AFC North: Brandon Weeden

Football's ultimate juxtaposition was on display at last week’s NFL combine -- quarterbacks use college to become NFL players, but college game plans don’t ask them to mirror what the NFL does.

Analysts such as NFL Network's Mike Mayock have said the emergence of college spread offenses has decreased the number of surefire quarterback prospects, highlighting the challenges Oregon’s Marcus Mariota presents scouts for the next two months.

“They didn’t make their line calls, didn’t check out of a lot of plays, didn’t work in the huddle, didn’t work under center,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who doesn’t see the trend changing any time soon. “This is a developmental league, but colleges don’t care about developing necessarily and the NFL isn’t going to change things necessarily for the sake of colleges.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe quarterbacks the Browns have drafted from spread offenses, such as Brandon Weeden, have struggled at the NFL level.
The Browns, in particular, have struggled with the unpredictability of spread quarterbacks, drafting two in the first round of the last three drafts with minimal results. Though every quarterback stands on his own merit -- football smarts, work ethic and natural ability can help overcome offensive scheme -- it’s understandable if the Browns want to play it safe with a pro-style guy in free agency.

To be sure, a look at the first five quarterbacks taken in each of the last five drafts shows quarterbacks from pro-style or spread sets have struggled. For every Geno Smith or Tim Tebow, there’s an EJ Manuel or Christian Ponder. Twelve of those 25 selected had at least some pro-style experience. They might run no-huddle but also exercise West Coast principles.

But since 2010, only the Browns and Broncos have taken two spread quarterbacks in the first two rounds of the draft -- Johnny Manziel and Brandon Weeden to the Browns, Tim Tebow and Brock Osweiler to the Broncos. Also, the Browns’ third-round pick in 2010, Colt McCoy, had experience in spread sets at Texas, though he also took snaps from under center and occasionally rolled out in play-action.

Beyond natural ability, part of Jameis Winston's appeal is his ability to simply field a snap from under center and diagnose defenses pre-snap.

The Browns’ struggles with spread quarterbacks could be more about poor drafting than scheme. Texans coach Bill O’Brien, for one, believes if the skill set and the makeup are there, the rest can be taught, even at the highest level.

But if the Browns package a proposal to Tennessee for Marcus Mariota, how he responds to a pro-style set is the biggest -- perhaps the only -- question with the Ducks quarterback. McShay said Mariota has “everything else” teams want. NFL teams still run the shotgun at least 60 percent of the time, but spread quarterbacks don't know how to handle the other 40 yet.

“You now have to win (from the pocket) if you want sustained success,” McShay said. “Look at Kaepernick, look at RG3 -- you can have a year, maybe a year-and-a-half, but sustained success, you need to win in the pocket.”

The Browns have found little of that because they’ve been burned in the draft. There’s little doubt the Browns will bring in at least one pro-style quarterback from free agency or the draft.
The party's over for Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns would do well to give Johnny Manziel time to develop instead of thrusting him in as a starter.
The offseason of Vegas-Austin-Mexico-Los Angeles clubs and beverages/bottles has concluded. The social media photos with rolled bills are complete. Manziel reported for his first NFL training camp on Wednesday in Cleveland to try to become the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback. On Thursday, workouts begin. It's not exactly a brave new world for the Browns' first-round draft pick -- he did manage himself quite well in college during the season while having a good time in the offseason, thank you very much -- but it is a more challenging situation than anything he has dealt with in his life. The young wunderkind who was simply always better than those around him finds himself at a whole new level, having to earn his place in the world of professionals.

But while attention will be focused on his every move, his coach has made no secret he'd prefer Manziel not be the team's immediate starter. Coach Mike Pettine told that in his "ideal world," Manziel would not start on opening day.

Go figure.

The Browns, a team in need of a new image, excite the area and the football world by drafting the most exciting player eligible, and they want him to wait.

But there's sound logic and strong precedent behind Pettine's thinking.

He talks about success stories for people who wait to start -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer -- and compares them to guys he has seen rushed into the starting lineup too soon -- Kyle Boller -- for a team not good enough to support them.

That's a scenario Cleveland fans know all too well, as they have seen quarterback after quarterback forced into the lineup, only to struggle with a bad team and fail: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brandon Weeden among them.

