Brandon Weeden will start at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys against the New England Patriots in NFL Week 5. Weeden’s professional journey is a convoluted tale that takes both Inside The Pylon and SoSH Baseball to tell. Brandon Magee chronicles Weeden’s trouble with baseball, Mark Schofield looks at Brandon Weeden the football player.
When the Cowboys and Patriots meet Sunday afternoon, the game’s two starting quarterbacks enter the contest with very different career paths – but similar backgrounds. Like Tom Brady, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden was a two-sport athlete in high school. But unlike Brady, Weeden chose baseball after high school, when he was drafted by the New York Yankees with their first selection in the 2002 MLB first year player draft. When his pitching career fizzled out in Single-A, Weeden enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2007 at the age of 24.
An Elder Statesman on Campus
He became the starting quarterback in his junior season for the Cowboys, leading Oklahoma State to a 10-2 record in the regular season, and a victory over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl. Expectations were high for Weeden and the Cowboys for his senior year, and the QB delivered. Under his direction the Oklahoma State offense was one of the best in the nation during 2011, ranking third in total yards per game with 546, and second in passing yards per game with 387.2. Weeden broke school records in total attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns, and the Cowboys finished with a 12-1 record on the season, including a BCS victory over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
Despite his age, Weeden’s statistics and traits attracted a number of NFL scouts and coaches. On film, he demonstrated impressive arm strength and accuracy, especially on plays like this from the Fiesta Bowl:
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Weeden rips this throw well, showing arm talent, velocity, and accuracy on the seam route.
The Cleveland Browns selected Weeden with the 22nd pick in the 2012 NFL draft, making the 28-year-old the oldest player ever selected in the first round.
The Old Rookie
The rookie was immediately named the starting quarterback by head coach Pat Shurmur as training camp began. Unsurprisingly, his regular season debut was a rocky affair. Weeden completed only 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards, and four interceptions, in a one-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in his debut. But as the season went on, Weeden showed the promise that made him a first-round selection. The Browns enjoyed a three-game winning streak late in the year, defeating the Steelers, Raiders, and Chiefs in Weeks 12-14. During that stretch Weeden completed 59 of 92 passes (64%) for 739 yards and two touchdowns, with three interceptions. In the victory over Oakland he was impressive, completing 25 of 36 passes for 364 yards, and one TD and 2 INTs, with the score coming on a perfect throw to Josh Gordon:
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The Browns finished with a 5-11 record, a one-game improvement over 2011, but with Weeden and Gordon, the future seemed bright.
Weeden returned to Cleveland for his second season in the NFL, and things got off to a very rough start for the quarterback. After a season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Browns traveled to Baltimore for their week two meeting with the Ravens. Weeden was harassed all game, getting sacked five times before suffering an injury to his right thumb, that forced him to the sidelines late in the game.
The quarterback would stay on the bench until a week five Thursday night meeting against the Buffalo Bills. Brian Hoyer suffered a knee injury in the first quarter, and Weeden entered the contest and threw for 197 yards and a crucial touchdown to Gordon, as the Browns pulled out the victory 37-24:
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Weeden remained the starter for the next two weeks, but did not perform well. In at 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, he threw two interceptions. In the buildup to the next game against the Green Bay Packers, head coach Rob Chudzinski asserted that Weeden would remain the starter unless he performed poorly. But that is exactly what the quarterback did, completing only 17 of 42 passed for 149 yards with one touchdown and one interception, for a QB rating of only 48.6 (or a QBR of 10.0). The poor play forced him back to the bench once more.
Weeden would start two more games in 2013, in weeks 12 and 13. Cleveland lost both games, despite the QB throwing for 370 and three touchdowns (with two interceptions) in the week 13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That loss included this 95-yard catch-and-run from Gordon:
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That was Weeden’s last touchdown pass as a Brown.
Starting Over in Dallas
In March of 2014, the Browns released Weeden, cutting the former first-round selection loose after only two seasons. Despite his shaky NFL career to date, the Dallas Cowboys signed Weeden just five days later. The Cowboys looked to be set at the quarterback position with both Tony Romo and Kyle Orton, but the backup was involved in a contract dispute with Dallas, and did not appear for offseason workouts. This led to the Cowboys releasing Orton, making Weeden the backup quarterback as the 2014 NFL season began.
Now in his third year, the QB saw limited action, making just one start. With Romo sidelined with another back injury, Weeden and the Cowboys faced the Arizona Cardinals in a matchup between two top NFC teams. At that point Dallas was 6-2, while Arizona was 6-1. But with a chance to take the lead in the third quarter, Weeden makes a big mistake:
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Trailing by four, the Cowboys face a 3rd and 6 in the red zone. Weeden is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, while the Cardinals use a 3-2-6 dime package with Cover 1 in the secondary. The QB tries to hit tight end Jason Witten on an out route, but bird dogs the play, staring the TE down the entire play. Tyrann Mathieu reads the QB and undercuts the route for the key interception. Arizona would go on to win 28-17.
Once More into the Breech
Expectations were high for the Cowboys entering the 2015 season. With Romo healthy, and some impressive draft choices joining the defense including Byron Jones and Randy Gregory, Dallas looked to be one of the top teams in the NFC East. But once more, the squad was forced to turn to the backup QB, when Romo suffered a broken clavicle in Week 2. Weeden came off the bench and completed all seven of his passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in relief of Romo in the 20-10 victory of the Eagles. In his first start of the year, Weeden completed 22 of 26 passes for 232 yards against the Atlanta Falcons, but with Dallas leading by 14 midway through the second quarter, Weeden threw a costly interception:
As outlined by Dave Archibald, that turnover changed the course of the game, and the Cowboys went on to lose 39-28. In Week 4, Weeden turned in perhaps his best performance of the year, completing 16 of 26 passes for 246 yards and this touchdown:
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The scoring play tied the game at 20. But the Saints won the coin toss – and the game – on the second play of overtime.
This Sunday, Weeden and the Cowboys look to snap their two-game losing streak against the defending Super Bowl Champions. When New England comes to town, Weeden the quarterback will try and improve on the solid numbers he has turned in so far in 2015, and limit the costly turnovers. But for Weeden the former pitcher, the game is a chance to perhaps come out on top over another quarterback with a baseball past, and a former catcher to boot.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass & ESPN.