Jason Campbell’s adequately mediocre play shows the true potential of the Cleveland Browns

In Cleveland we haven’t really had the privilege of seeing what good quarterback play looks like for a quite a while…at least not from the guys wearing orange helmets that is. When we do get good play from the most important position in our most favorite sport we can recognize it and we cherish it like a long, lost friend who’s finally come home after years away.

So it’s no surprise that when Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer come in and play adequately mediocre football for the Cleveland Browns and lead them to victory it probably seems to most like they’re playing great. Their play looks better to us because in comparison to what we’re used to it’s worlds better.

I’ve talked throughout this season at times about the great work that the guys over at Pro Football Focus do in tracking everything that goes on in NFL games and about how they rate every player not just on their raw numbers but by breaking down film and looking at how they played individually, independent of how the players around them performed. It really is great work and is highly respected throughout the NFL community.

It’s quite an interesting study to look at the performances of just the Browns quarterbacks throughout the weeks. Brandon Weeden had five games while both Hoyer and Campbell have had two each.[1] The two best performances by a Cleveland quarterback belong to Weeden, coming in weeks 2 and 5, where he actually finished in the top six in the NFL on both occasions. However, Weeden is also the one responsible for the three worst games by a Cleveland QB this season, finishing in the bottom eight of the league in weeks 1, 6, and 7. Hoyer and Campbell on the other hand, have been right in the middle of the pack. Hoyer finished 18th and 15th in his two starts and Campbell was ranked 11th and 15th the past two weeks.

So what does this tell us? Well, for one, it furthers what I’ve been seeing with my eyeballs while watching the games and that’s that by far the most physically gifted quarterback on the Browns and the guy who can take the team to the highest level is Weeden. But it also confirms what we all know and that’s that Weeden is wildly inconsistent. And while his good play is very good his poor play is so bad that it brings down the totality of his performance. The Detroit game is a perfect example. The first half that Weeden played against the Lions was the best that I’ve seen a QB look in Cleveland since 2007 Derek Anderson. He was accurate, decisive, made big throws, moved the ball, and was in control of the game and ultimately had the Browns in a great spot with the lead at halftime. But Weeden’s second half was so atrocious it wiped away everything that he had done well in the first. Words can’t describe just how terrible that second half was. The second half drive summaries tell you all you need to know:

3 plays, 9 yards, punt
3 plays, 6 yards, punt
3 plays, -9 yards, punt
4 plays, 12 yards, punt
5 plays, 40 yards, interception
12 plays, 72 yards, end of game

Weeden didn’t play well enough to warrant keeping his job as the starter because the coaches had seen in those two Hoyer starts what even mediocre play from the QB position can do for the team. Now I think that fans and the media have been unfairly critical and antagonistic of Weeden as a whole because they never wanted him in the first place so they chose to focus on only the negatives and refuse to look at the positives. But that’s a topic for another day.

Cleveland Browns v Green Bay Packers

What ultimately doomed Weeden as the starter of the team was that he couldn’t sustain even a mediocre level of play at his position. Against the Packers Weeden did not give the team a chance to win that game because he played so poorly. The NFL is a bottom-line league and in the end what matters most is wins and losses. It doesn’t matter if you play out-of-this-world great one week and get a win if the next week you suck and get a loss. The good doesn’t outweigh the bad and losses probably weigh more than wins whether that’s fair or not.

That’s why Jason Campbell is now the starting quarterback and will continue to be the starting quarterback for the remainder of this season. The other key that we can learn from the PFF rankings is that Campbell isn’t anything special and he hasn’t played especially great in his two games so far. What he has done is he’s played well enough to keep the Browns in the game and given them a chance to win. Maybe more than that is that he didn’t proactively lose the game with his play either, which is pretty important too.

The Browns quarterbacks aren’t good enough to win games on their own. They’ve needed help from both the defense and special teams to get the four victories that the Browns have. Hoyer benefited from a couple trick plays by the kicking teams, one that actually scored a TD. Weeden got help from some big kick returns by Travis Benjamin. And whether you want to call it good special teams or just good luck but you can’t deny that the Ravens muffed punt inside their own ten really helped out the Campbell on Sunday. Heck, those seven points were the difference in the game. And all four wins featured really great play by the Browns defense that hasn’t been getting enough love from the media because they’ve been too focused on the QB position.[2]

My struggle with what’s going on with the Browns quarterback situation right now is really that I’m not sure where we’re going with the position. I don’t think you can win a Super Bowl with either Hoyer or Campbell. And make no doubt that should be the goal. The goal shouldn’t be to just make the playoffs, it should be to win the whole enchilada. I don’t think you can win a Super Bowl with Weeden either but I was willing to spend this season riding or dying with him at QB because he has the potential to be that good. If he panned out this year then great; if not he’d be bad enough that the team would be in prime position to draft one of the top guys in the spring. Now I’m not sure where we’re headed because it feels like we could be on our way to an 8-8 season.

I understand that the coaches and the team have a responsibility to the other players on the team and the fans to play to win and to try to win as many games as they could. The team is ready to win now, there’s really no doubt about that. They couldn’t continue to let Weeden work his issues out while the rest of the roster is ready to compete. I get that. But if Campbell can’t get the Browns ultimately to the Super Bowl then all that he’s really accomplishing is putting this team further away from the more advantageous draft positions to get a top-flight QB who is capable of leading the team to the Super Bowl.

But there’s nothing we can do about all that at this point and it’s really no fun to dwell on the negative when the Browns are actually playing well for a change, something we haven’t seen much of in the last 15 years. What I choose to take solace in is the knowledge that the Cleveland Browns are legitimately only a great quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender. I truly believe that. Now, that’s also the hardest piece to get and we’ve yet to come up with anything close since the rebirth in ’99 but at least there’s hope.[3]

What we can learn from looking at the PFF numbers combined with what we’ve seen on the field with this team is that if even a mediocre QB like Campbell or Hoyer can elevate the team to the heights where they’re beating divisional opponents and the defending Super Bowl champs then imagine what a truly great or even really good quarterback could do for this team. With Weeden there wasn’t much to hope in because his poor play detracted from all the other good qualities on the team as a whole. Probably the best thing that Hoyer and Campbell have done for the fans of Cleveland is given them hope of what this team’s true potential is if they can just find the quarterback.

Good luck, Banner and Lombardi. We’re counting on you.

[1] I’m going by games and not the meaningless qualifier starts. It still infuriates me that fans and the media continue to prop up Hoyer saying that he was 3-0 as a starter while Weeden was 0-4, as if Hoyer actually contributed to the win against Buffalo and Weeden had nothing to do with it. They use the term starts only because it plays into the narrative that they’re trying to push. It’s lazy and stupid and people who do it should be slapped in the face. OK, I’m done now.

[2] Says a guy writing about the quarterbacks and not about the defense. In my defense, I did give the defense a lot of pub earlier this year during the Hoyer games because I really felt like they won those games.

[3] I do want to note that I think that Hoyer could develop into a QB who’s good enough to win a Super Bowl, ala Joe Flacco last year or even Tom Brady in 2001. It really is too bad that he couldn’t get some of that growing done this year. Super Bowl windows in the NFL can be very small many times.


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