The other cycle that has been repeated in Cleveland is that a quarterback ballyhooed as a savior watches as the team drafts another. The public and media -- and eventually the team -- grow weary of the first "savior" struggling because the team is not equipped to help him. This starts the clamor for the next guy. He then is rushed in and struggles for the same reasons the first guy did.

Savior after savior has flamed out, quickly. Heck, a year ago in Cleveland, Jason Campbell was briefly considered a savior. He finished 1-7 as a starter.

"It's a bad cycle," Pettine said, "until you get the team around him."

Pettine has to balance a lot, starting with hype and expectation (multiplied exponentially because it's Manziel) that comes with any quarterback drafted in the first round. But he also has to balance what he has seen -- that a quarterback will struggle if the team around him struggles.

"There's no doubt [the quarterback is] the most important guy on the field," Pettine said. "But he's so much the product of his supporting cast."

In many past years, the Browns built the team from the inside out. Start with the quarterback and hope to add pieces. It can work, but the danger in that process showed constantly as a lack of a supporting cast left each young quarterback battered, shell-shocked and fragile.

Pettine wants to build from the outside in while still working with the best quarterback he can find.

That's why in the offseason the Browns rebuilt the running game with personnel and system. It is why they bolstered the offensive line, and why they've implemented a defensive scheme that has been successful everywhere it has been used. It's also why they brought in prominent defensive veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, guys used to winning who might change the vibe in a locker room accustomed to losing.

The final piece was a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer. In Manziel, the Browns got a guy who threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns at Texas A&M, a guy who for whatever reason has become a social media phenomenon.

"I don't think even he can get a handle on the why," Pettine said

At this point in his NFL career, Manziel has done nothing but be successful in college. As any Browns fan can attest, college success and/or a college resume does not automatically translate to wins in the NFL.

Pettine said Manziel was a great teammate in the previous time he was in Cleveland, calling him "very humble." The typical litany of positives followed: good in the weight room, attentive in meetings, smart.

Pettine then added this tidbit: "I think he's ahead of the learning curve."

In the world of hype, parsing and interpreting what has formed around Manziel, that comment would translate on the conversion chart to: "Holy smokes this guy is good."

But there are many factors at play, not the least of which are the beliefs and principles of the head coach. In organized team activities and minicamps, Manziel had his moments but never consistently looked like a no-brainer to be the starter. He never played like a guy who immediately had to be put in the lineup. Manziel himself admitted the Browns' offense is a lot more complex than the one he ran in college, where he didn't even have a playbook. There's the reality that the Browns open in Pittsburgh and then play at home against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Those are three very tough, physical and aggressive defenses that might make a team hesitate to start a rookie.

Two things are steadfastly true, though. First is that if Manziel doesn't turn out the lights, his on-field party will be over. Because he won't be able to succeed on the field if he's living the extreme high life off it. Pettine said he expects the off-field to be a "non-story" soon.

The second is that Pettine is determined to not give Manziel the job simply because of who he is.

"It's very simple for us," Pettine said. "Who gives us the best chance to win?"
Jason Campbell and Brandon WeedenAP Photo/Tom UhlmanCleveland Browns quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell were both released in short order on Wednesday.

The team that once released two first-round draft picks on the same day has now released two quarterbacks in 34 minutes.

It’s a Cleveland thing. Though in the case of the quarterbacks, neither was really a surprise as the team parted ways with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.

Campbell was a one-year guy, signed as insurance for Weeden. Campbell wound up starting eight games, playing well in some but winning just one. That he was let go wasn’t a surprise, as a new coach usually prefers his own veteran backups.

Weeden’s release was also no surprise, but it does make the final first round of the Mike Holmgren era a complete washout. Running back Trent Richardson was traded early in the 2013 season, and Weeden was released. Both players were touted as the team’s future, but they joined the past faster than they could spell Richardson. Richardson struggled all season in Indianapolis, and the Colts say they still believe in him, but this season could be his last chance. Weeden will try to catch on, no doubt as someone’s backup.

Browns fans won’t miss him, but there's no need for Weeden jokes.

All the guy did was work his hardest and do his best and try to be professional after being drafted in the first round in 2012 by Holmgren. Even last season, after he was ineffective and booed lustily by the home crowd, Weeden tried to stay on the high road. When the season ended, he let the team know he preferred a fresh start elsewhere, and the Browns gave it to him.

In the team’s release announcing the move, General Manager Ray Farmer was gracious.

