Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.
Brandon Weeden, QB - Browns
Weeden must've been a horrible person in a previous life. Either that or he suffers from the same affliction to affect just about every other quarterback to come through Cleveland since the city was awarded an expansion franchise back in 1999.
Wherever the strange truth lies, Weeden, like so many before him, doesn't appear to be the long-term answer for the Browns. And also like so many before him, it's not entirely his fault.
He was drafted in the first round by the previous regime, a group that wanted to trade up for Robert Griffin III but were outmaneuvered by the Redskins. New owner Jimmy Haslam cleaned house in January. And after a promising preseason, the new front office and coaching staff rolled with Weeden to start the season. Then the most Browns thing ever happened: Once the games counted, Weeden looked inconsistent at best, awful at worst.
One example of that inconsistency showed itself late in the third quarter of Sunday's loss in Baltimore. Facing a 2nd-and-7 from the Cleveland 37-yard line, with the Browns tailing 7-6, running back Chris Ogbonnaya ran a wheel route down the left sidelines and, because of a blown coverage, found himself wide open. Weeden, well protected in the pocket, overthrew Ogbonnaya for what could have been a huge gain, and the possible go-ahead touchdown.
This is a microcosm of Weeden's short tenure in Cleveland.
Browns react to horrible Weeden pass/realize again that they're Browns. pic.twitter.com/Prvfu9TyeI— DJ Gallo (@DJGalloESPN) September 15, 2013
Of course, it didn't help that he was without his top receiver in Josh Gordon, or that a usually steady offensive line has been a sieve of late. Meanwhile, Weeden, who suffered a thumb injury in the game, will almost certainly be sidelined when the team faces the Vikings in Week 3. And no matter what happens over the next 14 weeks, the organization will almost certainly be in the market for their next franchise quarterback this offseason.
No QB has faced as much pressure so far as Brandon Weeden (48.5%). 2nd most for Jake Locker (47.4%) & 3rd for Russell Wilson (44.4%)— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 17, 2013
The wheels of change were probably set into motion some time ago, but according to MMQB.com's Peter King, Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer was in College Station last Saturday to get a first-hand look at Johnny Manziel.
This isn't some grand revelation; plenty of scouts were in attendance because plenty of NFL teams need quarterbacks. And it's an easy argument to make: The Browns' top offseason priority will likely be finding Weeden's replacement. Given that teams are looking for young, mobile, strong-armed quarterbacks, and that Cleveland whiffed on RG3 in 2012, Manziel makes too much sense to pass up.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who beat Texas A&M and Manziel last Saturday but emerged from game looking like Walter White after rolling a barrel full of money across the desert, had this to say about the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
“I think Johnny's a unique player. Many people have said about these guys, like [Robert Griffin III], that they're not really NFL-style quarterbacks. But yet they're all doing pretty well in the NFL," he said, via MMQB.com's Greg Bedard. “I think when somebody's as instinctive as [Manziel] is, and as fast as he is, and as athletic as he is, and he's developing into a pretty good passer -- I mean last year he really developed as a passer -- I do think he has an NFL future.”
A lot has to happen for the Browns and Manziel to end up together, but from the perspective mid-September, the Manziel bandwagon has a waiting list. On Sunday night, NBC Sports' Rodney Harrison all but professed his undying love for the A&M QB.
"He's a high first-round pick," Harrison said. "He's a top-five pick … no question about it."
And all the off-field baggage that made for plenty of offseason headlines? Harrison's unconcerned.
"He's also a young college kid, he's made some mistakes, I think he will learn from this," he said. "He'll come back and he'll get better. He'll mature over the next couple years, maybe he comes out next year maybe he doesn't, but I think if you have an opportunity to draft him, he is such a special player and so rare to come by, you have to draft him. ...
"I like the new trend in quarterbacks," Harrison continued. "Peyton Manning talks about there's always going to be a place for a (pocket-passer) but when you're playing defense and you're trying to game plan, no one ever accounts for the quarterback. That's why it's so difficult to stop the read option."
One AFC assistant director of college scouting told Bedard that he was initially turned off by the quarterback's offseason troubles, but -- and there always seems to be a but with Manziel -- "[W]hen you separate it and you think about it -- I did some stupid stuff when I was his age -- he's just being a kid. He just happens to play for a high-profile team at the most high-profile position. He just makes plays. He has that knack, that natural feel to just make plays. I'm impressed with the guy. He doesn't flinch, he's not intimidated. There's no moment that seems too big for him.”
Put it this way: If you're a Browns fan would you rather have a squeaky-clean Brandon Weeden or Johnny Freaking Football?
