October 2, 2014

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Scott Petrak: New Browns regime should stick with Weeden

I despise snap judgments.

Weeden

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I need at least two trips to the mall before I feel comfortable buying a Christmas present. I’ve never walked out of a movie in the first half-hour.

Today’s world, especially the sports world, is in a constant rush to judgment. We feel a need to grade drafts immediately, rather than wait the two or three years needed for proper perspective. Every week we make a fresh determination if Player X is going to be a Hall of Famer or a bust.

This culture corrupts our thinking. People too quickly form opinions, then stick by them even if the evidence changes. If you decide receiver Greg Little’s a bum, then you must ignore any good he does after the declaration.

With Twitter and talk radio demanding instant opinions, the greatest necessity for making an accurate assessment is pushed to the side: time.

We need multiple games and hundreds of plays to evaluate a player, coach or team. People make adjustments or don’t. They get better and get worse.

One start or two overthrows isn’t a large enough sample size. Yet try telling that to Twitter Nation 90 seconds into a Browns game.

With that off my chest and as a backdrop — and four games left in the season — I’m finally ready to say the Browns should commit to rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, at least for 2013.

New CEO Joe Banner said he would use the second half of the season to fully evaluate Weeden and his future with the team. I believe Weeden is the right guy for the Browns for the next five-to-seven years, and I am positive he deserves at least another season to prove me right.

If the progress doesn’t continue in his second season, I’ll admit it and might change my long-range opinion. But I’ve watched every snap of 12 games and have seen enough positives to say confidently he’s the Browns’ best option at the vital position heading into 2013.

Weeden’s struggles have gotten a lot of attention, particularly the 15 interceptions. He’s also fallen short of draft-classmates Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.

But each circumstance is different. Just because Weeden isn’t having a historic rookie season doesn’t mean he isn’t worth keeping and developing.

The 20-17 win over the Raiders showed me a lot about Weeden and reinforced what I had learned in the first 11 games.

He delivered on target despite taking several big hits as he threw or right after. He bounced back from two interceptions — an overthrow down the seam and an underthrow down the sideline when his arm got hit as he released. He was accurate with passes short, medium and deep. He used cadence to draw three offsides penalties. He led a 94-yard drive that made a statement about the development of the team and turned a nail-biter into a sure win.

“He obviously made progress,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Aside from some of the fundamental things he did as a quarterback, he helped lead us to victory.”

Like the rest of the team, Weeden is 4-3 after an 0-5 start. That shouldn’t be ignored.

Neither should his better decision-making, although it’s still not perfect. He’s also protecting the ball better after early fumbling issues.

Weeden’s pocket presence has been perhaps the most impressive part of his game through 12 weeks. A big question mark coming out of Oklahoma State has developed into a strength.

Against the Raiders, he stood tall in the pocket all day despite repeatedly taking painful licks to his midsection. He’s also shown a feel for the rush and when to step up, scramble or throw it away.

The other huge takeaway from the Oakland game was his improvement in accuracy. Yes, the awful Raiders secondary was further decimated by injuries, but Weeden hasn’t always hit the open receivers. Sunday he did, for a 69 completion percentage, his second-best outing of the year.

After overthrowing tight end Benjamin Watson twice, including his first interception, he put the ball where he wanted the rest of the day. The misses: three balls batted at the line, three throwaways, the interception on which he got hit, a miscommunication with Little and a high throw to Watson when he got hit.

On the final drive, he went 5-for-6 for 70 yards and converted two third downs and a fourth down.

With Weeden, it always comes back to his right arm. He has all the ability to succeed at this level, including arm strength and accuracy. Those skills were on display during the 25-for-36 performance for 364 yards and a 44-yard touchdown to Josh Gordon.

“He had some really good third-down throws, and again I think he made some pretty accurate throws with people in his face,” Shurmur said.

Weeden has the arm, the intelligence, the resilience and the moxie in big moments to be the long-term answer. He needs to cut down on the interceptions, keep improving the accuracy and make even more plays in the fourth quarter.

I would never suggest Banner rush to judgment on such a crucial decision. But I’ve seen enough.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.