30-year-old passer wasn't the long-term solution at the position.
But, so far this preseason, Weeden has proved that appearances can be deceiving, especially when talking about a quarterback's very first season in the NFL.
There were hints that an improvement was on the way for Weeden, dating back to last season. Wide receiver Josh Gordon emerged as a true downfield threat, fellow receiver Greg Little made incremental improvements, and the replacing of head coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress with Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner seemed to indicate an offense more friendly to Weeden's strengths.
All of this resided in the realm of the hypothetical, however, until the Browns finally took the football field.
Yes, this is the preseason, where no Super Bowl champion will ever be crowned, and yes, the Browns have a difficult regular-season schedule and play within an equally difficult division, but the progress we've seen over these past two games cannot be ignored.
Weeden is certainly the answer to the longstanding question the Browns have had at quarterback, and there should be no concern at this point about his age (it's better to look at Weeden for what he really is—a second-year quarterback—than someone entering his third decade) or about whether he can handle an NFL-level job.
As long as Weeden and his major targets can stay healthy, the Browns offense seems to be not only effective but impressive this year.
This is a very different Browns team than last year, and it can be seen clearly by not just how the players are performing on the field but through the very plays they are asked to execute. All of this was designed for Weeden's success, and he's clearly taking to this plan much better than what Shurmur concocted last year.
Believe it, Browns fans: Weeden is living up to his first-round draft billing.
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