CINCINNATI -- Three storylines to watch Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium:

Daniels
Ravens without Daniels: Baltimore announced Friday it would be without another one of its key offensive weapons at tight end. The news had to have been embraced with wide-open arms by the Bengals. That's because now with Owen Daniels, the Ravens' top reserve tight end behind the already-injured Dennis Pitta, out for Sunday's game, Baltimore is forced into moving around a few pass-catching pieces and moving around other reserves to fulfill its offensive needs. Specifically, Crockett Gilmore -- who has been targeted just three times this season -- will take Daniels' spot in the rotation. Although he was lauded earlier this week by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Gilmore still isn't expected to give the Ravens the quality minutes, receptions and blocks that the other two might have. Whereas the Ravens were able to run plays in two-tight-end and H-back sets during the teams' first meeting in September, they may have difficulty executing those plays without the likes of Pitta and Daniels. Both tight ends were among Baltimore's leading receivers in the Week 1 tilt.

With tight ends causing drama for the Bengals the last three weeks in particular (they have allowed five tight ends to catch 24 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns), this could be a good reprieve for the defense. Watch to see how often the Bengals blitz without Pitta or Daniels playing, and look to see how well they cover Gilmore.

Flacco
Getting to Flacco: Pressure has been a problem for the Bengals' defense in recent weeks, especially when it comes to their defensive line. Tackle Geno Atkins finally factored statistically into a sack, credited this week for assisting Carlos Dunlap with a sack on Indianapolis' Andrew Luck last week. It will be incumbent on the Bengals this week to shake off the problems they have had in getting to quarterbacks, particularly with the Ravens featuring a newly healthy offensive line. For the first time in six weeks, both offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele are expected to play alongside one another. Their addition in the rotation should give Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco blind-side protection he hasn't had much this season.

In the season opener, the Bengals had great pressure on Flacco, sacking him three times. Only one defense this season has made him look as bad as the Bengals did: the Colts.

Offense needs fun: Bengals players on both sides of the ball this week have remarked about how devoid of fun their locker room has been the last three weeks. As defensive end Wallace Gilberry said, it's caused tension with respect to urgency and the need to be successful and win. The best way to not play tense and tight is to simply have fun. That's precisely what the Bengals did during practice Thursday and Friday when, for the first time since Marvin Lewis has been head coach, they played music. It seemed to make players looser. We'll see Sunday if it has any impact. More than any group, the offense needs to take the "fun" message to heart Sunday. If that means getting back to trick plays that work or using players in other inventive and creative ways, then so be it. During last week's 27-0 shutout loss, the once-entertaining offense clearly wasn't having any fun.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns lost to a winless team in Jacksonville last Sunday.

They face another winless team -- the Oakland Raiders -- at FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday.

No team in NFL history has lost consecutive games to winless teams this late in the season.

So the Browns have a chance to make more history.

Unfortunately.

Bottom line: If the Browns are going to make something of themselves and their season, they simply cannot afford another loss to a winless team starting a rookie quarterback for the second week in a row. Especially at home.

In other Browns matters:
  • The Browns are favored at home by seven. The website OddsShark.com reports that it’s just the seventh time in team history they have been favored by seven points or more.
  • Oakland comes to town having lost 12 in a row, the second-longest losing streak in team history. The Raiders lost 19 in a row from 1961-62.
  • Elias Sports Bureau reports that the Raiders have lost 15 day games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone, the sixth-longest streak in the Super Bowl era.
  • The last three seasons, Oakland is 2-16 on the road.
  • One could make the case that means the Raiders are due.
  • This really is a matchup of teams that have struggled more than any in recent seasons. The Raiders are 53-129 since they went to the Super Bowl in 2002. In the same time period, the Browns are 59-123.
  • Something must give: The Raiders rank 32nd in the league in third-down defense. They allow opponents to convert 52.9 percent of the time. Brian Hoyer ranks 26th in the league in third-down passing; he’s completing just 48.4 percent. That no doubt is part of the reason the Browns are 28th in the league on third down, with a conversion rate of 33.3 percent.
  • The Browns, though, rank last in the league in giving up 6.69 yards per play on first down.
  • A win would give the Browns one more win at home (three) than they had all of last season.
  • Other oddities from ESPN Stats & Information: The Raiders have won their last three games played in Week 8 of the season but have lost five of their last seven against the Browns. The Browns have lost three of their last four games against the AFC West and have not gone seven games into a season without consecutive losses since 2007.

