The thing about being a Cleveland Browns fan is that sometimes it just isn’t any fun. One of those times is right now.
Jason Campbell is starting on Sunday against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs not because he’s actually good or because he really improves the Browns chances to win the game but simply because he isn’t Brandon Weeden. The second-year quarterback has lost his starting job because it appears that he’s lost all confidence in himself and subsequently the locker room has lost confidence in him. Being a QB in football carries a lot of weight with it, in that it’s the most visible and leader-intrinsic position in the sport. Whether an individual wants to or not, if he plays QB he must be someone that rallies his teammates and makes them believe in him.
We’ve seen time and time again in the NFL of players who were very naturally gifted but failed to win in large part because they failed to command the leadership of the team and make the other 52 players on believe that victory was sure because he would lead them. Incidentally, that’s actually what happened to Campbell in Washington, the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2005. Campbell took over as the starter midway through the 2006 season and lasted through 2009, compiling a record as a starter of 20-32. He always showed enough promise because he had the physical tools but he was never able to command the leadership of the team and drive them to victory on his back.
After washing out in DC the only team willing to give Campbell a shot at being a starter was the beleaguered Oakland Raiders where he spent two injury-riddled seasons. He did end up with a winning record as a starter of 11-7 and was playing pretty well in 2011 before he got knocked out against the Browns ironically in Week 6. The Raiders brought in Carson Palmer as his replacement and that was that for Campbell as an NFL starter. Last year he only found work as a backup in Chicago where he got to start one game for an injured Jay Cutler on what was a very good Bears team at the time. It did not go well: 14-22, 107 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 6 sacks, 52.7 RAT, 5.8 QBR, 32-7 loss to San Francisco.
So for those of you passing off the Browns switch at starting QB from Weeden to Campbell under the guise of “he can’t play worse”…well, he actually can.
Jason Campbell wasn’t brought to Cleveland to replace Brandon Weeden. He was here as insurance in case of an injury. Making him the starter for a reeling team is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a severed limb. The only reason the Browns are making this switch is because they have to, because they can’t continue to throw a broken Weeden out there every Sunday. Rob Chudzinski gave the typical “we believe Jason gives us the best chance to win” spiel for the media yesterday but we all know that isn’t the case. If Campbell was the better quarterback he would have won the starting job out of camp.
The only way this works out for the Browns is if Campbell is able to rally some belief in his teammates and it elevates their play. Maybe it is that Weeden just inspires such an utter lack of confidence in those around him that it has a negative effect on their performance and maybe all that’s really needed is a change of the guy calling plays in the huddle. You can put me in the group of those skeptical though that anything will actually change for the better.
We’ve only seen Campbell for four plays this season and if you remember the situation it was late in the fourth quarter, backed up in our own end, down by eight to the Raiders. Campbell threw three ghastly incompletions before underhand flipping the ball (yes, you read that correctly, it’s a Cleveland QB epidemic) to Jordon Cameron on fourth down for six yards—needing ten naturally. Small sample size of course, but not exactly confidence-inspiring work.
Also, one of the issues that has hurt Campbell in his career is the same issue that Weeden has had of holding onto the ball too long while he surveys the field. This lead to a shocking sack percentage of 10.5 last year on 51 attempts with Chicago. In 2010 with the Raiders he had a sack rate of 9.1 and going back to his last two season in Washington he took a sack on 7.0 and 7.8% of pass attempts. So for anyone thinking that we’re getting this super-decisive veteran QB who’s going to get the ball out quick…don’t count on it.
And if you were wondering how Las Vegas feels about the Browns improved chances to win on Sunday you just have to check out what happened with the betting line against KC. It opened at Browns +7 and quickly moved to +7.5 yesterday after Campbell was announced as the starter and in many places has risen as high as +9. And the people who run the sports books aren’t dummies. They’re usually right. So if the line change is any indication then the Browns “chances” to win on Sunday have actually gone down now that Campbell is starter.
But hey, at least he isn’t Brandon Weeden. So we have that I guess.
 It should be noted that a big reason for Campbell’s success in Oakland was tied directly to Darren McFadden who played out of his mind those two years when healthy.