AFC North: 2013 Week 7 CLE at GNB

More needed from Gordon on key pass

October, 20, 2013
D'Qwell Jackson scoffed at the notion that the difference between the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns is that Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers and not the Browns.

"I can come up with 100 different excuses why we didn't win," Jackson said. "We just didn't win."

The quarterback play was a factor. Rodgers is one of the best and Brandon Weeden is trying to make it. Rodgers had two injured receivers for this game, but threw 10 times to Jarrett Boykin. He had one catch coming in, but had eight for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Browns.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon was targeted six times Sunday against the Packers but he came up with just two catches for 21 yards.
Weeden needs to help his team the same way, though for Weeden it's not nearly as simple, or easy.

Weeden needs help, and when he does the players around him need to provide it. Wide receiver Josh Gordon has immense talent, clearly more talent than anyone else on the Browns' offense. But against the Packers he was handled by Sam Shields and Davon House.

This simply should not happen -- not if Gordon wants to be among the elite in the league, which he says he does.

Gordon also needs to go after every ball like it's his life savings. If he doesnt, it matters.

Early in the fourth quarter, the game was still a game. The Browns offense was struggling, but the defense wasn't -- and one key play could have changed the tenor of things.

The Packers led 17-6 when Browns coach Rob Chudzinski went for the first down on fourth-and-15 from the Green Bay 31. He bypassed a long field goal attempt because he felt the odds were not in the team's favor kicking into the wind.

So he went for the first down.

And Weeden threw a high pass down the left sideline to Gordon, who was covered but had space to catch the ball.

But instead of going up aggressively for the ball, Gordon let it come to him. He tried to cradle it in his body, which gave House a chance to knock the ball away. Receivers are taught to catch with their hands, not with their body. Gordon tried to catch with his body.

"It seemed like it was a playable ball," Chudzinski said. "And you'd like to see him come up with that catch."

Had Gordon extended his arms and gone after the ball, he'd have clearly had the strength and position to come down with it. That was not the play for a half-hearted effort. Not at that point in the game.

Gordon, though, thought his effort wasn't half-hearted.

"I definitely think I did attack it the way I usually do," Gordon said. "The DB made a great play on the ball."

House made a great play on the ball because Gordon gave him the chance to make the play. A guy like Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green or even Anquan Boldin doesn't give the defensive back that chance. It's what elite receivers do.

After the game Gordon and Little both were short and curt with their responses. That's their right; the team did lose.

But if that attitude was a reflection of their lack of faith in Weeden, it spells trouble for the Browns.

Because they aren't good enough to beat a team without every player doing everything he can to win. If the team truly believes in Weeden, it has to play like it does.

On that play, Gordon did not.

What will give with Browns QB spot?

October, 20, 2013
Brandon WeedenAP Photo/Tom LynnThe Packers pressured quarterback Brandon Weeden into a number of mistakes in Cleveland's 31-13 loss Sunday.
The numbers for Brandon Weeden in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers included these:

-- The Cleveland Browns quarterback threw for 149 yards.

-- He threw 42 times to get those yards.

-- He completed 40 percent.

-- He averaged 3.5 yards per attempt.

Those numbers speak volumes that something drastic has to change for the Browns and their offense or the next two months will seem endless -- sort of like the last two months of the last five seasons have seemed in Cleveland.

Either the Browns have to find some magic somewhere, Weeden has to improve or the offense/team has to find a way to win playing a style that fits Weeden's strengths and limitations.

None would be easy.

The Browns already found magic once with Brian Hoyer. But since he hurt his knee the offense has regressed. After Hoyer's injury, coach Rob Chudzinski said the offense would trust Weeden, in part because they had no other choice. They still have few choices. Brian Sipe and Otto Graham are not walking through any doors.

If Weeden is to improve it will have to be marked. He had at least three balls dropped against the Packers, and he saw Josh Gordon make a half-hearted effort on a key fourth down play in the fourth quarter. But Weeden also overthrew folks, made other bad throws and at times seemed outmatched as he looked downfield.

The Browns played a bad first half, but even with that had chances down 17-3 to get back in the game. The offense never did its part.

It appeared the Browns gave Weeden extra protection given Green Bay's aggressive blitzes, and at times receivers didn't win and at other times Weeden didn't see them when they did win.

The team says it has confidence in Weeden. If so, it needs to play like it does -- and Weeden needs to help.

In his two starts since Hoyer was hurt, Weeden is barely over 50 percent (43-for-85) and has three touchdowns and three interceptions, with the TD against Green Bay late with the game virtually decided.

Chudzinski said Sunday he never gave a thought to pulling Weeden. He said he would evaluate this week and always play guys who give the team the best chance to win.