By the numbers: Ravens-Bengals

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
9:00
AM ET
A look at some interesting numbers heading into Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals:

1 -- Wins by the Ravens in their last five road games in the AFC North. Their last win in Cincinnati was 2011.

2 -- Sacks by Terrell Suggs in his last nine games against the Cincinnati Bengals. His last one came in 2011.

4 -- Touchdowns by Torrey Smith in his past four games after going seven games without one.

6.4 -- Yards per carry by Justin Forsett in the season opener against the Bengals. He leads the NFL with a 5.8-yard average.

8 -- Touchdowns by the Ravens in their last five trips to Cincinnati.

9 -- Three-and-outs by the Ravens offense in 76 series. That rate of 11.8 percent is the second-best in the NFL (the Miami Dolphins rank first at 9.6 percent).

10 -- Touchdowns allowed by the Ravens this season, tied with the Detroit Lions for the fewest in the NFL.

15 -- Passes defensed by Lardarius Webb in nine games against the Cincinnati Bengals.

16.5 -- Sacks by Elvis Dumervil since joining the Ravens in 2013. That's the fifth-most in the NFL over the past 23 games.

71.8 -- Joe Flacco's passer rating in 13 games against the Bengals. It's his lowest rating against AFC North teams.
A by-the-numbers look at the Indianapolis Colts-Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET.

-8: Steelers’ point differential, the worst of any team with at least four wins

.810: Colts’ winning percentage in games decided by eight or fewer points since 2012, the best in the NFL

1: Colts’ NFL rank in time of possession (36:56)

2: Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s NFL rank in yards from scrimmage (938)

3: Passes thrown by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck that should have been intercepted, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the most by any quarterback this season.

4: Total third-down conversions allowed by the Colts in their past four games

9: Steelers wins against the Colts the 11 times they have played in Pittsburgh

10: Colts players who have at least one sack this season

11: Sacks allowed by the Colts

17: Wins by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 18 career October games at Heinz Field

18: Receptions Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs to break Marvin Harrison’s team record for most receptions in first three seasons (179)

18: Colts drives that have been at least 10 plays

19.3: Points allowed per game by the Steelers at home since 2012, fourth fewest in the AFC

26.7: First downs per game for the Colts, second-most in the NFL

34: Catches by Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown that have resulted in first downs

36: Catches by Hilton that have resulted in first downs, tops in the NFL

45: Catches tight end Heath Miller needs to move past John Stallworth and into second place on the Steelers’ all-time receptions list

87.9: Shaun Suisham’s field-goal percentage since joining the Steelers in 2010, tops in franchise history

96.0: Roethlisberger’s passer rating, 11th best in the NFL

100.5: Luck’s passer rating, seventh best in the NFL
If the Cleveland Browns ever call to the bullpen at quarterback, the season will get weird in a hurry. But that's not a reality this week. As written here, Brian Hoyer struggling against Oakland and Tampa Bay would qualify as a three-week stretch of bad play against inferior opposition, which might -- might -- be enough to nudge coach Mike Pettine to change. But Browns coaches don't foresee that. Johnny Manziel said Friday that he's the backup and "that's that." He knows nothing he says right now helps him or helps the situation, so he's not about to call for himself to play, even if he believes he could do better.

West
Crowell
Tate
Tate
The position that gets the most run in this offense is running back, and the competition remains as open as a soft spot in the zone. Kyle Shanahan said it Thursday, and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery punctuated it Friday.

"Someone has to take charge," Montgomery told ESPN. "At some point you have to say, 'The job is mine.'"

The workload suggests Ben Tate is the primary option, with 63 carries in the three weeks since returning from injury. He's reliable. He doesn't fumble. He was strong in back-to-back games against Tennessee and Pittsburgh, recording 202 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.

But Tate did little to set up the passing game in Jacksonville, where the Browns lived in second-and-9 and third-and-8. Tate finished with 36 yards on 16 carries, signaling a drop-off in each of the last three weeks.

Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell leads all rushers with four touchdowns but he's still trying to wash the stain of three fumbles against Pittsburgh. Third-round rookie Terrance West watched his workload dwindle since his 168 combined yards in Weeks 1 and 2. In Jacksonville, West got back-to-back carries on second-and-2 and couldn't convert.

