For the next eight games (at least), Brandon Weeden is the new starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Thanks to Tony Romo's fractured clavicle (courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles pass rush) Dallas will have to adjust its offense to a new quarterback. But just what kind of quarterback is Weeden?
During the Eagles game Weeden came off the bench, apparently without warming up and to the obvious consternation of Troy Aikman. He proceeded to complete seven passes in a row for 73 yards and a TD, which was somehow not a perfect passer rating, despite a 100% completion rate, over 10 yards per attempt, and an infinite TD/INT ratio. Somehow, I suspect Weeden's 20 mins of play will not project into a series of 21/21, 215 yd, 3 TD, 0 INT games. Are there clues behind his performance that tell us what we might expect him to do?
Weeden goes with his first read, Cole Beasley, who is coming open on a slant to the blue circle with nice leverage on the CB guarding him. A Philadelphia LB (Red Circle) sees what is happening and breaks on the play, but is too far away to stop it, though he does tackle Beasley almost immediately. Not, however, before Beasley makes a first down.
Sorry for the clutter on this one, but there's a bit going on. Weeden first looks to the middle of the field, where no one is. If you backtrack from the yellow "x" you can see Beasley being jammed hard. I think that was Weeden's first read. Weeden then looks toward Terrance Williams, who is running a curl at the bottom of the picture, near the number "40". Weeden elects not to take the contested throw, but his staring at this side of the field has attracted the attention of Philadelphia's "mike" LB, who follows the red line along Weeden's gaze. This is where Tony Romo would've been "looking off" his man to free Jason Witten up for a nice deep completion to the post (blue circle) and Witten does indeed come open there, but Weeden has thrown the checkdown to Lance Dunbar (dashed blue line) and led the LB right to him by looking to that side of the field exclusively. Dunbar is stopped for little gain and the Cowboys punt.
This is a bubble screen to Beasley for a first down. There is no read here, as it's a designed play. I pause only to show you Gavin Escobar (blue circle) swallowing the poor DB assigned to him.
I think this is also a designed play. Weeden never looks anywhere but Gavin Escobar (blue line to blue circle) coming across the middle. The rub caused by Witten's simultaneous cross forces Byron Maxwell (red line) to go way out of his way, leaving Escobar uncontested. For whatever reason, however, Weeden hesitates.
In the end zone shot of the same play, we can see Escobar is already expecting the ball, while Weeden is still deciding. Perhaps he is thinking that Witten (coming the opposite way) might be open deeper, but a safety awaits there and makes that a no-go. The throw is late and behind Escobar, which allows Maxwell to catch him and strip the ball as Escobar is turning upfield and trying to secure it. Had the ball been delivered on time, I'm fairly sure that Maxwell would not have caught up to Escobar until later, when the ball would be secure and Escobar heading upfield (which he does at a surprisingly fast rate).
Again Weeden knows where he's going from the snap. Witten is running a comeback underneath the two WRs running verticals with man coverage. Weeden expects Witten to win and get about half the long yardage needed on this second down after a penalty. Weeden is correct in all of this but it's a shame he didn't get to see how badly Cole Beasley was going to bet his man (bottom of the picture at the 26 yd line running an out).
This was a near-useless dump to Dunbar, who was immediately tackled. It's mostly caused by a breakdown on the offensive right (red circle) giving guys a free run at Weeden. He needed to get the ball out, and there was always the chance that the LB might miss.
It Only Takes One
There have been several plays where Weeden had his mind made up before the snap. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as shown here. Before the snap, Weeden knew two things: 1) Byron Maxwell was in soft coverage because 2) the Eagles were in cover zero. See that giant blue circle? That's Weeden's target area. To his credit, he's considerably more accurate than he needs to be and hits Terrence Williams in stride. Maxwell makes a half-hearted effort and no other defender has a prayer of getting to him. That's six.
Brandon Weeden has always had the physical tools. The question has always been his ability to make the right read and the right throw. A review of the film shows this as still a work in progress, but there is, indeed, progress. If Weeden can beat the blitz a few times like he did with Terrence Williams last Sunday, Dallas has a good chance of winning a few while Romo is away.