Brandon Weeden must trust himself to make plays

IRVING, Texas -- If all that mattered were stats, then we would have been fawning all over quarterback Brandon Weeden’s performance Sunday against Atlanta.

After all, he completed 22 of 26 passes for 232 yards in the Dallas Cowboys' 39-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium.

Instead, we're scrutinizing it.

The problem with Weeden’s performance is that you can tell from his decision-making that he didn’t trust himself to put the ball into tight windows or not turn it over.

If Weeden doesn’t trust himself after more than a year in this offensive system, then he should bench himself. You can’t win playing scared.

He played tentatively, which is not the way to earn respect from opposing defensive coordinators who will study his performance against Atlanta. The reality is Weeden won’t earn respect from opposing defensive coordinators until he starts throwing downfield and threatening opposing secondaries with passes to Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, Jason Witten or Lance Dunbar.

Until that happens, defenses will continue to play a safety close to the line of scrimmage to shut down the Cowboys’ running game. They will continue to attack the line of scrimmage with no fear of reprisal.

Atlanta’s defense, like the Seattle Seahawks' defense the Cowboys will face in a few weeks, plays a scheme that gives the quarterback few opportunities to effectively throw the ball downfield. When those opportunities present themselves, the quarterback must recognize them and let the ball fly.

“We’ll evaluate the quarterback decision-making, but there were opportunities to throw the ball out there and he made some different decisions to throw the ball inside and was effective,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The guy threw four incompletions the whole game, so he did a good job helping us move the football."

Weeden played scared. We shouldn’t be surprised.

We’re talking about a player with 27 career touchdown passes and 29 interceptions who has lost 12 consecutive starts. Sports at any level is all about confidence. None of us should be surprised if Weeden lacks confidence.

The Cowboys have at least one deep route built into virtually every passing play. In the Cowboys’ system, the coverage dictates where the quarterback goes with the ball unless he decides it’s safer to take the underneath throw instead of forcing the ball downfield.

In the second half, the coaching staff asked Weeden to throw downfield, but he wouldn’t do it for whatever reason. What Weeden must understand is good things can happen when he throws the ball long, especially when virtually all of the rules are designed to help the offense.

Weeden threw deep to Terrance Williams on the game’s second play. The pass fell incomplete, but Williams drew a face-mask penalty; the drive ended with a 37-yard touchdown run by Joseph Randle.

Weeden didn’t throw another pass longer than 20 yards until 39 plays later, when he missed Witten on a seam route.

That’s way too long between deep shots. The more shots downfield the Cowboys take, the more safeties have to at least respect the threat of going deep, making all the underneath throws to Witten, Cole Beasley and the running backs more effective.

In the second quarter, Weeden threw an angle route to Williams, who didn’t run a great pattern, and the ball was tipped into the air. It fell incomplete, but seemingly made Weeden shy away from throwing those types of passes because he didn’t want to throw an interception.

History suggests Weeden can’t play much better than he did Sunday. In 22 starts, he has led an offense to 28 points or more just four times. His 8.92 yards per attempt Sunday was the third highest of his career and the 232 yards was the 11th best of his career.

Sure his interception before the end of the half was an egregious decision, but most quarterbacks make at least one dumb throw each week.

He positioned the Cowboys to win, and if the defense had played anything close to the way it did in the first two games, then that’s what would’ve happened. You have delusions of grandeur if you believe Matt Cassel can spend a week with the Cowboys’ playbook and play at a vastly superior level.

Cassel has been a better player than Weeden in their careers, but since 2011 he’s 10-17 as a starter with 30 touchdowns, 34 interceptions and a 74.0 passer rating.

This is life without Tony Romo for the next seven weeks. Unless Weeden begins trusting himself little will change for the Cowboys’ offense.