CLEVELAND – Brian Hoyer chose the wrong time to play like a journeyman backup in the Cleveland Browns 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
In a game that many dubbed the Tom Brady Backup Bowl between Hoyer and Houston Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett, who was also making his first career NFL start under center, outplayed Hoyer and it wasn’t even close. While the one-time Michigan standout completed 20-of-30 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, Mallett would also post a QB rating of 95.3 and a QBR of 81.9
Hoyer—in perhaps one of his worst games as a Brown, if you believe it—completed 20-of-50 passes for 330 yards, one touchdown, one interception and set a franchise record for incompletions with 30. Hoyer also completed 40 percent of his passes, averaged 6.6 yards a completion and a QBR of 24.2 and a QB rating of 61.3.
For all the love that Hoyer gets in Cleveland, this writer watched from a very chilly and blustery FirstEnergy Stadium vantage point, that some of his hometown Cinderella-like mojo begin to wear off and some of his warts reappear, as fans voiced their displeasure.
While this writer will go on record and state that the Browns need to stick with Hoyer for the sake of continuity, as I’ve stated multiple times and allow Johnny Manziel time to develop and create stability, didn’t help his case on Sunday.
While most offensive lines universally struggle against All-Pro—and universal freak of nature—J.J. Watt, Houston was able to make Hoyer look like the career backup that he was in New England, Pittsburgh and Arizona. In watching Hoyer, this writer noticed that he looked “off” and erratic in most of his many questionable throws.
Another criticism that has often been made of Hoyer—and now that I had a chance to witness it in first-person—was that he missed some wide open players, either threw the ball before receivers were out of their break, or behind them. Also some of Hoyer’s balls lacked velocity—or snap—in many of throws.
Forgive this writer for daring to make this comparison, but Hoyer displayed some of the same tendencies as former first-round bust in Brandon Weeden is holding on to the ball too long in—and out—of the pocket, staring down receivers, and double-patting the ball at times before throwing.
Again, I am no NFL scout, nor talent evaluator—nor will I ever claim to be—but going off of what I saw in person and in being both objective and analytical, there are some mechanics that Hoyer needs to fix and clean up—or else risk getting the quick hook for Johnny Football.
Granted the loss of Alex Mack once again showed, as the Texans simply dominated the Browns offensive line for four quarters, it is sad and very telling that the loss of Mack—and Phil Taylor—proved to be greater than the loss of Arien Foster, as rookie running back Alfred Blue gashed the soft Browns run defense for 156 yards on 36 carries.
What worries this writer—and should also worry Browns fans going forward—is that Houston may have given the rest of the NFL the blueprint for beating Cleveland; stuff the Browns running game and make Cleveland into a one-dimensional passing team. If teams are able to stuff the Browns on the ground, it also negates their play-action ability.
While no other team has a player of Watt’s caliber, the ease of which Houston—much like Jacksonville—dominated Cleveland in making Hoyer look inept, should be a case of some concern for the Browns.
Couple that with the loss of run-stuffing Taylor for the year, and teams now have no fear of running of Cleveland—which in later cold-weather months—is vital, especially in the brutal and ultra-competitive AFC North.
At 6-4, Cleveland is still in good shape to make a stretch playoff run with Josh Gordon officially back from a ten-game suspension, and depending on the health of Jordan Cameron, Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard—who both left Sunday’s game with injuries—the pressure will only ratchet up on Hoyer to perform and produce, if he hopes to either secure a long-term deal in Cleveland, or—per media reports—bolt south to either Tennessee or Houston.
The time is now for Hoyer to put up or shut up, because if he has another game of leaving plays on the field and 30-plus incompletions, the Johnny Manziel era could begin before his own really writes it’s own legacy.
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