It took me a while, but after a first look at Sunday’s Browns-Raiders clash, I finally figured out that I was watching some odd pairing of Browns’ Past versus Browns’ Present. In some wrinkle of a West Coast time zone, parallel NFL universe, the Browns basically beat themselves yesterday – only their past form was represented by the current Raiders, a team stuck in the kind of slump that the Browns experienced through much of September and October.
How else to explain the Raiders’ creaky defense and endless dull variations on 3rd and 3 play calls? Or, the cosmic muddling that creates a mold of quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Brandon Weeden? Somewhere in the painted dirt of Oakland, the ghosts of Al Davis and Art Modell snickered when they realized just how tethered their franchises have become.
Just like one big clump.
A clump of winning football, that is.
And since you’ve no doubt read all of the tired narratives on how the Browns “are learning to win” and “growing up” and some silliness about a “drive of destiny”, let’s take a look at some other aspects of what proved to be both the Browns’ first road and consecutive victory in quite a while.
First, a few words on Brandon Weeden.
As many of you have noted throughout the season, I’ve been decidedly neutral on making some type of judgment on Weeden. First, doing so is kind of ridiculous, given the circumstances of the Browns’ offense. Similar to Colt McCoy last season, I can’t find a reason to evaluate Weeden in what I still feel is an ill-suited offense for his skills. Or, as someone described it late last night, the Browns run a “dial-up” offense in a digital world.
In related news, I’m totally stealing the “dial-up offense” line and claiming it as my own.
Anyway, Weeden is certainly talented and tough. There is little doubt that he “looks the part” of an NFL quarterback – a statement that has many layers to it. I think it was @jimkanicki who make the comment that Weeden probably wants to be an NFL Quarterback more than he wants to be an NFL Quarterback. I took this to mean that the hunger to win probably doesn’t consume Weeden like it does other NFL QB’s – which is probably similar to Pat Shurmur’s existence as an NFL coach. In all honesty, both are simply surviving at the moment – and there’s no way you can fault either one for their efforts.
Another way to interpret Kanicki’s comment is to suggest that Weeden likes to play the role of an NFL Quarterback more than he wants to be an NFL Quarterback. He is clearly a polished, canned sort of political presence – the kind of public persona who would effortlessly say things like this regarding the divinity of weather:
“He was with us today,” Weeden said, looking skyward. “The way it turned out, I’ll take it.”
I never thought I would say this about a 30-year old rookie QB, but dude – grow up.
However, the Oakland game opened up my eyes to a realization that Weeden’s NFL ceiling is probably something close to Carson Palmer’s career. Physically, the two quarterbacks are similar – strong arms, awkward feet, huge evidence of mechanical coaching, oddly laconic, yet robotic personalities. And on given days, either QB can torch an opposing defense for 400 yards or melt down and throw four picks.
On the low end, Weeden and Palmer are the Dave Krieg for an evolved passing generation – which really isn’t a horrible thing. Ideally, Weeden will find an offensive scheme that is better suited to his strengths, which is also something Palmer could use at this stage of his career. However, a more optimistic take on this comparison is the realization that Palmer has not been the same player since his 2009 arm injury – and Weeden still has room to develop in the NFL.
One area of immediate concern is Weeden’s body position and mechanics. Go back and check out both of Weeden’s Sunday interceptions and you’ll see how awkward his body looks upon delivery.
Anyway, back to those game-defining clumps…
Or, for Reason #8 Million why I can’t stand Fantasy Football. Trent Richardson is deemed some kind of failure by Stat Jerks, yet his twisting, grinding, Hercules efforts to turn yet another check down into a manageable Third Down go ignored.
And then, all the morons who only look at stat lines will wonder why Montario Hardesty is not starting for the Browns.
Richardson’s second down effort sets up the first of Weeden’s QB sneaks – a harbinger of clumps to come.
But first, here’s another in a weird progression of Shurmur’s offense. Obviously, Shurmur and his coaching staff are putting in effort and deserve the fruits of what has occurred over the past two weeks. However, I’m continually confused by the variations on the same five or six core WCO plays that are always called.
Here’s a play that shouldn’t take forever to develop.
Richardson takes a hitch step to the left, then the design of the play takes him forever to get across the field, which only loosens the Browns’ blocks. While the fake is always appreciated, it seems to be misplaced here.
Back to the Browns Past versus Browns Present theme from earlier, talk about giving Palmer zero options on a play. On this 3rd and 3, Palmer basically has either a slant route or nothing. With a resurgent Phil Taylor caving in his pocket, Palmer has little choice but to launch a pass to nowhere.
And yes, it feels great to summarize this play knowing that the Browns weren’t the victims of a dull play call.