Clearly something has happened with Jason Campbell -- and it might have been the underhand throw out of bounds in the fourth quarter against Baltimore in a 14-6 game.

The Browns best chance might be for Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner to try to adjust the scheme to fit Weeden better. Or to rely on the defense more. Or to try to gimmick some things up to help on special teams (something they're doing already). Or to go to the running game more -- though that's tough because the Browns don't have a legitimate running game.

What they do might challenge the team's offensive minds, especially since the next game is at undefeated Kansas City and then home against Baltimore, two aggressive pass-rush teams much like Green Bay.

But at this point the Browns are winless in Weeden's four starts and he's completing 56.2 percent, which is 30th in the league.

But ... the guy ahead of him is Alex Smith (56.5 percent) and he's unbeaten in Kansas City. Obviously teams can win with the right plan with a guy completing a low percentage. (Though Smith's 50.0 Total Quarterback Rating is double Weeden's 24.9.)

It takes time to build a team and Chudzinski deserves that time. But in the short term something has to give, or change.

If it doesn't, or if it can't, the final two months of the season will be about the 2014 draft.


Locker Room Buzz: Cleveland Browns

October, 20, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Angry faces: The angriest people in the locker room seemed to be the Browns' receivers. Interpreting their anger probably isn't wise, but their answers were ... curt. Said Josh Gordon of the offense: "We just didn't get it going as well as we should have." Said Greg Little: "Have to get better. That's it." There was a bit of an edge to their voices.

Evening grimace: This came from Brandon Weeden when he was asked how frustrated he is that he can't get the offense going. It either meant, "Geez, I'm doing my best" or "of course I'm frustrated."

Stay the course: Coach Rob Chudzinski said he gave no thought to pulling Weeden during the game, even though Weeden finished just 17-for-42. As for the future, Chudzinski said: "We'll always put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win."

Against the wind: Chudzinski said he eschewed a field goal on fourth-and-15 from the Green Bay 31 because the wind in that direction was strong and unpredictable. Kicker Billy Cundiff said Mason Crosby told him he hit a 52-yard try in that direction well, but it came up three yards short. Cundiff said the wind would have had to die to make the 48-yard kick worth trying. "(Coaches) get paid big bucks for a reason," Cundiff said.

Concerned for Finley: Safety Tashaun Gipson said a prayer for injured Packers tight end Jermichael Finley after Gipson's violent hit left Finley laying on the turf for several minutes. "I shot a prayer up for him and if I can reach out after the game I'm going to try to get in contact with him and let him know my condolences go out to him," Gipson said, adding the hit was all shoulder and it went so fast he still doesn't know what happened.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

October, 20, 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 31-13 win over the Cleveland Browns:

What it means: The Browns have a long way to go before they're among the elite of the NFL, which is where the Packers reside. Either that or the Browns' quarterback position has a long way to go. Though Aaron Rodgers didn't have glittering numbers, he was more than efficient in throwing three touchdown passes and leading the Packers to 31 points -- with Green Bay playing without some of their top receivers. Brandon Weeden had an awful start and the Browns never recovered. Where the Browns go from here is anyone's guess. Bernie Kosar isn't walking through that door.

Stock watch: Weeden's future in Cleveland, or lack thereof, is becoming clearer and clearer. For a number of reasons -- his play, the lack of a running game, the receivers' inability to get to the spot, Weeden losing confidence, two systems in two years -- his play has regressed since midway through his rookie year. It's not working for him, and because of that, the Browns' offense is struggling. Teams just aren't going to give a 30-year-old quarterback a whole lot of time.

Not there yet: Josh Gordon is the biggest, fastest, most athletic player on the Browns' offense. But in this game, Gordon was handled by Davon House and Sam Shields. And on one of the more important plays of the game, Gordon waited for the ball to come to him, which allowed House to make a play on it and break it up. Instead of jumping and extending for the ball and using his ability, Gordon was lazy. As a result, a key fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

Interesting decision: Down 17-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Browns had fourth-and-15 at the Green Bay 31. A long field goal would have been a challenge, but Billy Cundiff has the leg. The value of the field goal: three points makes it an eight-point game -- a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski chose to go for a tough fourth-and-15, and the Browns didn't convert. Had they kicked the field goal, they'd have been down eight in the fourth quarter instead of 11.

What's next: It gets no easier for the Browns and their quarterback as they travel to Kansas City to face the undefeated Chiefs and their pass rush, which is among the league's best.
Eddie Lacy and Brandon WeedenUSA TODAY SportsThe Packers may have to rely more on their run game, while Browns QB Brandon Weeden seeks to recover from a forgettable outing.
The Green Bay Packers have made it past a difficult stretch in which they played four playoff teams from last season in their first five games.

And they came out of it with a respectable 3-2 record.