“First and foremost, the Browns would like to thank Brandon and his agent for being true professionals,” Farmer said in the statement. “The circumstances in which he found himself were not easy for him or the team. After discussions with Brandon and his agent, we’d like to give him the ability to pursue other opportunities.”

The decision to select Weeden now looks like the reach of all reaches. The Browns were so intent on getting a quarterback that they took Weeden with the 22nd overall pick even though he was 28 years old. The organization felt it was too risky to wait for the second round.

That was not Weeden’s fault. Nor was it Weeden’s fault he was named the starter in 2012 with little competition against Colt McCoy. Weeden’s arm and accuracy were too compelling for the Browns, so he started as a rookie. His opener against Philadelphia was a disaster, as he completed just 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards with four interceptions. His rating that day: 5.1.

The next nine games he showed promise, throwing 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he regressed in his last few rookie games, then was caught in the wash of the team’s ownership, front office and coaching changes. It was evident GM Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner did not want Weeden, but with few options available they went with him and trusted Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski to “coach him up.”

It did not go well, as Weeden played poorly and never had the support of the entire organization. Former GM Phil Savage used to say the entire organization had to be on board with the quarterback, and that was not the case with Weeden. He never helped himself either, as he became more hesitant to make a mistake and held the ball far too long. Fans turned on him, and he became the object of many Twitter jokes.

In the end, Weeden needed a new team, and the Browns would have had to deal with continued negativity if it kept him. A clean break was best, and that’s what Farmer provided. His release means the Browns will carry $4.2 million in dead money for him under the cap, and that he earned $7.5 million in guaranteed money. Campbell’s release saves the Browns his $3 million salary and $250,000 roster bonus.

It will be interesting to see if a team signs Weeden and where he winds up. He’s 30, which will work against him, but he does have a strong arm and some ability, which needs more coaching.

In the end, Weeden leaves the Browns like so many other quarterbacks before him (Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Tim Couch, Colt McCoy) -- as damaged goods, with confidence destroyed.

No team has chewed up and spit out quarterbacks like the post-1999 Cleveland Browns.

Ray Farmer evaluates Brandon Weeden

February, 20, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS -- It appears that Brandon Weeden will get his wish.

The Cleveland Browns' first-round pick in 2012 wants a fresh start somewhere other than Cleveland, and though General Manager Ray Farmer didn’t say it outright, he had an interesting answer when asked at the NFL Scouting combine if Weeden can be a winning quarterback in the NFL.

This was his response:
“Do I think he can be a winning quarterback in the NFL? Umm ... I’ll say this. When we grade players we grade players on what they’ve done. Specifically when you’re in the National Football League. The college draft, in my opinion, is a projection. So you put the grade on a player based on what you think he becomes in one to two years time. Once you get into the National Football League you get graded upon your performance and what you’ve been able to achieve at that moment. With that being said, everybody’s performance warrants a grade that’s relative of that performance. We have a grade on Brandon. We know what that grade is. In time his agent and he will both know where we stand with Brandon.”

Clearly, this seems a matter of when, not if.

Let's be honest; it's not exactly a surprise.

A look at the AFC North

January, 7, 2014
The lone AFC North team in the playoffs made another early exit Sunday when the No. 3 Bengals lost to the No. 6 Chargers, 27-10, at Paul Brown Stadium. With all four division teams now in offseason mode, here is a quick look at them by order of finish in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

2013 record: 11-5, 3-3 in division

Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins

Biggest question: Have coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton taken the Bengals as far as they can?

Biggest reason for hope: Despite losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Bengals have a very good nucleus. Rookie Giovani Bernard showed enough to think his time splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis is over.

Why they might disappoint: Dalton has faltered too many times in big games to think he can take the next step, and just making the playoffs is no longer good enough in Cincinnati.

Overall state of the franchise: The Bengals find themselves at a crossroads, but they have little choice but to stick with Dalton -- for now -- unless they want to draft a quarterback in the first round and hand over a veteran team to him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 record: 8-8, 4-2

Key free agents: OLB Jason Worilds, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Biggest question: Will the Steelers re-establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders while re-tooling their defense?

Biggest reason for hope: The offense will be able to mask some of the issues the Steelers have on defense if it builds on its strong second half of the 2013 season.