Or this one – another 3rd and 3 check down that has a familiar feel.
Returning to Weeden’s body position, his TD throw to Josh Gordon showed the kind of upright, proper mechanics that occasionally make Weeden very effective.
And in terms of an image, there’s little better than this:
Or, when a team’s “young” Head Coach suddenly appears completely overwhelmed as the unit in which he is considered an expert in begins to melt down. In response, the coach then digs a hole into his laminated play calling sheet.
Where have I seen this before?
Later in the half, Weeden is again off balance and this time under throws Gordon down field.
The harshest of Weeden critics could even make a case that the TD throw to Gordon was an under throw – some indicator of Weeden’s deep ball inaccuracy. However, what I have realized is that Weeden works best with minimal footwork. If he is set and his weight is not shifting dramatically in a given direction, his passes are mostly accurate.
As for some other young players who are still developing, I will yet again state that Greg Little can be a Pro Bowl player in a more creative offensive scheme.
On this particular play, we know exactly what the play call will be given the situation – and it takes a player with Little’s unique skills to make it work.
And let’s not forget about another dynamic down field block from Little – this time on Mohamed Massaquoi’s long reception.
Later, as the game began to truly define itself, here’s where the narrative grows richer.
First, Richardson turns another 4th and 2 check down into gold.
And then on what proved to be the “game defining drive”, Shurmur took what he learned against the Colts and finally, stubbornly makes the following realization that he is coaching for his job.
And just to be perfectly clear about his intentions and/or to get it on the record, Shurmur later affirmed his decision.
“I had every intention to go for it in that situation.”
Yes you did, Pat. You did a nice job there.
Nope. Not today. I will give Shurmur the credit he deserves. In fact, I will even take it a step further by addressing the idea that all of those previous Travis Benjamin fake reverses – all 613 of them – finally sort of, kind of paid off on Richardson’s game-sealing TD run.
Only because the Browns won, I feel that the following questions need to be addressed regarding this situation:
1. First, will Travis Benjamin actually ever get the ball on one of these reverses?
This question leads to the following:
1. Is this a really sad version of “Metcalf Up the Middle” or just some Post Modern diversionary tactic straight out of 1992 that just looks ironically hip?
2. Also, it is okay to laugh at Benjamin considering he has to confront his family after games and tell them how he contributed to a Browns’ victory?
3. Do you think the Browns’ coaching staff spends extra time just thinking of ways to screw with Benjamin – and then they laugh for several minutes at a time?
4. And then one day Benjamin just breaks down in tears – a not whimsical and kind of soul-emptying version of Charlie Brown getting fooled one too many times.
5. Should I call Travis Benjamin the “Saddest Man on the Planet?”
Anyway, a few final thoughts:
1. I have a tendency to first defend Browns’ players when they are attacked by the majority of fans – then I seem to fight back against the original backlash and find a more distinct path of criticism. Frostee Rucker is a great example. When Rucker was signed by the Browns this past offseason, most fans were disappointed – probably because he wasn’t a marquee name. However, I suggested way back that Rucker could be a key addition to bolster the Browns’ run defense. Yet, after so many games, I don’t really see it. If anything, Rucker has been a better pass rusher – yet in the Oakland game, rookie Billy Winn spotted Rucker on some early downs before giving way to Juqua Parker on Third Down.
2. The bigger points here are that I’m not sure what Rucker’s strengths are. He’s somehow become a sort of “tweener” type of player – which appears to be a role that Billy Winn is better suited to play. Regarding Winn, I’m not sure the Browns could have received more “value” in a late-round draft choice (whatever that is supposed to mean). Winn outplayed his draft status by mid-September and looks to be a vital role of the Browns’ defensive line rotation.
3. Speaking of the defensive line, which of the following scenarios is more likely:
a) Phil Taylor both plays the entirety of the regular season AND is as effective throughout as he has been over the past few weeks?
b) Phil Taylor just needs an eight-game break every season.
4. Referring back to my tendencies in #1, I’m thrilled that Sheldon Brown has continued to make key plays for the Browns. Basically, I’m a huge fan of any player who gets trashed by a trio that includes Browns’ fans, coaches and media. This is why I’m a die hard Sheldon Brown fan, along with Josh Cribbs, Josh Gordon and most other highly visible targets. Of course, it’s worth stating that Brown can be masterful when defending in tight windows of coverage.
5. Because of the glow of the moment, I’ll refrain from any talk about damaged opponents or leveraged future draft slots. These current Browns are probably the most likable group of players to emerge from the expansion era. They are talented, play hard and deserve another win.
Much more later in the week. Leave your thoughts in the COMMENTS below.