Jason Campbell proves even in a loss to Chiefs that Browns are only a QB away from being good

Jason Campbell’s presence taking snaps at quarterback on Sunday didn’t make the difference between a win and a loss. Ultimately the Browns lost a game to a superior (though not nearly as good as their undefeated record) opponent. But Campbell did what to this point this season Brandon Weeden has been unable to do and that’s to move the offense down the field competently but even more importantly to inspire confidence in his teammates on both sides of the ball.

For the second straight week the defense struggled out of the gate, giving up long drives to yield points on the first several drives. The difference this week was that they were able to hold the Chiefs to field goals on those drives because the QB they were playing against was Alex Smith and not Aaron Rodgers. But again, just like in Green Bay a week ago, the Browns defense regained their strength and in the second half basically held serve to give the offense a chance to get the lead, never letting the game get out of reach.

Neither the Weeden nor Campbell offenses were able to get those leads ultimately but anybody who watched those two games could see that there was a difference in the way not that just the man throwing the ball played but also those around him performed—with the notable exception of Devone Bess, who can’t catch no matter who’s throwing him the ball.

There’s really no denying that Weeden has the far superior physical ability of all the quarterbacks on the Browns roster. It’s not really a question. But for whatever reason he has been the worst of the three guys at running The Norv’s offense. Campbell notably got the ball out quicker and while he had a couple throws that were near interceptions he ultimately had a turnover-free game and was only sacked once.[1] And while I’m not a believer in moral victories what we did see from Campbell that all Browns fans can find encouraging is that if you can get a good QB back there who inspires belief from his teammates and actually back up that belief with good play this could be a really good team.

Which leads me back to the defense. Against the Chiefs the only second half points the defense gave up was on that late field goal in the final minute and you can hardly count that against them after the offense had turned the ball over on downs already in field goal range. But the aggressiveness and ferocity that the defense played with the whole second half showed you that they believed that if they could keep the game in reach that Campbell could get them there. I didn’t get the same feeling in the Green Bay game in which after holding strong for the second and third quarters the defense basically folded late giving up two TDs in the fourth after it became apparent that the Weeden-lead offense wasn’t going to get the job done. Some might blame the defense for not bringing it all the time but since I’ve never stepped on a football field outside of garbage-time minutes at the D3 college level I’d be hard pressed to criticize NFL players who put their bodies on the line every play when they have no faith in their quarterback.

The question of why Weeden, despite having all the physical tools to succeed, has not will be a discussion for another time. Weeden will likely get another shot in the NFL much the way that Campbell has. QBs have a way of recycling in this league. Heck, half the guys on that long list of Browns failed QBs are actually still in the league in some capacity. (What I wouldn’t do to have Thad Lewis back right about now!) If Derek Anderson can get a backup gig (and multiple at that), Weeden will get one as well. Maybe he’ll be able to figure it out and make something of his career and maybe he won’t. All I know is that I’d put good money on that experiment not playing out in Cleveland.

For the here and now and the Browns going forward it certainly doesn’t appear that this team is playoff-bound. While he played fine on Sunday I really no belief in Campbell to actually get the Browns there and I’m still in the camp of people who didn’t think Brian Hoyer would get us there either.[2] Both Campbell and Hoyer are just guys. They’ve played what I like to call “adequately mediocre” in their time under center. They need strong performances by their defense, special teams, and skill position players to get wins. Campbell got that mostly out of the defense but unlike Hoyer he didn’t get the big special teams plays that propelled those three previous wins. He did get a few good plays out of Josh Gordon including a masterful route on the flea-flicker play to get so open that not even Weeden could have screwed up that play.[3]

Ultimately though the Browns were done in again by too many penalties (9 for 70 yards—less than last week but still too many and coming at the worst times) and Devone Bess’ inability to do that thing where you actually catch and hold onto the football. I’ll cut him some slack though…it’s not like he plays a position that’s actually titled “receiver” or anything. Oh, wait.

Where the Browns go from here through the second half of the season will be interesting to watch. I don’t want to play the schedule game or anything but you’d have to think that we’ll at least get wins over the Jags and one of the Steelers meetings, and I like our chances against the Jets as well. The rest of the games we’d need those requisite “great defense, great special teams, and great play from the skill position players” performances to win those contests. So we might be looking at another 6-10 season, finishing just far enough out of the top of the draft to not get one of the blue-chip quarterbacks.

I might need to start re-thinking my feelings about rooting for my team to lose. Look at me turning into Chris Fedor.

It’s a quarterback league, folks. If we’ve learned anything this season, it’s exactly that.

[1] I will point out though that if it had been Weeden who would have fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter on the play that got wiped out by the offside penalty that he would have still have gotten criticized for it. Anybody else and the play didn’t count, but for Weeden it would have been another knock. We all know this would be the case. The guy simply gets no benefit of the doubt from the fans…not that he’s earned it, but he wasn’t given a chance even from the day he got drafted.

[2] I just want to note the difference in perception for the three QBs on the roster. Hoyer puts up 17 points against Cincinnati and his play is described as “great”. Campbell puts up 17 points against Kansas City and his play is described as “fine”. Weeden puts up 17 points against Detroit and his play is described as “awful”, “terrible”, “atrocious”, etc. I thought this was a bottom line league?

[3] The other big play came of course on just a simple drag route that Gordon turned into 47 yards.


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