Why they might disappoint: The defense could get worse before it gets better if younger players don’t emerge in the secondary and Worilds signs elsewhere.

Overall state of the franchise: The Steelers are facing a lot of uncertainty, but a 6-2 finish and the way the offense has come together point to them returning to postseason play in 2014 after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Baltimore Ravens

2013 record: 8-8, 3-3

Key free agents: TE Dennis Pitta, LB Daryl Smith

Biggest question: Did the Ravens suffer through the dreaded Super Bowl hangover or are they in decline?

Biggest reason for hope: Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback, and there is still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.

Why they might disappoint: The Ravens, like the Steelers, are clearly in transition on defense. Two cornerstones of that defense -- outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- no longer dominate on a consistent basis.

Overall state of the franchise: Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are as good as any general manager-coach tandem in the NFL, and they have to be given the benefit of the doubt even though the Ravens slipped this season.

Cleveland Browns

2013 record: 4-12, 2-4

Key free agents: C Alex Mack, S T.J. Ward

Biggest question: Will a new coach and a quarterback finally stabilize an organization that has floundered, often spectacularly, since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999?

Biggest reason for hope: There are some pieces in place, most notably wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerback Joe Haden and left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Browns have a pair of first-round picks, including the fourth overall selection.

Why they may disappoint: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden are the quarterbacks the Browns have drafted in the first round since 1999. Why should Browns fans think they will get it right in this draft?

Overall state of the franchise: The Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season, and unless they find the right replacement and, oh yeah, a quarterback in the draft, the Browns will continue to bottom feed in the AFC North.
The Browns will be without guard John Greco and running back Willis McGahee in practice today.

Greco sprained his right medial collateral ligament on the first play of the game in New England when his foot caught in the turf. He tried to stay in the game, but was not effective. The Browns will see how his week goes, but it does not seem likely he will face Chicago on Sunday

Jason Pinkston replaced Greco in New England and would replace him against the Bears as well.

“We’ll see as we go along what his (Greco’s) status is,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.

McGahee suffered a concussion on a goal-line run in the fourth quarter. He was sent home Wednesday and must pass the NFL concussion protocols before returning. His return for Sunday seems very doubtful. The Browns signed Edwin Baker off the Houston practice squad.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden, meanhwhile, has been cleared to practice. Weeden has been sidelined since he received a concussion nine days ago against Jacksonville.

Chudzinski would not say whether Weeden or Alex Tanney would be the backup quarterback against the Bears.

“There’s some things that Brandon has to clear this week,” Chudzinski said.
Jason Campbell took a step closer to starting for the Cleveland Browns Sunday in New England.

Campbell, who has been out since receiving a concussion against Pittsburgh, was cleared by team doctors to practice. But he still must be cleared by an independent neurologist before he can play in a game.

That process will take place in the next day or two.

Teammates had said last week that Campbell was doing well, but coming back from a concussion brings a lot of uncertainty. The Browns hoped Campbell might practice Wednesday; he was deemed not ready.

Having him back Thursday is a help, but the team will not say how much Campbell did in practice until it releases the injury report, usually around 4 p.m. ET.

“He is cleared to practice, and that’s the next step,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “I’m not a doctor, but he’s been real sharp in the meetings and seems to be doing well. Obviously the doctors have to confirm that, and then we’ll see how he is.”

The one thing that seems clear is that Brandon Weeden will not play in New England. Weeden has yet to be cleared to practice.

The process the NFL uses in bringing folks back from concussions was partly of their own making. They put Colt McCoy back in a game in Pittsburgh after he had taken a vicious late hit to the jaw from linebacker James Harrison.

That contributed to the league strengthening testing to ensure nobody returned too early.

The Browns no doubt would welcome Campbell on the field in New England, but it is pretty much out of their hands.
The NFL season has reached the three-quarter pole, which is always a good time to compare one season to another.

And a look at the numbers from 2012 to 2013 shows in many ways the Browns are the same team they were a year ago after 12 games (see chart). They also show why the defense's overall ranking of fourth is not a fair reflection of how the Browns play, because the defense has two glaring numbers that show it gives back much of what it gains.

Offensively the Browns have improved four percent in yards, and six places in overall ranking.

They are not running the ball as well as they did year ago (down 14 percent), but have improved throwing it -- though the increase could be attributed to the fact they have passed 84 more times than a year ago.

The yards per attempt is down, the third-down conversion is up. But only a little in both cases.