The torch-and-pitchfork crowd is mobilizing in Pittsburgh and Public Enemy No. 1 is offensive coordinator Todd Haley. He's the target of the lazy and incurious but an easy patsy nonetheless for an offense that has mustered just 19 points in two games and looks completely lost despite having one of the league's best quarterbacks.
And while Haley isn't without his warts, we'll echo again what we wrote last week: He's not this unit's biggest problem. You could have Sid Gillman drawing up plays and the results would be the same: One of the worst running games you've ever seen, wide receivers that struggle to get open, an offensive line that can't block and an unimaginable number of three-and-outs.
All of that was on display Monday night in Cincinnati. It's the first time since coach Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007 that the team has been two games under .500, and right now there's no reason to think this group can win eight games, much less qualify for the postseason.
But for all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over Haley's play-calling, the reality is that Roethlisberger played like crap against the Bengals. Via ESPN's Stats & Information:
* Big Ben struggled on passes that traveled 15 or more yards downfield vs. Cincinnati, completing 4-15 attempts (26.7%). Of his 11 incompletions on such throws, 9 were the result of overthrows. Monday was the first time Roethlisberger has had 9 overthrows on passes of any length in a game since 2006.
(Worth noting: In 2006, Roethlisberger was just months removed from a motorcycle crash that almost killed him.)
* Big Ben is now 1-6 for 34 yards on passes traveling 15+ yards downfield. Last season he completed 40 percent of such throws.
So, again, how is this Haley's fault?
One argument is that Ben has more success when he's in no-huddle gunslingin' mode, as was evident on the Steelers' lone touchdown drive Monday night. There's something to be said for this if for no other reason than we don't have to sit there and watch the Steelers -- either by Haley's stubbornness or Tomlin's decree -- try to establish a nonexistent running game.
ESPN analyst and former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis offered up a plan Tuesday to fix this mess.
"They have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas in order for them to become a playoff team," Bettis said on SportsCenter. "If I was Mike Tomlin, the first thing I would do was address the offense. And I'd blow up the offense. I'd say, Here's what's going to happen, guys. I'm going to go with this no-huddle offense because I want to do two things:
1. I want to keep the ball in the best player's hands. And that's Ben Roethlisberger. I want to give him every opportunity to win the football game. Because I can win and lose, and that's fine, as long as my best player is deciding the outcome of the game.
2. Slow down that pass rush."
Hell, it's worth a try.
If you're looking for a silver lining, here you go: You've no doubt heard the statistics for teams that start 0-2. Since 1990, fewer than 12 percent have made the playoffs, and in the last three seasons that number dwindles to zero. But the last four times the Steelers lost two straight to open the season they've won at least nine games and made the playoffs on three occasions.
It's not much but it's something. Which, at this point, is more than we can say about the offense.
After missing 116 tackles last year, this unit is on pace to miss 240 tackles in 2013, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The nadir came with just over 10 minutes to go in the third quarter and the Redskins down 24-0. Aaron Rodgers found tight end Jermichael Finley on an underneath route and Finley proceeded juke, tread and truck every helpless Redskins' defender that got in his way. It was quite possibly one of saddest spectacles we've ever seen on a football field (via FanSided.com):
And it wasn't just the pass defense, which allowed Rodgers to throw for 480 yards and 4 touchdowns. The run defense watched as James Starks rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries (6.6 YPC), the first Packers running back to break the century mark in 45 games.
"Look, their defense in Washington doesn't even exist," ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Mike Ditka said Monday, via the Sports Bog. "They didn't even show up in the first half of that game. I mean, they were horrible. Horrible."
Week 2 UPDATE: The offense of the team playing Washington has revolutionized the NFL forever.— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) September 15, 2013
In related news, the word "horrible" is offended to be compared to the Redskins' defense.
You can talk about the play, the critical moment at the end of Sunday's game against the Bills when the Panthers' secondary decided to take "zero coverage" literally, and they all watched rookie quarterback EJ Manuel arm-punt the winning touchdown pass to a "HOW DID HE GET THAT WIDE OPEN?!" Stevie Johnson.
But the Panthers' issues are bigger than one play. As Eye on Football's Will Brinson pointed out in Sorting the Sunday Pile, "[This team] under Ron Rivera are now 2-14 in one-score games. At a certain point it stops being about 'bad luck' and 'unfortunate circumstances' and begins to be about 'not being able to close out games,' right?"
Consider this sobering stat, courtesy of the Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler: The latest demoralizing loss made for the 10th time in Rivera's 34 games as coach that the Panthers have blown a fourth-quarter lead. That's tied for most in the league since 2011.
"About as bad as it gets," Rivera said of the latest loss, per the team's web site. "We had an opportunity to win the game, an opportunity to close it out, and we didn't do it."
We suspect it can get worse for Rivera, who is making a strong case to be the first coach fired in 2013.