BEREA: A connoisseur of self-deprecating humor, Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden often jokes about how he gave up way too many home runs as a pitcher in the minor leagues.
Now he’s having trouble with another type of long ball.
Through three games, Weeden has yet to earn a completion of more than 27 yards. He knows taking shots and capitalizing on them will be vital for the Browns (0-3) when they visit the Baltimore Ravens (2-1) Thursday night.
“We’ve got to hit one,” Weeden said Tuesday after practice. “For defenses, that’s a backbreaker. If you’re able to hit those deep balls, it’s tough on defenses. We’re close. We’re getting closer. We’ll get one. It’s just crazy that we’re having to talk about it because usually that’s one thing I’ve never really had to answer because I’ve been pretty consistent with those. It happens and hopefully we can connect with one this week.”
Weeden missed three chances for big completions Sunday in the Browns’ 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He needed to put a little more air under deep throws to wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin. He led tight end Jordan Cameron a smidgen too much on another long try.
“When you get opportunities to throw the ball down the field, we’ve got to hit on them,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “It’s a combination of things between the receiver and the quarterback. I would say it’s safe to say that we’re taking more of those shots this year than we did last year. Now we’ve got to hit on them better. You only get a couple of them a game and the ones you get, you’ve got to hit on them.”
If there’s one obvious way the Ravens can be exploited, it’s through the air. Their defense is ranked 28th against the pass (289.7 yards allowed per game).
On the other hand, the Ravens’ secondary still features one of the most dangerous defensive backs in the history of the NFL — free safety Ed Reed. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Reed has more interceptions (10), interception return yards (356) and interceptions brought back for touchdowns (three) against the Browns than any other team.
“You’re always aware of where No. 20 is,” Shurmur said. “You just always are. He lurks in the middle of the field. He’s as good a ball hawk as there is in this league. He gets his hands on balls, and when he does that, it can wreck a game for you.”
Although Weeden can’t afford to let Reed seize control of the game, shying away from slinging the ball won’t suffice, either.
“You do that and it’s a recipe for disaster,” Weeden said. “If you see something, you have to rip it. He’s good. I give him a lot of credit. He’s probably the best safety to ever play the game, but you can’t play timid. Whatever play is drawn up, we have to execute it.”
The execution wasn’t good enough against the Bills. After the game, Weeden said he thought he had “a solid day” other than when he threw an interception during the Browns’ final possession. However, he demonstrated his leadership qualities Tuesday by admitting he regretted the post-game comment.
“I thought about it before I even walked out of the [interview] room,” said Weeden, who completed 27-of-43 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in Week 3. “First and foremost, the most important thing is winning the game. I didn’t do enough to win the game, so I didn’t play well enough. I shouldn’t have said I played well. I didn’t play well. It felt comfortable. What I was referring to was I felt comfortable. I felt good. I just didn’t do enough to win the game.”
Now the Browns need Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, to take charge on the field and use his big arm to make big plays like he did at Oklahoma State University. Visiting the Ravens in prime time with only a few days to prepare wouldn’t be easy for any team, let alone a young one like the Browns.
“It’s a tough test,” Weeden said. “We’ve got basically two days to prepare, two-and-a-half, and then we’re playing a football game. It’s not a physically draining week. It’s all mental. You have to really understand what we’re doing offensively. You have to be on your A game and be ready to rock and roll.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.