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October 19, 2013

Fan in the stands: Weeden not the answer at quarterback

MEADVILLE — Due to some onerous business obligations this week I wasn’t able to prepare a report on the Browns-Lions game in a timely manner. As a result of my tardiness I will forego a lengthy rehash of the game itself. If you are a Browns fan you will agree that the less you have to recall the dismal second half of that game the better.

Suffice it to say that the Browns squandered a 17-7 halftime lead, were outscored 24-0 in the second half, and fell to 3-3 on the season with a 31-17 defeat in an abundantly winnable game. While the defense can certainly shoulder a portion of the blame, it was the offense, (or lack thereof), which turned a capacity crowd into an angry and glum mob. The offense ran a total of nine plays in the third quarter, all 3-and-outs. It didn’t get much better from there. Nevertheless, with about five minutes to go the Browns were in a position to score a touchdown to tie the game at 24. They were in good field position and Brandon Weeden had the team moving.

And then it happened. The absolute lowlight of the year, if not the decade. A play so pitiful as to become legendary. It is being dubbed as the worst interception in the history of the NFL. It was first down on the Browns 45 yard line with 4:36 left in the game. Weeden went back to pass but apparently didn’t see the receiver that he wanted. Then he went into panic mode. He started rolling to his left and somehow flipped an underhand, backhand pass about 30 yards out into the flat in the general direction of the Browns fullback. The Lions defender plucked the ball out of the air with the ease of a man catching a roll of toilet paper. And that was the game. Weeden was booed lustily for several minutes, following which the stands were emptied. Weeden himself said afterward that it was a “bone-headed play.” Weeden is now 0-3 this season as the Browns starting QB.

Which brings us to the main topic of this article: the Browns quarterback situation. Brandon Weeden accomplished one thing this past fateful Sunday. It is an absolute given that he will not be the Browns starting quarterback next season. Moreover, I fully believe that the front office has concluded that the quarterback who will lead the Browns into the playoffs is not currently on the roster.

The value of an elite quarterback in the NFL cannot be over emphasized. Gone are the days when you can win a Super Bowl with a Trent Dilfer or a Mark Rypien. The teams that are favored year in and year out are the teams with a Peyton Manning, a Tom Brady, an Aaron Rodgers. If you think I am exaggerating, look at the Colts. The year Peyton Manning was out with injury the Colts suddenly were the worst team in the league, bad enough to get the 1st pick in the draft. It is a passing league and the teams that are going to compete in the playoffs are the teams that have quarterbacks who not only can throw accurately, but who are smart, make quick decisions, see the field, and have sound judgment.

So what is the strategy?

As you well know the Browns are stock-piling draft picks. A large part of the Trent Richardson trade was about getting a franchise quarterback. The conventional thinking is that the Browns are going to target a QB in the upcoming draft (Teddy Bridgewater?) and package their two 1st round draft picks to get into position to draft him. So we would be starting out a “new era” with yet another rookie QB.

There are inherent risks in that approach. First of all, there is generally a learning curve for a rookie quarterback, (although I acknowledge recent history with “instant” success stories such as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck). There is a restless fan base that has seen 19 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. I for one would be loathe to anoint another rookie as next season’s starting QB. Second, picking a quarterback in the draft is a crap shoot. For every Peyton Manning there is a Ryan Leaf; for every Brett Favre there is a Tim Couch. You get the idea.

Here is the brainstorm I came up with driving down I-79 the other day. If you are the Browns front office you target a team that is totally in the dumper, a team with no chance. A team that, by necessity, is going to be in full rebuilding mode. The New York football Giants. They are 0-6 and, if anything, have looked worse than their record indicates. Coach Tom Coughlin may make it through the season, but after that he’s gone. They have an established quarterback in Eli Manning, but at this point the Giants are going to struggle mightily with or without Manning.

Take a run at Eli. He is 32 but he is durable (he has started something like 120 straight games) and he is a proven winner (2 Super Bowls). A 3-time Pro-Bowler and 2-time Super Bowl MVP. He would give the Browns instant credibility as a playoff contender. What establishes the verisimilitude of this off-the-wall notion is this: The Browns have the “assets” that the Giants would most want and need — draft picks. The GM and President of the Browns are not reluctant to pull the trigger on trades. It would make sense for them to think along these lines. It would be a salve on a wounded fan base that is once again anticipating the next big QB experiment.

This may all be a lark, but doesn’t it make sense? If I am prescient we’ll all be singing along with Three Dog Night — “Eli’s Coming!”

Now back to the present. The Browns are on the road this week playing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. A tough place to win a game, but the Packers are pretty banged up. It will be interesting to see how Joe Haden and Buster Skrine fare against Aaron Rodgers and his wideouts, and whether the Front 7 can disrupt Rodgers. If the Browns have a chance it’s going to have to be on the basis of a strong performance by the D. Interesting Fact: The Browns defense has allowed the fewest yards per play of any team in the NFL, yet they are next to last in 3rd down conversions allowed. Hum.

By the way, the game on Sunday is not on local cable. I will be making the trek across the causeway to Andover. You in Gary?

Tough Browns Trivia: First of all, congratulations to last week’s winner, Dale, a huge Browns fan. I still owe you your prize, I haven’t forgotten. Charles White was the last Heisman Trophy winner drafted by the Browns and Ty Detmer was the last Heisman winner to play for the Browns.

This week’s question concerns the two-point conversion, which was first instituted in the NFL in 1994. For you neophytes, like my wife, a two-point conversion is when, after a touchdown, you line up a play from scrimmage instead of kicking an extra point. The Question: What Cleveland Browns player was the first player in the history of the NFL to score on a two-point conversion. It was 1994. Interestingly this player is one of the few in NFL history to be a starting player at two entirely different positions. If you know the answer, call my agent Judson at 383-3075. The winner gets a delectable prize.

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