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Can Brandon Weeden Fix What Went Wrong?

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Does the Cowboys Brandon Weeden have what it takes to be the backup quarterback? Can he do enough to keep the offense running smoothly in case Tony Romo has more trouble with injuries?

Brandon Weeden against the Cardinals.
Brandon Weeden against the Cardinals.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There are at least seven important qualities that help define an NFL quarterback. They are accuracy, execution, poise, leadership, confidence, intelligence, and anticipation. The one that matters most is accuracy. Brandon Weeden had a pretty bad outing against the Arizona Cardinals, and accuracy was one facet of his game that did not work out well. I went back and looked at all the pass plays from that game to examine his real accuracy, or lack of it. I looked at all of Weedens' throws against the Arizona Cardinals and then tried to determine if he really has the skills to back up Tony Romo for the Cowboys.

Although it seems like it, not all the passes that Weeden threw were bad. I have pulled out some examples of the good, the bad and the ugly to illustrate things.  Note that each FIG is numbered with the pass number he threw. For example FIG 8 would be the 8th pass he threw. (The football is inside the green circle in most of the pictures.)

FIRST THE GOOD:

FIG-1

In FIG 1 we see a sample of how well Weeden threw when he was on the move.

FIG-8

In FIG 8 we see that one reason he completed as many passes as he did was because they were mostly short passes.

NOW THE BAD:

FIG-14

FIG 14 is just one example of how poorly he did on slants. He did complete a few of them but most slants were way off target as can be seen again in FIG 5 below.

FIG-5

In FIG 5 we see another example of Weeden struggling with a slant passes.

FIG-13

FIG 13 was typical of his deep throws as they were usually badly over-thrown.

AND FINALLY THE UGLY:

FIG-19

FIG 19 shows what happens when you face excellent corners that know how to play a quarterback that stares down his receivers. This happened on the other interception as well. NFL corners that know how to watch the quarterbacks eyes will have opportunities that you don't see with quarterbacks that can move defenders with their eyes.

FIG-26

FIG 26 shows that same great corner play and again what happens when you stare down the receiver.

This shows every pass he made and my judgement of each.

Complete Incomplete Good Pass Type of Pass Comments
1 Yes Short Right Good pass on the move.
2 Yes Short Right Good pass
3 No Back Sholder Poor anticipation - Threw it too early.
4 Yes Short Right Good Pass
5 No Short Middle Slant thrown behind Bryant
6 N/A Deep Right Hit as he threw
7 Yes Short Middle Good mobility - good throw
8 Yes Short Right Good pass
9 Yes Short Left Had to keep out of Petersons' reach
10 Yes Short Right Seam Route - Good Pass
11 Yes Deep Middle Interference
12 Yes Short Left Good Pass
13 No Deep Right Really bad throw - way over-thrown
14 No Short Right Bad throw - behind Bryant
15 No Short Middle Bad Throw - Poor anticipation
16 Yes Short Middle Good pass
17 Yes Short Middle Good Pass
18 No Short Middle Bad Throw - Poor anticipation.
19 No Short Left Intercepted - Stared down receiver.
20 No Short Right Bad Throw - Not even close.
21 NA Short Left Illegal use of hands by Peterson
22 Yes Short Right Good pass to Harris
23 No Short Left Bad Throw - Behind Dez
24 Yes Short Right Witten for 7 yards - good pass
25 Yes Short Right No Gain.
26 No Medium Right Bad Pass, Stared down Receiver - Intercepted by Cromartie
27 Yes Short Right Good pass to Harris for 11 yards.
28 Yes Short Right Good pass to Williams for 8 yards.
29 No Deep Right Bad pass, Not even close. Way over thrown.
30 No Short Right Heavy Pressure.
31 Yes Short Right Good Pass - good for 24 yards.
32 Yes Short Right Good Pass - good for 10 yards to Witten.
33 No Deep Right Way over thrown, not even close, but Williams was well covered.
34 Yes Short Middle A little high. Good for 12 yards to Bryant.
35 Yes Short Right Good pass. Good for 12 yards to Dunbar.
36 Yes Short Right Back Sholder fade for 3 yards to Bryant for touchdown

It was clear that the game plan was to give Weeden short passes to get him comfortable and have him manage the game, but the running game was not nearly as efficient as usual for this year's team. Perhaps the fact that Weeden did not command the respect that Tony Romo has in getting players in position for the best play led to the game plan not having had the normal calling of both a run and a pass in every huddle.

As pointed out in the comments above, one of the reasons Weeden was intercepted was because he stared down his receivers too often. However, on a good note, he looked calm when in the pocket and showed good mobility.

As can be seen in the table above, he only completed 50 percent of his first 18 passes and while some of them were really poorly thrown, a lot of the misses in the first 18 were not that far off. Of the last 18 passes, he completed 10 and missed on eight. This means of the 36 passes, I have him for 19 of 36 for 53%, with two picks. Of the 17 incomplete passes, he had 12 that I considered really bad passes.

The last pass Weeden threw was a touchdown, but it was too little, and too late.

  • Almost half, (17), of the 36 passes were to the "short right"
  • None of his five deep passes were good throws as they tended to be way over-thrown.
  • Only five were thrown to the left side.
  • Seven were thrown to the middle of the field.

Weeden developed a reputation as an inaccurate quarterback while he was with the Cleveland Browns. It is probably surprising to many to find out that his reputation in college was just the opposite, with him setting several school records. He has some skills, but it is an open question about whether they can translate to the pro game. His numbers at Cleveland argue against that, especially his substandard 55.9 completion percentage. When the Cowboys signed him, many hoped that he would improve when playing with better talent around him. That did not work against the Cardinals.

Were his record and accomplishments in college and his high draft status deceptive, or is there some hope he can still become a viable backup in Dallas? I think we should not give up on Weeden and that part of his struggles may be just a case of failing to get comfortable in the new offensive system in Dallas and needing more work with the starters to get the timing down.

Don't expect to see the Cowboys get too down on his poor performance in the game against the Cardinals since they have a really good defense and we should not expect him to be as good as Tony Romo, not even with a long stretch of playing time. But , as I said before, perhaps we can expect Weeden to get better as he gets more work with the starters. For now, of course, we just have to hope that Tony Romo can stay healthy long enough to only have to ask Weeden to step in once the game is put away early as it was in their previous game.

As far as the question about being accurate enough, he was in college, so perhaps it is prudent to wait a little longer to make that judgment. He was in his first start for the Cowboys, and may have been trying too hard. Of course, there is always a real chance that he will never get much better. The problem, of course, is that Dallas is pretty much stuck with him at this point in the season.

Many teams will sit most if not all starters if they get to the last game and it turns into being meaningless as far seeding goes, and perhaps the next five games will put the Cowboys in that position. It would be good to see him start one more game in this system.

So, what does BTB think of Weedens' chances to become good enough to win enough games to give this team a chance and keep the quarterback chair warm when needed?