Return of the Weeden: Browns beat Bills on Thursday Night Football

For reasons that remain unclear to me, Browns fans in general seem to hate Brandon Weeden. I’m not sure if I missed it when he insulted all our mothers or something but there’s a real palpable dislike for the quarterback of the hometown team. On the other hand, fans fell in love with Brian Hoyer almost immediately because he’s the anti-Weeden: gets throws out quick, doesn’t take a lot of sacks, can scamper around, and the team won when he was back there.

I’ve been seemingly the only Browns fan who hadn’t fallen head-over-heels for Hoyer, who I deemed “adequately mediocre” in my column on Thursday. To re-iterate, that’s not meant to be a bad thing. Early in his career Tom Brady could have been called adequately mediocre. It just means that you do enough to win but you don’t really do a ton to proactively make plays and affect the game the way a great QB does.

So if Hoyer is adequately mediocre I guess that would make Weeden “skittishly passable”? There’s no denying that Weeden has the skills to be a very good QB with that big strong arm. The issues with Weeden are that he stands in the pocket too long, can’t move when pressure comes, and sometimes stares down receivers. On the surface, Weeden and Hoyer are two very different quarterbacks.

The funny thing is that it might not matter at all who’s back there. For the purposes of the 2013 Cleveland Browns either QB might work. I wrote this yesterday but the foundation of this team is built on defense and they showed that again last night. There are no more truly dominant defenses in the NFL the way there were back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. The rules being what they are and with the proliferation of passing attacks you just won’t see that anymore. But the Browns showed again on Thursday night they are a defense that is capable of really affecting the team and making a difference. And in today’s NFL if you have a difference-making defense you can get away with having a middling quarterback.[1]

Hoyer was propelled into the hearts of Browns fans because of that “gritty” performance he had to get the win over the Vikings. To the irrational fan it didn’t matter that he threw three interceptions which all put his defense in really tough spots, that the defense subsequently kept them in the game and held Adrian Peterson to under 100 yards, or that we needed multiple special teams trick plays to get the victory. No, none of that mattered because Hoyer was under center as the team drove down the field trailing by three and made the pass to Jordan Cameron for the winning score. And while that was a nice drive and he made a couple nice throws, he was far from being great in the game and if the defense and special teams don’t have outstanding performances the Browns don’t get that win.

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You could basically write that same script for the Browns Thursday night win over the Bills. And the crazy thing is, most fans probably will because they irrationally hate Weeden. But look at it…the defense plays exceptionally well and affected the game including getting a defensive score to seal the win. The special teams controlled field position and while they didn’t pull off any trick plays they again were responsible for one of the team’s scores. And even with all that, they still needed Weeden to drive the team down the field while trailing and make a couple outstanding throws to bring the Browns back. It was a gutty, gritty performance from Weeden after coming back from an injury, having to deal with the emotions of losing his starting job, and then coming in in relief without having any practice reps for almost three weeks.

Now that was a little over the top on purpose because I’m pretty sure that not many people are writing or saying that about Weeden the way that they did about Hoyer after the Vikings win. I’m not the only one giving Weeden props though.

Look, it’s OK to cheer for Weeden; he does play for your team after all.[2] And just realize that the way this team is currently constructed that it takes a full team effort to get wins. The Browns aren’t going to be a team this year no matter who the QB is that is relying on the passing game to get the victory. They are going to try and run the ball, control field position, and lean on the defense to continue to affect the game positively. The quarterback really just needs to not screw it up, which is what Hoyer did for two games and what Weeden did last night.[3][4]

I feel bad for Brian Hoyer and I hope that his knee injury isn’t too bad but after seeing it a hundred times I have a hard time believing that it won’t be. And incidentally, and this is no criticism of Hoyer specifically, but how do these QBs not know how to slide? If Hoyer had made a better slide and if EJ Manuel had slid at all both guys would have finished that game. They need to get some baseball coaches in there to teach those QBs how to properly slide. I mean, quarterbacks are a pretty big commodity, shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to ensure their safety and longevity?

You certainly won’t see me projecting any doom and gloom about Hoyer being out. And since it appears that Hoyer will be out for some time the team will go back into Weeden’s hands, which means I’m getting my wish. I’ve been saying for the past two weeks specifically but all offseason really that I really want to see Weeden in The Norv’s offensive system with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. We got a glimpse of what that might look like on Thursday night against the Bills. But just remember, Weeden hasn’t had any practice reps for over two weeks and hasn’t had reps with Gordon in over a month. Now they have a full week-plus to get that offense finely tuned. I’m not saying that they’re going to be world-beaters or anything but I am intrigued by the possibilities.

In any case, it’s a fun time to be a Browns fan!!!

[1] This is precisely what the Chiefs are doing this year. They have a great defense and have basically told Alex Smith “just don’t screw up.”

[2] Bruce Hooley made the point on Twitter last night that essentially Browns fans try to root for the team while booing Weeden at that the same. They want the team to succeed but they don’t want him to be the one who does it for whatever reason.

[3] In Hoyer’s case it was really a game and a half. For two quarters against the Vikes he was doing everything possible to screw it up.

[4] And also I thought Weeden did a fine job in his first two games, primarily in the second game. He didn’t screw things up to the point that he was the reason for the loss, but he also didn’t do anything great which is why the team didn’t win.


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