Cleveland Browns Offensive issues go beyond Brandon Weeden and the Quarterback position

The Cleveland Browns delivered another crap performance on Sunday afternoon in Green Bay. Brandon Weeden continues to be the most glaring issue on the team as he continues to flounder at the task of playing QB.

Early in the game it was pretty obvious that Weeden was trying to get the ball out quicker which is a good thing. Only problem is that this appears to be something Weeden is incapable of making those throws accurately. His passes were sailing out of bounds and just generally off target. He didn’t show the same precision on those short, quick passes that we saw out of Brian Hoyer.

The thing that has to be killing Browns fans is that in what was ultimately a terrible game, Weeden actually made a few passes that weren’t just good…they were great. The three I’m thinking of were all to Jordan Cameron including the touchdown over the middle with the other two to the sideline. At times Weeden can fit the ball though a needle-tight window with pace, throws that only the greatest of NFL QBs can make. He makes a couple of those great throws every game. The problem for Weeden continues to be the inconsistency. And what’s more is that Weeden’s bad is about as bad as it can possibly get. His highs don’t come often enough to make up for the abysmal lows.

But on Sunday it wasn’t just Weeden that was the problem with the offense. It was everything. The defense got run over on the first two drives but then stood their ground very well for the rest of the game. They gave the team a chance and the offense never delivered.

While Weeden has his many shortcomings he isn’t getting much help. The Browns second possession was a perfect example of the multitude of issues that surround this team. The drive started out good with a five yard run from Willis McGahee to put the offense in favorable 2nd and 5 position. Then it all went to crap. Devone Bess—who’s been quite disappointing lately—dropped what would have been a first down pass over the middle. Then Joe Thomas was flagged for a false start that put the team back to a 3rd and 10 instead of a 3rd and 5. The difference between picking up five or ten yards is huge in the NFL.

After an incomplete pass on the ensuing third down the Browns were gifted with a roughing the kicker penalty on fourth that gave them a first down. Weeden got off a nice completion to Greg Little for 19 yards into Green Bay territory and then after two nice runs the Browns were sitting on a 3rd and 1 at the 37. This is where coaching comes into play. The Browns would end up passing on both 3rd and 4th down and not only failed to pick up the first but Weeden was intercepted on the second throw. I obviously don’t know what the communication between Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner was like but if Chud was planning on going for the first all along instead of kicking the field goal then that needs to be communicated to the guy calling the plays before the third down play. If Chud did tell The Norv that he had two plays to pick up the first then the decision to go with two passes after you just picked up nine yards on two runs doesn’t make any sense. You have to try and run the ball at least once in that situation, probably on third down. The decision to throw on both downs is even more curious given how poorly Weeden had been throwing up to that point in the game.

Whatever Browns fan thinks of the starting quarterback, the actions of the coaching staff clearly show that they believe in Weeden. Why else would they throw on both downs in that situation? Now it’s easy to criticize that decision in the hindsight of knowing that it didn’t work out, but it remains puzzling why they wouldn’t run the ball at least once.

This however wasn’t the last time that they made curious decisions on third and fourth downs in Green Bay territory.

Early in the fourth quarter with the Browns still in the game, trailing only 17-6 at this point, the Browns were faced with a 3rd and 15 at the Green Bay 31. Now they were in this tough spot because, again, an illegal formation penalty had negated a six yard pickup on the previous play. But faced with a very difficult third down to gain in a two-score game the coaching staff again made a puzzling decision. On third down Weeden threw past the sticks but incomplete when it appeared that either Little or Cameron ran the wrong route. This didn’t seem bad in the moment because the Browns were in field goal range and could move within a touchdown and a two-point conversion of tying the game. But Chud decided that either the elements were too tough for the field goal or he really wanted to get the touchdown first. Either way, if the Browns were indeed in a four-down situation at 3rd and 15 then why not take a short completion on third down to make fourth more manageable? Instead they tried to pick up all 15 yards on both third and fourth downs which, again, is extremely difficult to do in the NFL when you have a good QB, let alone a bad one.

Most Browns fans will fixate on Josh Gordon’s poor effort to come down with what was a pretty good throw under pressure on fourth down. And while he should have made the catch it must be pointed out that the coaching staff didn’t put the team in the best position to succeed in that situation. On third down you need to throw shorter to pick up some yards to either make the fourth down try more manageable or the field goal attempt a little easier. Again, I don’t know what the communication is like between the coaches and whether Chud knew he was going for those fourth downs when they were only on third down. Some of that might just be inexperience as a head coach. But as someone who’s been a head football coach myself (though on a MUCH smaller scale) I know that coaches usually have a good idea of what they’re planning on doing on fourth even before they run the third down play. You have to operate on those third downs like you’re going to go for it on fourth because that affects the play-calling. The way the Browns treated those two situations on Sunday it appeared as though Chud had no idea that he was going to go on fourth until the moment arrived. He doesn’t have the excuse of being burdened with play-calling like Pat Shurmur did, so he needs to have a better hold on how he’s managing the game. And again, when you have a QB who’s been noticeably skittish all game and really most of the season, why would you put him in situations where his chances of success are minimal? Brandon Weeden isn’t a good quarterback but his coaches didn’t do much in Green Bay to help him win.

