Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski spoke to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other members of the assembled media in his Monday press conference and acknowledged that he and his staff are considering changes to the depth chart, including the potential benching of current starting quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Weeden, who has led the Browns to two straight losses since taking over for the injured Brian Hoyer, completed only 40.48 percent of his 42 pass attempts for 149 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Cleveland's 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. He had a passer rating of just 1.7 in the first quarter and a rating of 48.6 for the game, and he averaged a dismal 3.55 yards per pass attempt.
Some of this hasn't been warranted, of course—football is a team sport, though the quarterback often sees undue blame when things don't go well. But it's hard to not point the finger at Weeden for Cleveland's current situation.
When Weeden was the starter in Weeks 1 and 2, the Browns lost both games. When Hoyer took over for the next three weeks, the Browns won all three contests. Now, with Weeden back under center, the Browns have had two straight losses. It can't just be a coincidence that two quarterback changes have produced two very different results.
Weeden may not be the Browns' only problem, but he's not a solution, either. It's time for him to be benched.
Weeden, a 2012 first-round pick of the Browns' previous regime, had an unimpressive, but not altogether horrible, rookie campaign, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 3,385 yards and 14 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. They were numbers he could build on in his second season, especially with a new coaching staff led by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who seemed better-suited for his strong-armed passing skills.
But his completion percentage is lower than it was in his rookie season, at 52.8. He's again thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (five), and his yards per pass attempt have dropped from 6.5 to 5.9. He's already been sacked 21 times—he was taken down 28 times last year—owing to his tendency to hold onto the football too long, at 2.86 seconds according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He's also the least-accurate quarterback in the league while under pressure.
|Brandon Weeden, Career Stats|
Weeden hasn't seemed to improve in key areas, including getting the football out of his hand more quickly and not staring down his initial read. He's not moving through his progressions and still forces passes to covered receivers rather than noticing the wide open player on the other side of the field.
These are all mistakes easily explained away in a rookie season, but in the second year, there should be noticeable progress. Weeden hasn't made any—in fact, he appears to have only gotten worse.
It's not as though Weeden is lacking for weapons or protection. Cleveland has a very good offensive line, as evidenced by the just six sacks Hoyer took in his three games. They have talented receivers, like Josh Gordon, Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin, and a tight end, Jordan Cameron, who has proven to be one of the best pass-catchers at the position this year. But somehow, Weeden is doing less with more.
Going into the 2013 season with a new coaching staff, Weeden had to have known a new front office and a second first-round draft pick after trading away running back Trent Richardson that he was playing for his job this year.
The only thing that could have saved Weeden in Cleveland for longer than two seasons was to step up, fix his mistakes and prove his in-house doubters wrong. He's failed in that attempt, and the longer he remains under center for the Browns, the more losses they'll add to their record.
That would make Jason Campbell, an eight-year NFL veteran, Cleveland's new starting quarterback. Campbell, a talented quarterback and victim of circumstance that has led to his presence on four different teams in his career, is certainly not the long-term solution for the Browns. However, for the rest of 2013, he may just present their best chance to win games.
Campbell has a 60.8 average completion percentage and a career-high of 64.5 percent in 2009, his final season with Washington. He's thrown 76 touchdowns to 52 interceptions and has a yards-per-attempt average of 6.7. All of these numbers are significantly better than Weeden, but he also brings experience to the position. He'll actually look like a quarterback on the field.
Weeden may have been the guy taking the snaps from under center on Sunday, but to call him a quarterback might be a stretch. His field vision is incredibly lacking, and he regularly over- and underthrew receivers in the loss to Green Bay.
Though not helped by dropped passes—one by Bess and others by Gordon and Greg Little—Weeden's inability to make plays doomed the Browns in Week 7. If he keeps the job, he'll only do more of the same. While that may put the Browns in a better position to draft their "quarterback of the future" in May, the goal is not to lose as many games as possible, but to win now and show improvement as a team.
The Browns' 2013 season has mostly gotten off to a good start, and at 3-4, they are tied for second place in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens. There have only been two areas of trouble—the run game, which is producing just 3.9 yards per rush, and Weeden. The Browns may not be able to run more effectively, but they can get their passing offense back on track simply by replacing Weeden with Campbell.
There were reasons to believe that Weeden had long-term promise in Cleveland—or at least, could improve enough to be a serviceable stop-gap in 2013 before the Browns move on with a competition between Hoyer and a rookie. But the soft-coverage defenses he shredded in the preseason gave way to the real thing in the regular season, and he only managed to look worse than in 2012.
For the sake of the rest of Cleveland's season, the Browns must bench Weeden, for Week 8 and for the rest of the year.