The first half of the third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts illustrated why Brandon Weeden is on a one year audition for the quarterback job. After a solid game against the Rams and an impressive game against the Lions, Weeden looked like the rookie who was largely mediocre last season. The new offense under Rob Chudzinski fits Weeden far better as a player, but the issues that had many questioning his ability to be the answer as a rookie persist. Staring down receivers is something that showed itself in the first two preseason games but really proved problematic against the Colts while pressure up the middle and near his legs made him visibly uncomfortable. This is not to say Weeden cannot improve on these issues over the course of the season, but they are issues that could ultimately prevent him from securing the quarterback job beyond this season.
Yes, there were injuries that forced some questionable personnel into the game and that certainly make a difference. Unfortunately, even in the best circumstances, Weeden will stare down his receivers. In too many situations, Weeden’s eyes are bringing more coverage to the receiver he is trying to throw to and making a good opportunity against single coverage into double coverage. There was a notable example against the Lions when Weeden wanted to go down the sideline to Gordon. Gordon was in single coverage and had a step on the defender but Weeden stared him down the entire sideline and brought the safety over the top, who ultimately broke up the pass play.
This problem only worsened against the Colts. With pressure, Weeden seems to focus even more on his initial read. The most glaring problem was the last pass of the first half for the Browns. He stared down Greg Little who ended up with coverage in front as well as behind him and Weeden forced it in there, which almost resulted in an interception twice. In another situation, he stared down Little and threw the ball to him and Little made a great catch over the defender to move the chains and extend the drive.
This is an area of Weeden’s game that has to improve. His arm strength and zip enable him to get away with it to a certain extent while a weaker armed quarterback would get victimized. If Weeden can get better with this area, he can start manipulating coverage with his eyes and take advantage. He can get safeties to follow his eyes and take them away from the spot he wants to throw and have single coverage that enable his receivers to go up and make more plays.
Weeden does not handle pressure terribly well when it comes from up the middle. He is unfazed by pressure from the outside and is willing to step up in the pocket to make a throw. Part of this could be due to the fact he does have the best set of tackles in the business but there are a ton of quarterbacks who are uncomfortable with pressure from up the middle and near their legs.
When pressure came up the middle, Weeden was quick to move backward and made a couple of rushed throws as a result. It not only affects how quickly and comfortably he works but also his accuracy. There was one situation where he felt pressure that was not there and ended up missing a throw to Jordan Cameron as a result. The huge question mark at right guard will only exacerbate this problem and the Browns can only hope that it does not develop into a bad habit. Attacking the ‘A’ gap is a trend that has taken over the league for almost a decade and there are a couple of reasons. First, teams put more money into their tackle positions than they do at guard and center. Second, it is faster to go with a straight line up the middle than attacking from the edge. Third, there are so many quarterbacks who get nervous with pressure around their legs that even if the pass rush cannot secure the sack, the pressure can have a big impact. The quarterback cannot step into their throw as easily or are forced off of their spot and timing.
Defenses are going to gear up pressure to attack the middle of the line. It makes far more sense than trying to beat Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz on the outside. The right guard to be named will be a prime target. If Weeden cannot find a way to get comfortable and make throws, it is going to be a huge problem and as much of an improvement as Shawn Lauvao might be over anyone else right now, it is extremely unlikely to fix the problem entirely.
When Weeden is comfortable and operating on time, he can be extremely effective and carve up opponents. He would make a terrific quarterback in 7-on-7 as a result. Weeden, as with so many other quarterbacks who have played in the NFL, has had trouble making the adjustment when the pass rush is entered into the mix. The best quarterbacks can figure out how to deal with it. Weeden will have this season to show he can make that adjustment.
As long as the offensive line is playing great and Trent Richardson is carrying the ball, Brandon Weeden is going to be an effective quarterback and the Browns are going to win games. Good opponents are going to figure out ways to take those away and make Weeden beat them with his arm and through pressure. The Browns need a quarterback who is going to elevate the talent around him as opposed to just being a cog in the offense. Weeden needs to use the sixteen regular season games to figure out how to handle pressure up the middle, stop staring down his receivers, and show he can be a franchise quarterback. Weeden has the ability to be the quarterback who can take this team to the playoffs and more, but he has to show it this season. If not, the Browns need to get another quarterback and every logical conclusion suggests they would make the move to bring in a new one this coming offseason. That quarterback is not currently on the Browns roster.