There were more issues than just coaching though. Both teams got called for a load of penalties but the Browns were hit with 12 violations for 112 yards. Green Bay picked up five first downs because of penalties. And while the Packers also got hit with ten penalties, it’s a lot easier to make up for those when you have Aaron Rodgers playing QB instead of Brandon Weeden.

The receivers again dropped a lot of passes and just generally had a poor game. Cameron ran short of the sticks on a 3rd and 5 out route and only picked up four yards. The Browns ended up picking up the first down on a fake punt play with Chris “I should be getting the ball more” Ogbonnaya but you only get so many of those in a season. Cameron has loads of physical ability and the sky’s the limit for how good he can be. But it’s the little things like running your route past the first down line that can make the difference between winning and losing.

There was also a play that was highlighted very well by color analyst Solomon Wilcots on which Weeden was scrambling out of the pocket and the Browns receivers never came back to the ball and instead just stood around looking back at their QB.

And then there’s the running game. I was very critical of Trent Richardson’s lack of production when he was running the ball in Cleveland. I wasn’t really expecting the running game to be better with a hodge-podge of guys headlined by a 42-year-old McGahee but we need to see more production out of the running game. They only went for 3.6 yards per carry on Sunday and that was helped out by a pair of ten-yard scrambles by an immobile Weeden. In very limited attempts Ogbonnaya has been the most productive runner for Cleveland, going for 5.6 yards per carry. He’s also shown himself to be pretty good catching passes out of the backfield including two receiving touchdowns. Why he doesn’t get more touches and why he lost snaps in Green Bay to Fozzy Whittaker is beyond me.

I think this guy should get the ball more. Tells you all you need to know about the Browns offense.

I think this guy should get the ball more. Tells you all you need to know about the Browns offense.

I like the wrinkle of doing some Wild Cat, zone-read stuff with MarQueis Gray but that play hasn’t exactly worked very well to this point. Both of the times Gray was in at QB he made the wrong read and the play lost yards. Gray ran some zone read when he was a QB in college at Minnesota so it’s tough to understand why he’s having trouble making that read.

It was just an abysmal game from the Browns in totality. The defense hung tough and kept the game within reach into the fourth quarter. After the Browns failed to pick up that first down on the back-to-back 15-yard throws it’s not surprising that the defense would be a little demoralized and bend at that point. It has to be deflating when you’re going up against one of the best in Rodgers and your offense just can’t put up points. I believe in this defense to give the team a chance to win every game. They’ve mostly held up their end of the bargain through seven games this season.

The offense is the real issue. They’ve really only put up two good offensive games: at Minnesota and home against Buffalo. And in both of those games the offense got much needed help from the special teams to get/keep things going—including a special teams TD in both games. It’s really easy to pin everything on Weeden because he’s the QB and for people to bemoan the loss of Hoyer because he won his two starts that he actually finished is pointless. The fact is that even Hoyer struggled and had his short-comings and needed great defensive and special teams efforts to win those two games. It’s no different with Weeden. If the quarterback position isn’t getting help from the pieces around him then it’s going to be tough to win. And when the other parts of the game are actually hurting the team (dropping passes, penalties, etc.) like they did against the Packers then the team as a whole is doomed.

None of the QBs on this roster are good enough to win a game without a lot of help. Jason Campbell wouldn’t be any different. If they want to throw him in there I wouldn’t blame them. Weeden hasn’t done enough to force them to keep him as the starter. I’ve seen plenty of Campbell in his career to know that he’s no different and is even more limited than Weeden. Putting him in as the starter will only serve to quell the screams from angry fans calling for Weeden’s head. It won’t actually contribute to winning football games.

The only way that I can see a QB change helping this team is if Weeden’s teammates have truly lost any and all trust and confidence in their signal caller. If they simply don’t believe in Weeden then a QB change may help.

In the end though, if the coaching staff can’t figure out how get production from the running game, if they continue to mismanage crucial situations, and if the receivers continue to drop passes, this team won’t win. It appears at this point that the recipe for success for this team is going to be by drafting a QB in the first round who is more of a play-maker than Weeden or Hoyer. I won’t get too much into who I want in the draft because I can’t stand draft talk during the season.

But if the offense continues to flounder like they did on Sunday the rest of the season then we’re headed for a most depressing 2013. At least we’ll have those three games though.

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