Why The Browns Must Buy-In to Brian Hoyer


Sep 14, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) looks to throw against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

We doubted his ability to be a full-time starter.  We wrote off his Cinderella appearance as a starter in 2013 as exactly that: a fairy tale.  We allowed the national media to seduce our fan base by promoting the mega-celebrity quarterback we selected in the first round, and began comparing the all-star potential of “Johnny Football” to the limited physical ability of a “career backup.”  And many of us (you know who you are) scoffed when Pettine honored his word from draft day and named Brian Hoyer the team’s starting QB after an unfulfilling position battle throughout the preseason.

And Brian Hoyer has spit in all our faces.

The storybook hasn’t quite closed on the St. Ignatius product and life-long Browns fan, and following Cleveland’s first home opener victory since 2004, there might be more chapters to that book than we thought.

Following a thrilling comeback attempt in Pittsburgh last Sunday in which Hoyer completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 230 yards and a touchdown, the Browns offense decided to pick up where they left off last week by capping off their second drive with a 3 yard TD to a wide open Miles Austin.  After a second impressive drive and a field goal, Cleveland was up 10-0 against a Saints team that many believe could contend for a Super Bowl title.

But any true Browns fan knows how this script plays out.  Even though we’re excited to see some success, our cynical attitude towards this team reminds us that it’s only a matter of time before the clock strikes midnight.  Right?

Sure enough, the spark faded as Drew Brees finally finds a rhythm with the NFL’s most dangerous, er, “receiver” Jimmy Graham to the tune of a 1 yard TD pass right before the half.  We needed something to get us back on track as the Saints were on the fringe of taking over.

Brian Hoyer needed some doubt.

When he took the helm for the Browns last season, it was in the wake of losing the team’s two 2012 first round picks in one weekend: one to injury and one to a blockbuster (and unexpected) midseason trade.  When the lights went on last week against the Steelers, it was under the insurmountable odds of a 27-3 lead.  What did it yesterday? The NFL debut of Johnny Manziel.

Pettine finally caved to the media pressure at the start of the second half, rolling Manziel onto the field on during the opening drive to hand the ball off on a 2nd and 10.  The rookie made another appearance on the next drive, this time for two consecutive plays.  Were the Browns losing faith in their supposed starter? Was Johnny finally moving in on the job?

All questions were answered as Hoyer came back out for a 3rd and 13, in which he threw a strike to Gary Barnidge on a comeback route to the sideline.  Ten plays and three flawless completions later, the Browns offense found the end zone for the first time since the first quarter.

Is it possible that Hoyer is a legitimate piece to the puzzle of a winning season in Cleveland? Absolutely.

Hoyer wasn’t just picking his nose during his first few seasons in New England.  That game winning drive to seal the victory yesterday is known across the NFL as the “Tom Brady Special.”  Although there were some arm strength and downfield accuracy issues, Hoyer has now proven under two different coordinators that he can make any offense run with quick decision making, an accurate arm, and good judgment.

Sep 7, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (center) talks with Browns quarterbacks Brian Hoyer (6) and Johnny Manziel (2) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ask yourselves: when was the last time you watched a Browns quarterback throw a pass, and you actually expected it to be caught?

Second, Kyle Shanahan is a fantastic offensive coordinator.  His play calling through two games has had much more good than bad, and it appears to match very well with Cleveland’s personnel, which I’m sure hasn’t been a coincidence.  Shanahan has successfully adjusted to the absence of Josh Gordon, running a series of plays each drive that parallel a fast-paced chess match with the defense, each play setting up the next.  Hoyer doesn’t have to be Peyton Manning out there calling plays at the line, he just needs to complete that 8 yard pass to the tight end on play action so Shanahan can go back to the ground with success.

Now, let’s take a look at what type of team the Browns are and can be (when healthy).

Defensively, this could be the most complete roster of the expansion era.  The secondary is full of talent and leadership with top level players like Joe Haden and Donte Whitner.  Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson, and rookie Chris Kirksey form one of the most complete linebacker cores in both pass and run support.  And, as displayed against the Saints, this defensive line is as strong AND deep as ever, providing continuous pressure on Brees with a standard 4-man rush.

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Offensively, it is still too early to tell whether the rookie running duo of Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell are for real or not, and although their sequel to the season-opener was slightly less spectacular, the numbers and production remained solid through week two.  Now take into account a first-class offensive line 7 years in-the-making, the young combination of steak and sizzle will have everything they need to maximize their potential.

Now consider what hasn’t been available to the Hoyer-led offense this season.  We’re all more than caught up on the details of Josh Gordon’s suspension, but don’t forget that the teams second biggest passing threat Jordan Cameron left the Pittsburgh game after the first half with shoulder issues.  Ben Tate was right behind him after re-aggravating his troubled knee, making both players unavailable for the 2nd half magic.  The return of two proven playmakers should be a huge bolster to Hoyer and the offensive attack.

Consistent rushing.  Aggressive, talented defense.  Sounds like the same winning formula used by the reigning world champion Seattle Seahawks.  Calm down, I’m not promising anything that extreme, but the point is the Browns are sitting on a sturdy foundation for success.

And the consistent, increasingly-confident play of Brian Hoyer will be a significant part of that.  If the Browns and their fans accept them in their hearts as the right guy for the job.

Or don’t.  He seems to thrive on that kind of negativity.