BEREA – The Browns turned 0-1 into 0-5 last year, 0-3 in 2010, 0-4 in 2009 and 0-3 in 2008.
Since 2005, the only times an opening loss became a winning record were during the 10-6 season of 2007 and at 2-1 in 2011.
No wonder some fans are in a rush to forecast road losses to Baltimore and Minnesota in the next two weeks, run quarterback Brandon Weeden out of town and overhaul the roster after a 23-10 opening loss Sunday to Miami.
The 28 players that are holdovers from last year have also experienced the avalanche of defeats and could be susceptible to thinking “same old, same old.”
“This is a new time and a new team,” rookie coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday. “Anything else is just noise out there. Guys have to focus on what we’re trying to get done and what we’re doing right now, and we’ll get better.”
As is usually the case, the quarterback has taken the brunt of the public abuse. The criticisms of Weeden mentioned on airwaves, online and in print include slow eyes, poor pocket presence, too much velocity on his passes and bad decision-making.
Chudzinski was asked if the game moves too fast for Weeden, who’s one game into a make-or-break second season.
“The protection issues were there,” he said. “I thought Brandon had some ups and downs. I know there are some throws and some reads he’d like to have back.
“I think the one thing you saw yesterday — and I talk about resiliency — you saw his resiliency and toughness. If anybody had questions about that prior to this game, you look at the game and he’s pretty tough and kept bouncing back and coming back.”
Weeden had little choice but to get back up because he was knocked down so often. He was sacked six times and hit 10 more.
According to profootballfocus.com, right guard Oniel Cousins, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and left guard John Greco were the three lowest-graded performers on the Browns. The website’s study showed Weeden didn’t handle the lack of protection well, going 5-for-24 for 76 yards, two interceptions and a 5.6 rating when pressured.
Weeden was in pain during the game and spent a lot of time afterward with trainers, likely looking at a sore right shoulder that bothered Weeden after it was wrenched during a strip-sack by 280-pound defensive tackle Derrick Shelby. Tight end Gary Barnidge was supposed to help Schwartz block end Cameron Wake but went directly into a pattern instead.
“He’s fine,” Chudzinski said of Weeden. “He might have a few bruises.”
Weeden went 26-for-53 for 289 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a 48.4 rating. Chudzinski acknowledged Weeden should take something off his fastball on shorter throws, but spread the blame for the sloppy offensive performance to the protection and receivers, who dropped four passes.
“We had some penalties in some critical times, we had some mental mistakes and some communication issues that hurt us out there at times as well,” Chudzinski said. “Third down is something that we need to focus on and get better at. Pass protection needs to improve. We have to have a sense of making the plays at the critical times that are either going to extend our drives offensively or stop drives.”
The Browns were 1-for-14 on third down, with 11 of the chances third-and-8 or longer. Veteran receiver Davone Bess, who caught the only conversion, prides himself on moving the chains and was upset with the results.
“A lot of SINS, self-inflicted negatives,” he said. “A lot of times when you’re backed against the wall you need to be able to execute from assignment and alignment standpoint. If you don’t do that, you’re killing yourself before the play even starts.”
Bess praised Weeden’s toughness and said he did a solid job in the game operation and getting everyone lined up properly. He said Weeden shouldn’t be the focal point of the frustration.
“It’s everybody,” Bess said. “Whether it’s protection or us catching the ball. It’s everybody, collectively, and I think the faster we come to grips with that and understand that it’s not an individual guy, we’ll be in good shape.”
After an inconsistent and inefficient rookie season, Weeden was given this year to show the new front office whether he has what it takes to be the long-term solution at the game’s most critical position. A disappointing opener where so much around him went wrong isn’t nearly enough for Chudzinski to pull the plug on the plan.
“I don’t look at it as a leash,” he said. “These guys are developing players and they’re learning how to play and how to play in this system and I expect us to keep getting better and improve.”
Weeden supporters can point to a series of circumstances for his struggles, while his detractors shift the focus to his 5-11 record, 20 interceptions in 16 games and inability to elevate the performance of those around him.
“Well, I think that happens naturally as a guy gets better and better and more experienced,” Chudzinski said.
Is Weeden capable of that?
“Yeah, I think he’s improved and he’s showed that to this point, and ultimately it has to happen out on the field in the performance and us as a whole,” Chudzinski said. “We all have to be good around the quarterback. That’s the key as well to success.”
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