And the Browns' scoring is virtually the same in the current Rob Chudzinski-Norv Turner-multiple quarterbacks season as it was in the Pat Shurmur-Brad Childress-Brandon Weeden season of 2012.

The view of the defense depends, as coordinator Ray Horton might say, on which stats a person decides are most important.

The team has reduced its yards per game by 16.5 percent and its rushing yards by 14.4 percent. The improvement in the rushing defense is real. The Browns haven't stopped the run since their return in 1999 -- until this season.

The Browns are giving up more passing yards per game than a year ago at this time, but fewer yards per attempt.

The problem comes on third down and red zone defense.

The Browns' defense was 10th on third down a year ago (37.3 percent). It now is 28th (41.6).

The red zone defense has also gone the wrong way, with teams scoring 64.7 percent of the time on the Browns this season as opposed to 54.1 percent a year ago.

Those givebacks affect the scoring total as well -- despite improving from 23rd to fourth overall in defense, the Browns have dropped in scoring defense. They've dropped from 16th in 2012 to 19th (22.1 points per game to 24.8), an increase of 10.8 percent per game.

The most telling number about the change in the team from 2012 to 2013 comes in the won-lost record.

It is unchanged at 4-8.

Browns have to wonder: Now what?

December, 1, 2013
The quarterback who would have started missed the loss because of a concussion.

The quarterback who did start was diagnosed after the loss with a concussion.

The wide receiver who became the first player in NFL history with more than 200 yards receiving in consecutive games lost both games.

[+] EnlargeRob Chudzinski
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesRob Chudzinski's Browns are left looking for answers after their sixth loss in seven games.
And the cornerback who has been the team’s standout and stalwart was a bundle of emotions after the game.

Even coach Rob Chudzinski broke from his usual flat-lining self to show some emotion.

This is what happens when a team loses at home to a team ranked 32nd in the league in a large handful of offensive categories.

This is the Cleveland Browns, who have to wonder where they go next.

And the first place to wonder is at quarterback, where Brandon Weeden threw for 370 yards and then missed postgame interviews after being diagnosed with a concussion. Weeden was briefly at his locker after the game, but reported concussion symptoms to the trainers.

Jason Campbell already is sidelined after a hit to the head (which wasn't flagged), and his prognosis is unknown. If Weeden is out, the Browns could well go to New England and face Tom Brady with Alex Tanney at quarterback. And if Weeden and Campbell can’t play, they’ll have to face the Patriots with two quarterbacks who have been on the team less than two weeks (assuming they sign another).

Good luck.

But just as big a concern is the Browns' emotional state after such a staggering defeat. The Browns got nearly 400 yards from their quarterback, a 261-yard game from receiver Josh Gordon and four times held the lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Yet, they lost.

To a quarterback who before the game had four touchdown passes, but threw two in beating Cleveland.

Emotions were raw. Safety Tashaun Gipson called the loss a 10 on a 1-to-10 scale, and safety T.J. Ward said folks could blame anyone they wanted for this one. Indeed, there were so many gaffes.

Weeden accounted for three turnovers in the final 2:47 of the first half. Center Alex Mack had the first bad snap anyone could remember, giving the Jaguars a safety. The defense made Chad Henne look like Tom Brady. And Joe Haden, who has been so good and so responsible, got beat for the game-winning touchdown. The defense allowed 137 yards in the fourth quarter, and the offense’s turnovers and a safety led to 15 Jacksonville points.

It’s nearly incomprehensible to think that three weeks ago people actually considered the Browns a playoff contender. Now they resemble an old jalopy lurching down a rutted dirt road.

Three of their final four games are on the road.

Three of the four opponents have their playoff hopes alive.

The Browns built their playoff “hopes” on one win in the past seven games.

It borders on the incredulous.

After this loss, the Browns are an emotional wreck, and they're heading the wrong way in that beat-up old jalopy.

Browns' loss among worst since 1999

December, 1, 2013
There are losses.

There are bad losses.

There are really bad losses.

And there are fiascos.

The Cleveland Browns hit the jackpot against the Jacksonville Jaguars, losing 32-28 and reporting postgame that their quarterback had a concussion.

Meanwhile, the fans at home and in the stands might have hurt their palms smacking themselves in the forehead.

The Browns lost to a 2-9 team.

At home.

