BEREA: Fans who want the Browns to give backup quarterback Colt McCoy control of the offense after starter Brandon Weeden had a nightmarish NFL debut Sunday won’t have their wishes granted anytime soon if coach Pat Shurmur has his way.
Some of them were heard yelling in support of McCoy at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Others used email and social media to present their arguments. Cleveland sports talk radio further pushed the idea of a potential quarterback controversy.
Shurmur, though, did his best to serve as the voice of reason when asked during a news conference Monday to deliver a message to fans.
“Clamoring for Colt?” Shurmur said. “Brandon Weeden is our starter, and he’s going to get better. That’s what I’m going to tell them.”
Weeden completed just 12-of-35 passes for 118 yards with four interceptions and finished with a dismal passer rating of 5.1 in the Browns’ 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The ineptitude of Weeden and the offense wasted a stellar defensive effort highlighted by five takeaways.
Still, Shurmur believes Weeden will rebound Sunday when the Browns (0-1) visit the Cincinnati Bengals.
“He won’t lose his confidence,” Shurmur said.
Tight end Alex Smith echoed Shurmur’s sentiment.
“It’s only one game,” Smith said. “We have 15 more. We’ve all had games where you want to crawl under a rock. It’s all about how you respond. That’s what I’m most excited to see – how he comes back. I expect to see Brandon come out slingin’.”
Weeden will need to correct several mistakes he made against the Eagles. He fumbled twice, but the Browns recovered each time. He didn’t detect wide-open teammates during some crucial plays. And he repeatedly overthrew his targets with what Shurmur described as “high fastballs.”
For example, Weeden overthrew wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in the end zone during the Browns’ first possession, deep along the sideline in the second quarter and long over the middle late in the fourth quarter, allowing safety Kurt Coleman to grab the game-clinching interception. He also overthrew Smith in the end zone late in the third quarter.
“You have to keep your front shoulder down, of course, and step into it,” Shurmur said. “I don’t think there’s anything other than we can work on that. When guys throw high, they let their front shoulder get up and the ball sails.”
Some throws weren’t too long, but they still were poorly placed. In the second and third quarters, Weeden threw deep passes intended for rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin along the sideline. Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off both of them.
“We wanted to take a shot,” Shurmur said. “The ball needs to be thrown in a position where the receiver can get it, and if the ball is thrown in position where the defender’s got a good chance to get it, the ball needs to be defended by the receiver. … I didn’t like where the throw was.”
But Weeden isn’t the only one responsible for the Browns’ 13th season-opening loss since 1999. A handful of his passes were dropped.
During the Browns’ final possession of the first half, fullback Owen Marecic squandered a chance to pick up a first down. On third-and-2 at the Browns’ 26-yard line, a pass slipped through his hands as he ran to the flat.
“That was just poor execution all the way around,” Shurmur said. “We didn’t cut the edge. [Tight end] Ben Watson’s running wide open on the corner route, [the] ball was thrown to the fullback, not a perfect throw but catchable. All in all that was just bad football.”
Wide receiver Greg Little failed to secure a pass thrown right to him on a slant route near the Eagles’ 5. The ball deflected off Little, allowing Coleman to intercept it with 12:11 left in the second quarter.
“When ball hits you in the neck, you’ve got to catch it,” Shurmur said. “End of story. There’s really nothing more to it. There’s no formula for that.”
After the game Sunday, Little conceded it was “just a play that I have to make.”
Shurmur is confident rookie running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, will have a better showing in Week 2 than he did Sunday. Richardson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9 and missed all four preseason games, rushed for only 39 yards on 19 carries (2.1 average).
“I think you’ll see him be a little bit fresher, a little bit sharper in everything he does,” Shurmur said. “The plays that he carries the football as well as some of the things he has to do when he doesn’t, which aren’t always so obvious, I think he’ll be sharper.”
Shurmur seems to think Richardson simply needs to shake off some rust.
“He looked like a guy just [coming] back to me, but he was competing out there,” Shurmur said. “He probably played 10 or 12 plays more than I wanted him to, but he’s doing great today, and he pulled out of it OK.”
The lack of a productive rushing attack falls on the offensive line’s shoulders, too.
“I think we’ve got to get better,” Shurmur said of the team’s run blocking. “We didn’t get to the second level in some areas that I think are important.”
Starting strongside linebacker Scott Fujita will practice this week, Shurmur said. Even though an appeals panel overturned Fujita’s three-game suspension over the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, he was not activated Sunday, partly because he is coming back from an injured left knee that forced him to miss three preseason games.
Undrafted rookie L.J. Fort started in place of Fujita, and Craig Robertson received significant playing time in nickel packages. Each of them had an interception. Fort became the first player to record an interception and a sack in his NFL debut since former Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Kevin Hardy in 1996.
“I thought the young linebackers played well,” Shurmur said. “They showed up both on defense as well as on special teams. … We have to evaluate how we play all our guys, and we’ll just have to see how much Scott can handle.”
Regardless, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could still reissue suspensions for Fujita and the other three players punished in the bounty case.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.