By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Last week, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski immediately shut down the idea that he would bench Brandon Weeden and promote Jason Campbell from a backup to starting quarterback, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner said that temptation didn’t exist.
But less than 24 hours after the Browns fell 31-13 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, Chudzinski did not rule out a change at quarterback and acknowledged that there’s a real temptation to demote Weeden in favor of Campbell heading into a road game Sunday against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs.
“We’ll talk as a staff later on this afternoon, and we’ll basically put the guys in positions who will give us the best opportunity to win,” Chudzinski said Monday afternoon during a news conference. “We’re considering it and looking at that.”
Not even an hour after Chudzinski’s news conference ended, Jason La Canfora of CBS reported that the Browns (3-4) will start Weeden against the Chiefs (7-0). But a Browns spokesman later said Chudzinski had yet to make a decision. If Chudzinski chooses Campbell, he would become the 20th starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999.
Drafted 22nd overall last year by the previous regime, Weeden is 0-4 as a starter this season and 5-14 in his career. Weeden helped the Browns rally from a 7-0 deficit and defeat the Buffalo Bills 37-24 on Oct. 3 after Brian Hoyer suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first quarter, but he has turned in back-to-back dismal performances against the Packers and Detroit Lions, who beat the Browns 31-17 on Oct. 13.
Still, Chudzinski said he doesn’t sense that the team’s confidence in Weeden is declining, and the players continued to express their support.
“I have confidence in Brandon, 100 percent confidence,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “He’s a tough guy. He’ll hang in there, and whoever they pick will be ready to play. I just have confidence in whoever they choose, and I’m backing whatever their decision is.
“I think like we’ve always been handling things — we come close together. We kind of trust where this organization is going, and we’re resilient and we just keep fighting.”
Campbell is 31-40 as a starter, but he hasn’t been in that role on a full-time basis since 2011, when he began the season 3-2 with the Oakland Raiders and suffered a season-ending broken collarbone against the Browns in Week 6. Campbell, 31, has appeared in one game this season, completing 1-of-4 passes for 6 yards, an underhanded toss on fourth-and-10, after Weeden, 30, suffered a sprained right thumb Sept. 15 during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens. The injury opened the door for Hoyer, 28, to lead the Browns to consecutive wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals before he was hurt.
No matter what Chudzinski decides, the Browns believe they’re equipped to handle it well in the midst of a two-game losing streak. After all, they won three in a row after trading running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, a move most fans considered a sign the organization was tanking this season.
“We’ll just keep moving forward,” said inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the defense’s captain. “We dealt with the Trent situation. We handled that perfectly. That’s kind of groomed us for anything that’s going to happen. I think we’ll be fine whichever direction [Chudzinski] wants to go or decides to go. I’ll let him deal with that.”
It’s not difficult to construct a strong argument in favor of benching Weeden. He often hangs onto the ball for too long, doesn’t consistently read defenses well and makes poor decisions under duress.
Weeden has completed 103-of-195 passes for 1,154 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions. His passer rating of 66.5 is ranked 30th in the NFL. He’s 32nd in completion percentage (52.8 percent) and yards per pass (5.92). He’s 24th with 3.1 percent of his attempts resulting in interceptions. He has absorbed 21 sacks for minus-146 yards.
So why would Chudzinski stick with him?
“I think that it’s not all Brandon, and that’s the first thing you have to look at,” Chudzinski said. “You look at the tape and see there were some execution errors and issues with other guys, and he needs to play better. But we all need to play better around him, so we’ll go through that process, talking about that and come up with the plan that gives us the best chance to win.”
Weeden completed just 17-of-42 passes (40.5 percent) for 149 yards and a touchdown with an interception, posting a passer rating of 48.6 against the Packers. He threw two interceptions against the Lions, one on a backhanded, shovel pass in the fourth quarter, and he followed the debacle with another underhanded pass in the fourth quarter Sunday.
“He might have made a couple plays that shouldn’t have been thrown, but who says everything is going to be perfect?” running back Willis McGahee said. “I had some runs in the game that I could’ve took backside, and I didn’t take it. It’s hard. It’s hard for a quarterback to come out and be perfect especially with the history he’s had here. It’s even harder with everybody on him.”
Jackson conceded that he thought Weeden was shaken by rampant criticism.
“Anybody would [be],” Jackson said. “I’d by lying if I said he wasn’t. I’m pretty sure he is. You try to block out the noise and can’t avoid it. It comes with the territory. It comes with being in this league. It’s a big-boy league. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. People are going to love him when he plays well and people are going to try to run him out of Cleveland if he doesn’t, and that goes for all of us. But it comes with the territory, especially playing in Cleveland.”
In Campbell’s last two seasons as a full-time starter, he went 11-7. In his nine-year career, he has thrown 76 touchdowns and 52 interceptions and posted a passer rating of 82.4.
“He can play,” said outside linebacker Quentin Groves, who became familiar with Campbell when they were members of the Raiders. “He provides a bit of mobility, of course, a lot of leadership, a lot of veteran maturity ’cause he’s been in certain situations, he’s been a quarterback that has been on streaks. He’s been a starting quarterback in this league, so he knows what to expect. I think he should do fine.”
The Browns, though, already passed on Campbell when Chudzinski elevated Hoyer from third on the depth chart to start against the Vikings in Week 3. But perhaps another quarterback change could provide another spark.
“That’s possible,” Jackson said. “There’s a reason why Brandon is in the position that he is because they feel he’s the best guy for the job. Then again, you never know. We had a third-string quarterback go into Minnesota, and we had a heck of a game. Anything can happen.”
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 www.facebook.com/browns.abj.