After their receiver gave them as exciting and uplifting a play as they have had in years. And after their self-styled standout defense gave up an 80-yard game-winning drive.

To Chad Henne.

This loss to the Jaguars was as bad as any since 1999.

And it had players either silent or extremely emotional in the locker room.

Joe Haden was near tears as he talked with expletives about being tired of losing and frustrated at the way things have gone. Three weeks ago, the Browns were 4-5 and people were talking about finally playing a big game in November. They now are 4-8 and headed toward a top-five draft pick.


“You’re going to come with the same questions every week and we’re going to give you the same answers,” Haden said, his voice cracking as he spoke to the media. “We’re gonna get better next week. We’re gonna get better next week.

“Until we do it, then there’s nothing else to talk about.”

He was right.

The Browns made enough gaffes to fill a follies film -- except for Cleveland fans the product on the field has been constant football follies since 1999. To win six times for the first time since 2007, the Browns would need to split their final four games -- which is more than highly unlikely.

Where to start is the question. Brandon Weeden had some pretty numbers (370 yards passing, three touchdowns) but a brutal finish to the first half. In the final 2:47, he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, turnovers that gave the Jaguars 13 points.

The probability of three turnovers in that time frame might make NASA scratch its collective head.

In the second half, the Browns had a 21-20 lead and had held the Jaguars to no first downs and five yards in the third quarter.

On first down from their 14, the Browns called for a run out of the shotgun, but center Alex Mack sailed the ball over Weeden’s head. Weeden didn’t take a chance and kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety. Jacksonville followed with a field goal to take a four-point lead.

But the Browns had every reason to believe after Josh Gordon turned a short pass into a 95-yard touchdown. With 3:55 left, the Browns had the lead.

“I thought that we were actually going to have a momentum swing right there,” Gordon said. “We did for a second.”

Which is the problem. Good teams don’t hold onto huge momentum swings for a second. They seize them by the throat. They finish the job.

And the same defense that let the Jaguars have five yards in the third quarter gave up 137 in the fourth -- including a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive.

To Jacksonville.

Which entered the game ranked last in the league in (among other things) total offense, yards per play, rushing yards, first downs, red zone efficiency and points scored per game.

“There’s no way they should have been down there, but they got down there,” safety Tashaun Gipson said.

The Browns have some impressive defensive numbers, but they have been lacking all season in red-zone and third-down defense. Both caught up to them on the final drive, with the Jaguars converting two third downs, including the touchdown.

The group in the locker room was frayed and rattled. Emotions were raw. Coach Rob Chudzinski talked about losses such as this being “unacceptable.”

But the only thing that’s really been unacceptable is the product the Browns have given their fans year after year after year.

How much longer fans put up with it remains the unanswerable question.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

December, 1, 2013

A few early thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 32-28 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars:

What it means: Rock bottom does not feel good. And rock bottom is losing at home to a 2-9 team. The Browns got the most uplifting play possible from Josh Gordon when he scampered for a 95-yard touchdown, then gave up an 80-yard, game-winning drive to Chad Henne and the Jaguars -- topped by Cecil Shorts faking Joe Haden out of his shoes en route to the game-winning TD catch. Browns fans have put up with a lot. This game ranks as one of the more crushing ones since 1999.

Stock watch: Josh Gordon is one hugely talented wide receiver. Gordon had his second consecutive 200-yard game for the Browns, setting an NFL record for yards in consecutive games. Gordon was a surprise second-round choice by Tom Heckert in the supplemental draft a year ago, and has justified that choice this season. He is growing into one of the NFL's best.

Snap issue: Those who have been around the Browns a long time could not remember center Alex Mack making a real bad shotgun snap. He had one in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars, though, airmailing a snap well over Brandon Weeden's head and into the end zone. Weeden kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety that gave the Jaguars a 22-21 lead.

Quick change: The end of the first half was as bizarre as any in recent memory. In 1:19 the Browns turned the ball over three times, and the Jaguars scored three times. Weeden threw two interceptions and fumbled, and the Jaguars turned those plays into a touchdown and two field goals. That enabled Jacksonville to turn a 14-7 deficit into a 20-14 halftime lead.

What's next: The Browns travel to New England to play the Patriots -- which, of course, means facing Tom Brady.
Brandon Weeden was back in the interview circle today, explaining again how he tunes out criticism, he’s still confident and he doesn’t listen to external noise.

