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In Praise Of Brandon Weeden

It is going to warp some minds, but the often-derided backup is one player who has indeed stepped up when his team needed him to.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Things have not gone very well for the Dallas Cowboys since Tony Romo was injured. After the 2-0 record with him as the starter, they have lost the next two games with Brandon Weeden as the quarterback. Most fans and pundits predicted that the team was in very deep, umm, stuff if Romo was out for any appreciable time. And the level of confidence in Weeden required milliliter graduations to measure. As might be expected, there are questions being asked about replacing Weeden with Kellen Moore or Matt Cassel. Many assume it is just a matter of time.

As a counter-argument to Weeden's benching I would offer the following. A 91-yard clutch drive for a touchdown to tie the game against the New Orleans Saints, accomplished solely through Weeden's arm. A 67-yard strike to Brice Butler, thrown to the left side of the field where Weeden supposedly never throws. A loss attributed to, say, Sean Lee leaving in the first half and losing Lance Dunbar on the opening kickoff of the second half, instead of anything Weeden did in the game.

Weeden was one of the players who raised the performance of the team as a whole. He made noticeable strides from his play in the Atlanta Falcons game, where he was hardly bad, just limited in what he was doing with the ball. Now, perhaps because he is more comfortable as the starter, or because the coaching staff is gaining confidence in him and opening up the playbook, he is looking more and more like a complete quarterback. Oh, he is never going to be Romo. Weeden is much less mobile and will never be able to make all the throws Romo can, but he is rapidly disproving the idea that he is not an NFL level quarterback. If he had gotten better support from an offensive line that was not what we have come to expect in the running game (again) or one or two more stops from a defense that faded badly (again), his play was good enough for a win against the Saints. One thing he has in common with Romo is that he carries the L for a game he played in, but deserves none of the blame.

While the team waits eagerly for Romo to come back on November 22nd, here is something that may be jarring and even disturbing to many: Weeden represents the best hope Dallas has of getting a few wins to help the cause until then. When you look at the many - the far too many - examples of backups having to step in and perform, he has done probably the best job of anyone. He has come closer to effectively replacing the production of the fallen starter. Rabblerousr looked at his stats in his most recent "by the numbers" post, and they speak for themselves.

108.8: Brandon Weeden's quarterback rating on the year. In the two and a half games he's played thus far, Weeden is 38-52 for 478 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. At present, he's ranked sixth in the NFL in passer rating. He's also first in the league in completion percentage, with a 76.3% rate, and sits at third in the league in yards per pass attempt, with a nice 9.34 average. To put this into perspective, Romo's career high YPA is 8.6, in 2006 (his 2014 YPA was 8.5).

Compare these numbers to the other backup quarterbacks who have been pressed into service in 2015: Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Clausen, and Matt Hasselback; Weeden has the highest completion %, highest yards per attempt, and most yards. Of those, only Hasselbeck has eked out a victory in 2014, and that was a three-pointer needing two missed field goals. Heck, Weeden compares favorably to the other NFC East signal callers; he leads the division in completion percentage, yards per attempt, QB rating and longest pass (tied with Eli Manning with a 67-yarder). Yes, he's last in yards per game, but his overall efficiency is good enough to win with in my book, if the rest of the team is contributing strong play.

And Rabs is not the only one who sees this. Bob Sturm, who is probably among the one or two best Cowboys observers and analysts out there, also focused on his performance in his weekly "Decoding Linehan" look at the offense.

Even without #9, #29, and #88 from last season, through 4 games, the Cowboys offense has fallen from elite, but right to league average.  Don't confuse that with what your mind might be telling you.  They are not "well below" average.  They are not an awful offense right now.  They are an average one.

That distinction would be reserved for San Francisco right now.  The 49ers have 48 points this season in 4 games.  Jacksonville, Miami, Detroit, and Chicago are all awful offenses right now, and all 5 of those teams have had their Quarterbacks for most or all of the action (Jay Cutler missed a start).

The Cowboys have played more with Brandon Weeden than Tony Romo and still remain right at league average in nearly every single category.  In other words, whether it pleases the eye test or not, don't confuse what they are throwing out right now with an offense with awful.   The pieces that remain behind say that in most categories, they rank about 16th - the middle point of the NFL.

Consider this for a moment. The Cowboys, with Weeden on the field for longer than Romo has been this year, are better offensively than roughly half the teams in the NFL. If you are going to fall into the trap of attributing the bulk or even all the responsibility for a team's success to the quarterback, you can't blame Weeden for a situation where half the quarterbacks in the league are not doing as well as he is from the perspective of offensive production. Yes, things have gotten off to a rough start, but that has more to do with all the names not on the field by the end of the Saints game. Weeden did his part, and he did it well.

Now, the tide may finally turn. If you haven't heard, a couple of guys named Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain are due to show up in practice this week. The team is also optimistic that Lee will clear the concussion protocol by Sunday. They should provide a significant boost to the defense. Meanwhile, the offensive line still needs to get things together. The running back committee is going to look very different with Christine Michael stepping into the hole, if not the role, left by Dunbar's departure for IR. It would also be helpful if Joseph Randle would not keep free-lancing on dives from the one yard line and getting himself put in the coaches' doghouse. The running game is where the offense needs dramatic improvement.

But Weeden is one player the team should be able to depend on. Hopefully he will continue to improve, although it is unrealistic to expect him to show as much expansion of his game as he managed between his last two starts. And we all know that the New England Patriots are coming to town. Most are marking this one in the loss column for Dallas - but strange things happen weekly in the NFL.

Then the next week is the bye. On the other side is the second game against the New York Giants - and maybe Randy Gregory and even Dez Bryant back in the lineup. If Weeden continues his level of play, which makes him arguably the best #2 quarterback in the league, things may be looking up.

And thus concludes an article you probably never dreamed you would be reading here.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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