Wednesday December 3, Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced that Brian Hoyer would be the starting quarterback for their week 14 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Pettine told reporters,
“After thorough evaluation and talking to the staff, we feel Brian gives us the best opportunity to win Sunday. This is a football decision and those are always going to be based on what we think is best for our team. Brian has led our team to a 7-5 record. I’m confident that 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 attainable.”
Hoyer’s status as the Browns’ starting quarterback came into question when he threw his second interception in Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns turned to Johnny Manziel to provide a spark for their stagnant offense. Manziel came in and immediately gave his team the lift that they were searching for as he led the Browns on an 80-yard drive in eight plays and 3:14.
While Manziel’s first drive was certainly exciting to watch, it is important to note that the Bills prepared for Hoyer throughout the week. The Bills refrained from spying on Manziel in his limited reps; and his reads were well defined given the game situation. Hi-lo route combinations given to him by Kyle Shanahan. Judging by the small sample size on Manziel, it is clear he is not being asked to read the entire field at this juncture. During Monday’s press conference, Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine expressed concern regarding the offense in recent weeks.
“…We had been listless for a good amount of time. Really two of the past three games on offense [We’ve] had those issues. I think the defenses had a lot to do with it. …I don’t want to say that he [Hoyer] was taken out because we lost confidence. It was a decision in-game to spark our team.”
Earlier in the week, Pettine was asked if the decision at quarterback is more convoluted due to where the team currently is in the playoff picture, Pettine said,
“It’s not going to make it more difficult because of where we are. We hit the reset button every week. … It’s who gives us the best chance to win this week, and it’s that simple. It makes it easy when it’s a football thing like that. You shut out everything else.”
It is safe to say that Hoyer won out, as many may feel as though Manziel being named the starter would’ve introduced a relative unknown at this point in the season. Pettine had his own thoughts on how the rookie quarterback has progressed throughout the season. “We see a lot of him in practice week to week, and we got a taste in the game of what he’s capable of,” Pettine said. “We saw some of that in the preseason. It’s not like this is really the first time we’ve seen him out there.” The Browns’ third down conversion percentage is 31st in the NFL at just 31.8%, and inserting Manziel into the line up could have gone a long way toward improving that number as he is a true dual-threat quarterback. Below is a list of ways the Browns might have seen improvement in if he would’ve been named the starter:
The Ability to Dictate Coverage Manziel’s ability to sustain drives with his legs is very difficult to defend, and as a result the Browns will rarely see man-to-man coverage. Once defensive backs turn to run downfield with the Browns’ wide receivers, there will likely be plenty of room for Manziel to use his legs and pick up first downs against the aforementioned coverage.
Defenses are already reluctant to pass off Josh Gordon to safeties in cover two, which means the Browns would likely see their fair share of zone defenses. Zone defenses are often overcome by any variation of curl and flat routes, which eventually set up double moves for wide receivers. The ability to dictate to defenses as a result of having players that are dual-purposed defines reads for Manziel.
Manziel was widely criticized for being strictly an improvisational quarterback, but what some perceived as a weakness could be precisely what is needed to jumpstart the Browns’ offense. When plays break down, Manziel has the mobility to buy time in the pocket and locate targets downfield as well as pick up first downs with his legs. His ability to keep the offense on the field with his legs tires out the opposing defense, while keeping the Browns’ defense fresh.
Chasing Manziel around is going to be extremely tough for defenses around the NFL. If Kyle Shanahan decides to increase the tempo once Manziel is finally given the keys to the offense, the Browns will have more opportunity for bigger plays. Defenses’ communication tends to wear down and fatigue sets in when dealing with fast-temp offenses. Increasing the tempo of the offense enhances the probability of catching the opposition out of alignment, and propagates advantageous mismatches.
The Browns’ offensive line has proven it is incapable of generating a surge up front on a consistent basis since Alex Mack’s injury. As a result, the run game has suffered immensely. Isaiah Crowell’s life will be easier with Manziel in at quarterback as Manziel’s ability to run prevent linebackers from being so aggressive in their pursuit to the ball carrier. Linebackers will have to account for Manziel as a runner, which will provide larger openings for the running backs.
Manziel’s ability to run off of the read option is a given, but there are a myriad of possibilities that the Browns can utilize to keep defenses off balance, and the pop pass is certainly one of them. The pop pass is essentially a variation of the triple option. Instead of having a pitch-man, the downfield wide receiver becomes the third option based off of how the defensive end and cornerback reacts.
Hoyer has proven to be greater than serviceable, and Browns’ fans shouldn’t lose hope with him being given another opportunity to prove himself as a starter. His quick release, and mastery of the offense gives the Browns the best chance to get into the playoffs. With that said, it’s nearly impossible to resist opening a new toy in December. It would surprising if Pettine and the rest of the coaching staff keep Manziel on the sideline should the Browns’ playoff chances fade away with a loss to the Colts in week 14.
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