“I don’t need 5-year-old kids telling me how to play the quarterback position,” Weeden said after being named the starter for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

That statement referred to getting off Twitter “and all that junk.” It’s not known if any 5-year-olds are on Twitter, but the point is clear: Weeden is trying not to listen to what people are saying about him.

Problem is once he steps on the field he can’t help but hear it, because he’s been greeted -- at home -- by loud and pointed booing.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Weeden will get another chance to start at quarterback for the Browns.
Weeden has become the lightning rod for fan frustration of the past 14 years.

He is the guy who didn’t expect to be a first-round draft pick but was taken there anyway, the guy who played fairly well as a rookie the first half of the season, but a guy who has regressed since.

He’s lost his job once to injury and once to performance.

Sunday, for the third time this season, he gets another chance.

It’s hard not to think it won’t be like the first two times. Even Weeden seemed to imply he understands his ship is about to leave the Cleveland port.

“I’m a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “I think for the next five weeks, I’m a Cleveland Brown. After that, whatever happens is out of my control. I’m excited. This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been on as far as just the group of guys in this locker room, the atmosphere we have going on, the friendships we have and the camaraderie. It’s great. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it as long as I’m here, and then if they tell me to beat it, then we’ll see.”

Fan frustration comes because of performance. The Browns are 0-4 in his starts, and he ranks 34th in the league in yards per attempt, 33rd in passer rating, 31st in yards per game and 34th in completion percentage -- a woeful 51.5 percent.

The Browns figure to have Weeden and newly acquired Alex Tanney (off Dallas’ practice squad) available on Sunday while Jason Campbell recovers from a concussion.

Which means the Browns have a guy who’s barely completed more than 50 percent and a guy who hasn’t been with the team until today.

The silver lining is the opponent -- Jacksonville is giving up 29.5 points per game, 30th in the league.

Which also makes the consequence of a third straight loss that much more significant.

If Weeden can’t beat the Jaguars, what’s happened to this point will seem like a trip to the zoo.

The switch from Campbell to Weeden is the fourth time this season the Browns have switched starting quarterbacks. They started with Weeden, went to Brian Hoyer, went back to Weeden, went to Jason Campbell and now out of necessity are going to Weeden.

If Tanney ever starts a game -- and the way this season is going, why wouldn’t he? -- the Browns will match the four they used in 2008, another dismal season that ended with Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski under center.

“It’s not easy,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “And it’s not ideal. But it is what it is right now.”

That the Browns have four wins with all this quarterback shuffle going on is downright amazing. But that they go into a game with a starter whom few seem to have confidence in is concerning.

This may be the first time fans hopes for a guy signed on Tuesday are higher than they are for a former first-round draft pick.
First and 10 will not mention the word "turkeys" this week:

