If (probably when) Mike Pettine on Wednesday announces his selection for Sunday’s starting quarterback against the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday and it’s not Brian Hoyer, the Cleveland kid has no one to blame but himself.
The figures do not lie and in this case, they tell a tale that even Hoyer himself cannot argue against. They scream that the best place for him right now is on the sidelines watching the future face of the franchise start to grow.
In the last five games, three of them victories, Hoyer has completed 97 passes in 177 attempts, a 54.8% completion rate. That’s a slight drop in the 55.9% rate he logged in the first seven games of the season.
But in those first seven games, of which the Browns won four, Hoyer threw eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions. For the most part, he kept his team in games by taking care of the ball.
He wasn’t flashy. And his passes sometimes seemed to take several hours to reach their destination, but the mistake factor remained absent. In the last five games, though, that factor has raised its homely head.
The Cleveland offense can live with his low percentage of completions for just so long. But with eight interceptions and just three touchdown passes in those five games, danger signs have been hoisted.
As unlikely as it probably seemed at the beginning of the season, the Browns are actually in playoff contention now. Every snap, every possession, every pass, every movement, every little thing takes on the greatest amount of importance.
Not many people, fans and critics alike, really believed the Browns would be in such a position this late in the season. But here they are and making sure the right player helms the most important position on the team is critical.
So when Pettine makes his big pronouncement Wednesday, we can all be rest assured all those factors will be taken into consideration.
By not ruling out the possibility of Johnny Manziel stepping in and taking the Browns the rest of the way this season, Pettine further opened the door to that eventuality. It is a slippery slope fraught with exciting possibilities.
If Manziel is the man, Hoyer has no one to blame but himself for causing his coach’s conflict. If Manziel is the man, it won’t be because he earned the job. It will be because Hoyer lost it.
And now that this little scenario has unfolded, the circus that accompanies Manziel will resume with the media horde (local and national) descending on Berea on a daily basis for the rest of the season. The lightning rod that is Johnny Manziel will be center stage.
Fans caught a glimpse of what to expect from Manziel in Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills. They saw how impatient he is in the pocket. They also saw someone who can extend plays and owns the strongest throwing arm on the team.
He had an immediate impact on the offense when he and Hoyer traded places with 12 minutes left in regulation in that game. It took only eight plays, mostly no huddle, to travel 80 yards and do something the Hoyer offense couldn’t do in the first 48 minutes: score a touchdown.
He dropped back to pass on six of those plays and threw four passes, completing three. His most impressive completion was a 24-yard rocket to tight end Jim Dray to the Buffalo 12. Hoyer throws that pass and it’s a pick.
It was a seam route down the middle with a safety shadowing Dray. The safety sat on the route and went for the interception when Manziel threw, but the ball was thrown so hard, it arrived in Dray’s hands before the defender could react.
Then there was the 10-yard scramble by Manziel that produced the touchdown. Again, Hoyer does not make that play because his reaction time is slower than Manziel’s. He also doesn’t have Manziel’s quickness and deceptive speed.
Perhaps you noticed that as Manziel approached the goal line with a Buffalo defender closing fast, he pulled in his right hand with the ball and covered the ball with his left at impact to make certain it would not pop loose. You can’t teach that. That’s instinct.
That, along with many other traits, is what Manziel can give the Browns. The question now becomes whether Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can live with the kid’s unorthodox – and sometimes unpredictable – style of quarterbacking.
The league finally figured out how to stop Hoyer. Foisting Manziel on the National Football League now makes it that much more difficult for the opposition to render him ineffective because they won’t know what to expect. Yet.
That’s what could make this December one to remember for Browns fans.
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The most disturbing aspect of the loss to Buffalo was how quickly the Browns fell apart after the Bills scored a pair of touchdowns in a 10-second span to take a 14-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
It was only an 11-point deficit just eight minutes into the quarter and yet they could not shrug off the sudden turn of events. It was as though the game was over from an emotional standpoint at least for the offense.
The defense, which blunted just about every Buffalo move in the first half and played very well overall, began to surrender yards grudgingly, then tired when it became apparent the offense couldn’t sustain anything.
It wasn’t until Manziel entered the game and energized the offense that the team had a remote shot. But by then, the defense was gassed. After blanking the Bills on third down 11 straight times, it failed on No. 12 when former Brown MarQueis Gray hauled in a pass in the left flat and rambled 41 yards on a third-and-one at the Buffalo 29.
After that, the Browns had nothing left in the tank on either side of the ball.
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Don’t be surprised if Pettine and Shanahan hand Terrance West more bench time Sunday. The rookie has been too careless with the football lately and Pettine’s patience with him might be waning.
If West is benched, that means Isaiah Crowell gets a majority of the carries and Glenn Winston will finally get a chance. Putting the ball on the ground is the quickest way to become a spectator.
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Joe Thomas had probably his worst day as a pro against the Bills. The perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle was flagged five times, three for holding (one was declined following a Hoyer sack) and two for false starts, working against defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams.
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You’ll have to forgive Hoyer for not having pleasant thoughts about Buffalo and the Bills. His 2013 season was aborted in a nationally televised game against the Bills when he tore an ACL in the first quarter on a scramble. And now, he seriously underperforms in a meaningful game against the Bills.
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If Billy Cundiff is not worrying about where he’s kicking next season, he should be. He was wide right on a relatively easy 37-yard field goal attempt midway through the second quarter on Hoyer’s most productive drive of the afternoon. It wasn’t even close. Points have become a rare commodity for the Cleveland offense these days and field goal misses such as Cundiff’s Sunday magnify the situation.
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Notebook: The Browns are down to third string at center if Nick McDonald can’t go against the Colts. Ryan Seymour did a credible job when McDonald left the game on the second series of the game. . . . If Jordan Cameron misses his fifth straight game with concussion symptoms, the Browns are down to only two tight ends – Dray and Ryan Taylor. Gary Barnidge left the game with a rib injury on the first series against the Bills. . . . Jim Leonhard kept the Bills scoreless in the first half with a terrific end zone interception. Kyle Orton’s pass to Sammy Watkins was on target, but Leonhard, crossing over to help cornerback Joe Haden, managed to tip the ball in the air and caught it to prevent further damage. . . . The Browns were flagged 10 times overall for 76 yards.