Cleveland Browns can’t afford to be all-in on quarterback Brian Hoyer.
One bad game.
That is what some would say of the performance had by Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brian Hoyer last Sunday in the team’s 24-6 loss to what had been a winless Jacksonville Jaguars side. Hoyer and the rest of the Cleveland offense was undeniably bad at Jacksonville. Cleveland didn’t find the end zone, and Hoyer completed just 16 of 41 passes in the losing effort.
The quarterback’s numbers get even worse when you break down his play. Hoyer threw ten straight incomplete passes at one point. He averaged 5.24 yards per pass attempt, and Hoyer tossed his second interception of the season. His rating was 46.3
Those quick to defend Hoyer would point out that he had done well to lead Cleveland to a 3-2 record in Weeks 1-6. Hoyer posted a 113 rating in Cleveland’s 31-10 rout over AFC North rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6. While not a QB who will ever post stats similar to those consistently put up by Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers, Hoyer had done enough to have Cleveland in winning positions in each of the team’s first five contests of the campaign. What more could one ask from him?
Plenty, to be honest.
Hoyer has connected on just 24 of 58 pass attempts over the team’s last eight quarters. That type of production, were it to continue, will lead to decreases in total yards, touchdown passes and rating.
The worry here is that there are real reasons to believe Hoyer’s play against Jacksonville was not a one-off. Last Sunday was the first time during his Cleveland career that Hoyer started without All-Pro center and lineup mainstay Alex Mack on the field. Mack suffered a broken leg in Cleveland’s win over Pittsburgh.
Hoyer was already lacking mobility last October when he suffered a torn ACL during a Thursday Night Football showdown versus the Buffalo Bills. He has, since returning to the starting lineup last month, appeared apprehensive when presented with opportunities to scramble.
Word around the NFL is that the book is out on Hoyer: Stop the Cleveland rushing attack which had been stellar up until last Sunday, get some pressure on Hoyer, and then watch the quarterback fold under the pressure.
It’s now on Hoyer to prove that scouting report to be inaccurate.
Hoyer and rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, the latter being No. 2 on the Cleveland depth chart at the QB position, could not be more different. Manziel is a former Heisman Trophy winner taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Hoyer went undrafted. Manziel became famous by making highlight-reel plays at Texas A&M, and he is featured in multiple national advertising spots. Hoyer could walk into pubs not located in northeast Ohio without getting noticed by non-Browns fans. Hoyer is a cerebral quarterback, while Manziel is still learning the NFL game from sidelines.
Manziel is fearless and won’t hesitate to bring the ball down and run when he has to, something that can’t be said about Hoyer as of October 23.
No reasonable analyst, reporter or fan should expect or want Manziel to start over Hoyer when the Browns host the Oakland Raiders this coming Sunday (4:25 pm ET). Questions will arise, however, if Hoyer and the offense come out flat for the second straight Sunday afternoon.
Imagine, if you will, that Oakland takes a 10-3 lead into halftime. The Browns aren’t moving the ball, and the home fans in attendance are getting restless.
Johnny Football would theoretically provide a spark for the home side in such a scenario.
First-time head coach Mike Pettine could be faced with another tough decision if Manziel takes the Browns down the field for a touchdown drive in this fictional simulation. Certainly Pettine could not replace Manziel with an ineffective Hoyer.
That’s how a quarterback controversy makes a sudden return to Cleveland.
The ideal outcome for the Browns on Sunday will be that Hoyer recovers from the disappointing loss and takes it to Oakland, leaving Manziel as a spectator and a student. Every NFL regular season game is massive, though, and the Browns cannot afford to give a second one away if Hoyer is far from his best.
Pettine had better have Manziel as ready as possible; just in case.
Zac has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and National Football League for a variety of websites since 2006. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.