Derek Anderson has never been known for his accuracy.
A 50.7 completion percentage at Oregon State is a primary reason he lasted until the sixth round of the NFL Draft. And even in his Pro Bowl season of 2007, his 56.5 completion percentage ranked 28th in the NFL.
Through four games this year, Anderson has managed to take a step backward.
He’s connected on 58 of 117 passes, and the 49.6 percentage ranks 30th in the NFL. When combined with three touchdowns, six interceptions and just 136 passing yards per game, Anderson ranks 31st with a 49.9 rating.
“I don’t really see anything mechanical involved with D.A.,” general manager Phil Savage said last week. “D.A. can throw the football, that’s what we like about him.”
Anderson has made a couple of bad decisions that proved costly, particularly a half-ending interception against Pittsburgh, but a lack of precision has been the bigger problem in Cleveland’s 1-3 start. His throws have been high, low and wide more often than on target.
“He might be pressing a little bit more, trying to go down the field with the ball more than he did last year,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “Last year he took what the defense gave him, and if the defense gave him the checkdown, he took the checkdown.”
Anderson began training camp as the undisputed starter and was off to a good start through the preseason opener. Then came a crushing hit by Giants lineman Osi Umenyiora that forced Anderson to the sideline for the rest of the preseason with a concussion.
His performance hasn’t been the same since, but Crennel said the concussion is no longer an issue.
“I think the missed time has an impact,” he said. “His decision-making is still pretty good, he still commands the huddle. The verbiage involved in the offense, he’s able to get that out.”
Anderson dismissed a variety of reasons for his struggles when questioned by reporters last week.
“I’ve been throwing the ball all right,” he said. “My arm doesn’t hurt me like you think it might. My brain’s running fine.”
Then why is he completing fewer than half of his attempts?
Savage cited “11 or 12 drops” in the first couple of games, and Anderson has been especially errant when pressured.
His worst two throws against the Bengals came with a defender invading his space. A blitzing Bengal blocked his view of wide-open tight end Steve Heiden on a fourth-and-short incompletion, and a rusher at his feet caused a deep pass to Joshua Cribbs to float inside and get intercepted.
“The guy hit me right as I was throwing,” Anderson said. “If I can stay there and get it to the sideline, it’s a pretty good play.”
Anderson was at his best last season when he was well-protected, made quick decisions and threw deep passes that were caught — often acrobatically — by Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius. The protection’s been spotty this year, Edwards and Winslow have been less effective and the 6-foot-5 veteran Jurevicius has been replaced by 5-9 neophyte Syndric Steptoe.
“When Braylon had some struggles the first couple ballgames, D.A.’s strike zone begins to shrink some,” Savage said. “Now he’s trying to throw the perfect ball to Braylon to make sure he’s going to get a catch.
“D.A.’s at his best when he’s kind of in a gunslinger mode, when he can drop back and just let it fly. We’ve encouraged him to try and do that.”
Savage hopes Anderson turned the corner in the second-half rally that beat the Bengals. He finished the game by completing nine of 10 passes after a 4-for-10 start.
“We just got in a rhythm, started making some plays and moving the ball,” Anderson said. “I’ve been watching all the mess-ups. A few of them are forced, a few of them are in tight windows, but you’ve still gotta have confidence, you’ve still gotta make throws you know that you can do.
“You can’t play timid.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.