There are times during the regular season when one (OK, yours truly) wonders just what goes through the mind of Browns coach Mike Pettine.
This is one of those times.
For the flimsiest of reasons, Pettine Wednesday said he is sticking with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback after a couple of days of arguing with himself, his general manager, his offensive coordinator and his quarterbacks coach.
Choosing Hoyer over Johnny Manziel is a slap in the face of the rookie quarterback, who looked a whole lot better than Hoyer in a much shorter period of time Sunday in the loss to Buffalo. The decision basically says the coaching staff does not trust Manziel.
The rationale was that Hoyer was at the helm of the team that had won seven of its first 12 games. That’s also pretty much what Hoyer said after dropping a stink bomb in Buffalo. Can’t argue that. That’s an indisputable fact.
“Brian has led our team to a 7-5 record,” said Pettine. “I’m confident we can get the entire offense playing at a level needed to accomplish the goals we set at the beginning of the season. Those goals are still very much attainable.” With Hoyer at quarterback, no they’re not.
Incorporating the phrase “my team” in his post-game remarks in Buffalo, Hoyer echoed that the Browns were at 7-5 with him as the starting quarterback and he shouldn’t lose his starting job. He failed to realize football is a team game and he’s not the only guy out there.
But if Pettine takes a much closer look at that 7-5 record, he would realize a 9-3 mark would have been even better at this stage of the season had Hoyer quarterbacked the club at the level his coaches expected. He is the reason they aren’t at least 9-3.
Losses to Jacksonville, Houston and Buffalo could easily have been avoided had he played just reasonably well instead of becoming an interception machine that stopped throwing touchdown passes.
It makes absolutely no sense to continue with him. He is hurting the offensive game plans of the Browns game after game after game. It’s not fair to a defense that has played much better recently.
That it took Pettine and his men two days to make their decision speaks volumes of just how weak he is as a head coach.
A more confident and self assured head coach would have opened up his post-game news conference Sunday in Buffalo and said, “Before you ask any questions, Brian is still my quarterback. End of story. Next question.” By not being direct and decisive at the time, seeds of doubts were planted.
In the last five games, Pettine’s choice to face the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at home has killed more drives with ill-advised throws that had him slapping the sides of his helmet with both hands as if to say, “Boy, that was dumb. Why did I do that?”
The young man from Cleveland has thrown one touchdown pass in the last 15 quarters (nearly four games) and eight picks in the last five games. What in the world does Pettine see in him that most of us don’t?
The Cleveland defense has produced 17 turnovers in the last five games and the offense has turned them into just 36 points (three touchdowns and five field goals). That’s the kind of production for losing teams. Hoyer is the main culprit.
A perfect example of just how much he has hurt the offense was captured at the beginning of the second half against Buffalo. Joe Haden had just picked off Bills quarterback Kyle Orton at the Buffalo 30-yard line on the third play of the third quarter.
Two plays, a run and screen pass, gained zero yards. The ball was still in field-goal range (48 yards) for Billy Cundiff and a 6-0 lead. Just don’t do anything stupid on third down.
Hoyer dropped back to pass, waited for what seemed like at least six or seven seconds, and took an eight-yard sack. He never moved. Could have thrown the ball away. Should have thrown the ball away. Didn’t throw the ball away. Hoyer should have gotten the hook right then and there. Forget the field goal. It swung the momentum back to the Bills.
After a Spencer Lanning punt, the Bills moved 84 yards to take a 7-3 lead, then scored again 10 seconds later on a Terrance West fumble. It’s little things like that that can make the difference between winning and losing a game.
Hoyer is not the same quarterback who actually looked pretty good in the first five games of the season at a time the defense looked horrid. He is no longer that quarterback. He’s not even close.
He is tentative, remains way too long in the pocket when coverage is tight, sometimes locks in on only one receiver and makes poor decisions on where to throw the ball.
Pettine also rationalized his benching of Hoyer for Manziel early in the fourth quarter in the Buffalo loss. “I felt we needed to make a change,” he said a few days ago. “We needed a spark. We had been listless for a good amount of time.”
What took the coach so long to realize that and make a change? The offense has sagged badly in the last several games. Has he been paying too much attention to the defense? Manziel provides the spark to which Pettine refers. Hoyer does not.
Pettine knows his club has a chance for a post-season appearance and yet, he has chosen to stick with the man most responsible for their offensive lethargy against a team that leads the league in scoring.
The only way you can beat the Colts is to outscore them. Their quarterback is one of the three best in the National Football League. Unless Hoyer suddenly and unexpectedly becomes the same quarterback we saw in the first five games of the season, that’s not going to happen.
This decision definitely places a monstrous amount of pressure on Hoyer. He had better be perfect and then improve on that from the opening snap. You can be he’ll be on an extremely short leash.
Pettine, as most coaches, likes to say he plays those players who put his club in the best position to win. If he actually believes Hoyer is that man at the most important position of the offense, he’s fooling himself.
With only four games left and the season on the line, the Browns need the best man under center. That man is not Brian Hoyer, who has become less than mediocre since the NFL finally figured him out.
The decision has been made, however, and Pettine will have to live with it. He could have saved himself a lot of aggravation by stepping up after the Buffalo game and declaring it at that time.