The Cleveland Browns, despite going from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer and now back to Weeden at quarterback, also aren't out of anything yet at 3-3. Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Browns reporter Pat McManamon break down the matchup:

McManamon: Rob, what will Green Bay do at receiver with all those injuries, and how much will it affect the offense?

Demovsky: It's bound to have a significant impact. Randall Cobb more or less became the focal point of the passing game last season and if anything, that intensified this season. Sure, he's only a slot receiver and the Packers still have the deep threat of Jordy Nelson on the outside. But in this offense, a lot of those quick-hit passes -- especially against teams that blitz -- are directed to the inside. No team used more three-receiver sets than the Packers had until Cobb went down last week against the Ravens. They had used a three-receiver set on 90 percent of their snaps. That number likely will go down beginning this week against the Browns. They might have to rely on their new-found running game more than ever. But with fewer threats in the passing game, teams might be able to load up to stop running back Eddie Lacy.

The Browns have offensive issues of their own, Pat. Brandon Weeden's turnovers in the loss to the Lions looked like killers, especially that backhanded, underhand flip. How can they get him to play smarter?

McManamon: That backhanded, underhand flip will live for a long time in the annals of Cleveland Browns misplays since 1999, Rob. A lengthy list just got longer. As for getting him to play smarter, that's the challenge. And the challenge has gone on for 18 starts. Weeden actually started fairly well as a 29-year-old rookie, but he struggled the end of last season and this season he's played in fits and starts. Which of course won't be good enough against Green Bay. With Brian Hoyer injured, the Browns have few other options -- it's not like Tom Brady is on the streets waiting for a job -- so they will stick with Weeden. But you have to wonder whether the Browns aren't coming to the conclusion that what they see is what he'll be when it comes to this 30-year-old quarterback.

Rob, Weeden does not read the rush well and does not move well. The Packers are ninth in the league in sacks. Is that yet another bad recipe for Weeden and the Browns offense?

Demovsky: It remains to be seen whether they can keep up their sack pace. They did it without Clay Matthews last week, getting five sacks at Baltimore, but now they're going to be without another outside rusher, Nick Perry. Matthews and Perry each have three sacks on the season, which ties A.J. Hawk for the team lead. At some point, those injuries have to slow down their pass rush. The one thing that's helping them is they're playing the run very well, probably the best they have since they led the league in rushing defense in 2009. After shutting down Ray Rice last week, they're up to third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (78.2). That's putting teams in a lot of third-and-long situations, which allows defensive coordinator Dom Capers to blitz. That's how Hawk got all three of his sacks against the Ravens.

Perhaps the Browns can help protect Weeden if they run the ball effectively to keep the Packers from rushing like crazy. What are their prospects for doing that?

McManamon: Running the ball would protect Weeden. But it helps to have a ... well ... a running game. At present, the Browns are in make-do mode with the running game, and as the season continues that will more and more become a problem. Since the trade of Trent Richardson the Browns have relied on aging Willis McGahee, young Bobby Rainey and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya. These guys give effort, but there's only so much they can give. McGahee can't run outside, Rainey is inexperienced and Ogbonnaya is what he is. The Browns rank 22nd in the league by running for 86.8 yards per game -- though they are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. If the Browns want to run, they will have to commit to it and pound it out, something I am not sure they can do.

Rob, the Browns have had 19 starting quarterbacks since 1999 -- and it appears next year or soon after that number will hit 20. Do the Packers and their fans realize just how fortunate they have been these many years to have Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers?

Demovsky: They should. There are only a handful of organizations who can say they've had the kind of quarterback transition that the Packers had. The 49ers with Joe Montana to Steve Young come to mind. Maybe the Colts have that now with Andrew Luck following Peyton Manning. Not only was Favre a great quarterback, but he was there week in and week out. Rodgers is pretty much the same way. Those guys rarely get injured and when they do, they still play.

Most Packers fans here are still fond of Mike Holmgren, for leading them to the Super Bowl XXXI title. His tenure with as a Browns executive was much shorter. What impact, if any, did he have on the organization?

McManamon: Let's just say the feelings for Holmgren are a lot warmer in Green Bay -- odd as that sounds -- than in Cleveland. Many fans feel Holmgren's epitaph with the Browns should be "As a president, he was a great coach." A lot of that is frustration at constant losing. Some is frustration at the job title and salary scale Randy Lerner gave Holmgren. More still that Holmgren never took on the coaching duties himself. On balance, Holmgren's tenure was no worse than many, and better than some. He and GM Tom Heckert brought in some good players who are helping the team win now. But with any regime change comes more change, and Joe Banner has gotten rid of some of Holmgren's guys -- notably Richardson. Holmgren's biggest gamble was selecting a quarterback in the first round a year ago who is now 30. But Weeden clearly would have been helped by more continuity in the front office.