BEREA—Even though Brandon Weeden does not have eye-popping statistics, he is on pace to be in elite company if he performs similarly in the second half of the season.
With half the season to play, Weeden already has two 300-yard passing performances and a near miss in a third. Only Peyton Manning (four in 1998), Cam Newton (three in 2011) and Andrew Luck (three in 2012) are the only rookies in NFL history to throw for 300-yards three or more times in a single-season. Weeden threw for 322 yards at Cincinnati and 320 yards in the first meeting with the Ravens. He had 291 yards passing in the loss to the Giants.
The record in Browns' history, overall, for 300-yard passing games is held by Brian Sipe, who had six in 1980 and four in 1983.
Weeden says he's getting more and more comfortable with each passing week.
"Yeah, the game is slowing down a little bit for me, but I'm also understanding what we're doing offensively which helps," he said. "That helps you process it, you know where to go with the football, you know where your progressions are, you know where your check downs are and all those things. Just getting comfortable with the offense is probably helping me slow the game down more than anything."
The Ravens haven't been the defensive juggernaut of the past thus far in 2012. They are currently ranked 28th, overall, on defense (30th against the rush and 24th against the pass). Meanwhile, the Browns are 19th in passing.
It's obvious the NFL is a passing league, as evidenced by the numbers being put up by quarterbacks, and young quarterbacks in recent history.
Weeden's 1,912 passing yards are the third-most by an NFL rookie through the first eight games of a season in league history. Cam Newton threw for 2,393 yards in 2011, while Andrew Luck has 1,971 this year. Weeden is second to Russell Wilson (10) in passing touchdowns with nine and is second with completions of 20 or more yards with 27 to Luck, who has 28.
Weeden is currently 15th in the AFC with a 70.8 passer rating. He is 165-of-299 for 1,912 yards (55.2 pct.) with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. However, after a zero touchdown four interception game against the Eagles and a 5.0 QB rating, he has nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Pat Shurmur sees steady improvement in Weeden, but thinks he can still get better.
"I think he can play better," Shurmur said after the win over the Chargers. "I think he battled. We've all said that you evaluate a quarterback though, based on how he leads his team to victory.
Shurmur was most impressed with the decisions Weeden has made recently. He cited taking a sack late in the game last week, rather than risking an interception.
In the first game with the Ravens, the difference was a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by Cary Williams. The Browns lost 23-16 and had a chance to tie the game late, but couldn't overcome the defensive score.
Shurmur was asked what Weeden needs to do in that situation next time and if he feels he's prepared.
"Throw the ball accurately and on time," Shurmur said. "There are certain corners in the league that jump the route and I'm assuming (Weeden) learned from that."
One of the biggest differences, statistically, between 2011 and 2012 is the number of long plays. Weeden has connected on 27 passes of 20 or more yards.
"You have to be able to challenge all parts of the field, really in all down and distance situations," Shurmur said. "If they have to defend a run and a pass all the time, I think it helps you. If you've got a team where you can't stretch the field out, the game gets awful small and it gets awful tight. We've added some players to our roster that can run and then make plays down the field and we have a quarterback that can get the ball there."
Shurmur thinks the Browns young nucleus of play makers will be better as the season goes on.
"I'd like us to be able to be more explosive and more efficient running and passing," Shurmur said. "I think when you have guys, skill players, that have a little bit of a taste of success and they have talent, they've got their health, there's a reason for them to continue to keep pushing. I'm looking for that."
Stephens to IR: DL Emmanuel Stephens suffered a season-ending neck injury against the Chargers and was placed on injured reserve. The Browns haven't filled his roster spot, but there is a good chance the DL Phil Taylor will be activated from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list this week and will make his season debut against the Ravens.
"That's pretty much what will happen." Shurmur said. "If things go well, we'll have Phil back."
Shurmur said Taylor just needs to have a good week of practice to be active for Sunday's game.
Stephens finished the season with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. This is the second-straight season that Stephens finished the season on injured reserve.
"It's unfortunate, but we'll get him back for next year," Shurmur said.
Skrine Honored: DB Buster Skrine is the fourth honorary captain for this week's game. Skrine had the big play to help preserve the win over the Chargers when he batted down a fourth down pass from QB Philip Rivers intended for WR Malcom Floyd.
Moving on Up: Formerly listed as a tight end, Alex Smith is listed as the starting fullback on the team's newly released depth chart for the Ravens game. Smith has five receptions for 30 yards on the season, while Marecic has no catches and four drops. Marecic was inactive for the first time last week and Smith started for the first time at the position.
"I wanted to get Alex back on the field (last week)," Shurmur said. "I wanted to have a defined role for him, because I think he brings some energy to our team."
Smith lined up some at fullback in 2011 and was the recipient of the infamous ‘third-and-one' carry in a game last season in which he fumbled the ball.
"He was coming back from injury and he played that position for us," he said. "He actually showed up very well."
"Offensively, the line is playing pretty good," Shurmur said. "There's always an urgency to run the ball better. I see them playing pretty well together. I think John Greco has gone in there with Pinkston being out and not seeing much difference."
Division Game: After a long drought in the AFC North, the Browns first win of the season was against the Bengals. With a win over the Ravens, the Browns could improve to 2-2 within the division with two games left with the Steelers.
Shurmur was asked how important Sunday's game is for the Browns. Ravens' coach John Harbaugh called the game a ‘must win' for the 5-2 Ravens.
"They've been made well aware of (the importance)," Shurmur said. "The way to win a spot in the post-season is to win your division. They've been made aware of the importance of (this game)."
Patterson and Rubin did not practice while DL Hall Davis was added to the practice squad.