  1. T. J. Ward was right -- the reason the Browns lost these last two “big” games was because of turnovers. The Browns had four against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They had zero takeaways. Ward caught some flak for his comments, but he was just being honest. They lost because of turnovers, and they’re not ready.
  2. What does it mean to have four turnovers in a game, which the Browns had the past two games? Teams have lost 87 of the past 100 games when it had four turnovers. Figure the Browns forced zero in both games, and it’s worse. Teams that had four turnovers and zero takeaways have gone 4-96 the last 100 times that has happened.
  3. Which puts into perspective where the team is at this point. Big games? Division championship? Relevant in the AFC North? The Browns are poised to make their fourth quarterback change and have lost five of six. Never has so much been made of one win over Baltimore by so many.
  4. The city of Cleveland found within itself the gumption to vote to help pay for improvements at the team’s stadium, which will begin at season’s end. A metropolitan area that lost more jobs than any in the country from May 2012 through May 2013 committed to repaying the Browns $2 million per year for the next 15 years. Of course, the city also said that $30 million figure in present day money is really just $22 million. So, there’s that.
  5. Cleveland comedian Mike Polk Jr. was at it again. The man who dubbed the stadium a “factory of sadness” a year ago was back after the Steelers game to say that the only constants with the Browns “are misery and unwavering devotion” from fans. It’s funny, and it’s to the point (Warning to parents: Part of it is PG-13 rated).
  6. The hostility with which Brandon Weeden is greeted when he enters games is beyond the pale. Weeden is doing his best with what he has, and that fact he’s not doing well doesn’t seem to mandate vitriol. For the first time, the team seemed weary of the boos that greet Weeden. If they hear them he does as well, which doesn’t make things exactly comfortable. Not that an uncomfortable guy can’t win, just that it’s uncomfortable.
  7. By most any measure, 237 receiving yards and 14 receptions in a game is impressive. That’s what Josh Gordon did in the loss to Pittsburgh. But ex-Browns receiver Reggie Rucker said on Cleveland TV station WEWS-Channel 5 that Gordon’s team mark for receiving yards in a game came after the contest was decided and he shouldn’t have been in the game in the fourth quarter. The record should still belong to Ozzie Newsome (his ex-teammate), Rucker said, because his catches came when his game was competitive.
  8. Interesting. Except Gordon did earn his yards, and made some very nice plays with them. Yes, a lot came in the fourth quarter after the game was decided -- he had seven catches for 158 yards -- but he did make the catches, and he did handle it graciously after the game, saying getting the record meant little in such a bad loss.
  9. Here’s what coach Rob Chudzinski said about Rucker’s remarks: “Production is production at the end of the day. He was able to get those yards and in an NFL game. ... It doesn’t really matter. He was out there. I thought he played one of his better games in terms of he’s just getting better and better as a route runner and really making plays.”
  10. As for Gordon’s game, this little tidbit comes courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden were 14-for-17 for 237 yards a touchdown when throwing to Gordon, and 13-for-35 for 75 yards an an interception throwing to everyone else.
The Cleveland Browns will be adding another quarterback this week -- Caleb Hanie will work out Tuesday -- as they work through bringing back Brandon Weeden for his third stint as the team’s starting quarterback this season.

The first two did not go well, as Weeden lost his four starts.

[+] EnlargeWeeden
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsIs there room for the Browns' faithful, as well as his teammates, to believe in Brandon Weeden again?
Which is why Weeden has become the symbol and why he bears the burden -- unfairly -- of all the struggles of the Browns since 1999. The second he steps on the field, he is greeted with boos from the home fans.

That affects his teammates, and has to be something Weeden hears.

“It’s difficult,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I understand the perspective of fans where they’re coming from on things. At the end of the day, he’s a Cleveland Brown. We need him to win.”

Weeden said he has to laugh at the boos, but at the same time he clearly hears them and he has to know that the people in the seats do not believe in him. All he's done to earn this scorn is struggle on the field after being a first-round pick.

Weeden is accountable and stand-up. He works hard and is a good guy. He just hasn’t been a good quarterback in his four starts.

But with Jason Campbell likely sidelined by a concussion -- Chudzinski said Campbell will go through the NFL tests before being ruled out -- Weeden moves back into the starting lineup.

Since Brian Hoyer was hurt, the Browns rolled the dice by going with two quarterbacks. Their thinking was that they would only keep two active every week, and the guys on the street were not worth signing.

Now they have no choice.

Campbell may pass the concussion tests, but it’s rare a quarterback comes back the following week. It’s also risky.

The disadvantage the Browns had in not signing a third quarterback now is evident: The team is playing with a guy it tried twice already, and its backup will have a few days to prepare as opposed to a few weeks.

A few years ago, the Browns started Charlie Frye in the season opener, then replaced him with Derek Anderson in the third quarter. By Tuesday the team had decided to make Anderson the starter.

Frye was traded -- to the shock of the team and the league.

But one NFL assistant coach said he understood the team’s thinking, that when a team benches a quarterback the ship has sailed in the locker room. It’s next to impossible, the coach said, for the quarterback to regain trust and belief and the best thing for the player is a fresh start.

Which could be why Joe Haden was this blunt when asked if the injury to Campbell deflated the team against Pittsburgh.

"Yes," Haden said. "You saw it. That’s what happened. They were making plays, they were playing aggressive. When Campbell goes down, that's our guy. ... Weeden is always ready to play. But when a guy has something going, the thinking is you have your guy."

Keep in mind Haden was talking about Campbell, not Tom Brady.

Jacksonville is the next opponent. Of all the opponents on the Browns' schedule, the Jaguars were the first one checked off as a win when the season started.

Weeden has talent and he was a first-round pick. He can change the boos to cheers with a good game. But he’s doing it in some unique circumstances -- after the team has lost five of six.

The Jaguars? They’re 2-1 in their past three games.