You hate to boil a football game down to two players, but Sunday’s regular season version of the Great Lakes Classic and its outcome centers on Brandon Weeden and Calvin Johnson.
The Cleveland Browns quarterbacking duties returns to Weeden after Brian Hoyer is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. So much promise and so much hope was wrapped into Hoyer and it all came crashing down in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3.
After two games with Hoyer, Weeden’s warts have never been more obvious. Locking onto his first read? Check. Poor pocket presence? Check. Holds onto the ball too long? Check. No touch on his short throws?
In other words, everything Hoyer did right, Weeden does wrong.
But we’re a society of second chances and Weeden now has his. Unfortunately, Weeden’s problems play right into the hands of the Detroit Lions’ front four of Ezekiel Ansah, Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and Willie Young.
The Lions’ haven’t been great against the run (124.6 yards per game; 26th in the league) or the pass (268.2, tied for 20th), they are plus-four on the turnover ratio and the rookie Ansah leads the team with three sacks followed by Suh (2.5), Fairley (1.5) and Young (1.0).
Weeden cannot afford to hold onto the ball or take his time making decisions this week. Mr. Suh likes to hit, hit hard and hit dirty. If Weeden makes it to halftime and isn’t concussed, consider it a victory.
The Browns, at 3-2, are tied for first in the winnable AFC North, but because this is Cleveland those good feelings comes with a caveat.
Brian Hoyer ain’t walking through that door. If he is, he’ll be on crutches.
Can we expect Weeden to be markedly improved form his first two games this season?
Probably not. He did show some signs against the Bills with a couple good throws deep to Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. Overall, his performance was, “meh.”
It certainly kills the confidence of a fan base with of a 3-2 team. Thankfully, the Browns are able to mask a poor offensive output with a damn good defense.
Will he play?
In four games, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has 21 catches for 312 yards with four touchdowns. He didn’t play last week against the Green Bay Packers and the Lions promptly lost 22-9. In the Lions’ previous four games, they’ve averaged 30.5 points. Johnson is that big of a deal.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden proved his abilities two weeks ago when he faced the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green. Haden limited Green to 51 yards on seven catches. Johnson is an inch taller and 28 pounds bigger than Green.
Johnson is a freak and a tough matchup for Haden, but a challenge Haden is most certainly ready to take on.
Can Weeden be OK?
If Johnson plays, can the Browns’ defense keep him in check?
It comes down to the output of two players. But what is even stranger is that a Great Lakes Classic showdown actually counts and both teams entered this week tied for first in their respective divisions.
Up is down. Black is white.
This is the Bizzaro NFL.