Still, the Browns are high on the potential of both rookies. If they weren't, Tate would have closed the door on the competition two weeks ago. All three want to be the workhorse, Montgomery says, but he doesn't know who will get there first.

"I think they've all got their own qualities," Montgomery said. "It can happen at any time. I've always said, you've got to get a hot hand. You’ve got to break a run for 7 or 8 yards and you’ve got to come back and get another one for 7 or 8. You’ve got to separate yourself from the other guys.

"Ben is the veteran of that group, but at some point you want to decide on one guy and let him ride. You’re looking for it."

My take: Coaches are publicly trying to motivate Crowell/West, who are still adjusting to life as professionals. The coaches didnt seem keen on West's comments earlier in the week that running backs need a rhythm to feel out a defense, and they are pouncing on it. Crowell and West offer big-play ability. Tate offers dependability. Why can't they have both? Not sure one guy needs to shoulder the entire burden. Two-back systems thrive in the NFL, so by November there might be one player left out.
CINCINNATI -- When Paul Guenther was promoted this offseason to become the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, some were a little surprised by the move.

Those critical of the move mostly felt that way because they viewed Guenther as the antithesis to his predecessor, Mike Zimmer, the current Minnesota Vikings head coach.

For six seasons as defensive coordinator, Zimmer used a gruff, brutish and verbally crude leadership style to get the best out of his players. He would scream, he would yell, he would curse. He would be successful.

[+] EnlargeRey Maualuga and Paul Guenther
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther isn't a screamer by nature, but he raised the decibel level this week.
As abrasive as they might have seemed, Zimmer's tactics worked. The Bengals had one of the better defensive units in the league under his watch. The Bengals ranked third in the NFL in total defense last season, the highest ranking a Bengals defense had in more than 30 years.

When it comes to Guenther, the first-year coordinator doesn't do many of the things that were hallmarks of Zimmer's coaching style. He doesn't scream, at least not too much. He doesn't yell often. Where Zimmer was viewed as a coach players feared and respected, Guenther is seen as one they can relate to and befriend.

"There's different ways to go about it," Guenther said, asked about his approach with players following three straight rough defensive performances. "Sometimes when you yell and scream all the time, they tune you out. But sometimes you've got to take that approach.

"In this case, that's what was needed."

Guenther didn't mince words during defensive meetings at the start of the week. He was critical of what players were doing wrong and adamant about the younger players knowing more about the defense than the starters ahead of them. When the Bengals were wiped out at linebacker last week at Indianapolis, a trio of reserves -- one a rookie, one a seldom-used second-year player -- finished the game at the positions because of injuries.

"I don't ever want to use that we have guys hurt as an excuse," Guenther said. "We go play. I've always preached that, even when I coached linebackers. When somebody goes down, the next guy goes in and he's got to know what to do. Point blank."

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry didn't see Guenther flip a switch and turn into a different coach in meetings this week, but he could tell the coordinator was desperate to make the defense's key fixes.

"Paulie's the same guy. He believes in us," Gilberry said. "He knows that the calls, and the guys he's giving the calls to, are there. It's just a matter of us getting it done. No one's jumped off ship and there's no reason to. You just got to get back and pull your weight. Grab the oars and pull your weight."

It wasn't all yelling and screaming for Guenther this week. He offered words of encouragement, too.

Despite losing 27-0 and giving up 500 yards of offense for the second time in three weeks, he saw flashes of good play last Sunday from his defense, which was on the field a whopping 39 minutes, 43 seconds.

"Coach was telling us, 'Dude, for the first half of the game, it felt like we were getting back to who we were,'" defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "It was encouraging to see us getting back to three-and-outs and playing fast. We'll be all right if we keep that mentality going, and if we keep that energy going throughout the whole game, we should be a tough team to beat."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The loss of tight end Owen Daniels couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.

Daniels
 The Baltimore Ravens are playing for first place in the AFC North and are going against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has been repeatedly beaten by tight ends.

Over the past three weeks, the Bengals have allowed tight ends to average 121 yards receiving and score four touchdowns. In the season opener, Daniels and Dennis Pitta combined for 14 catches for 117 yards against the Bengals.

So, with Daniels out at least one game, who steps up in his absence? Crockett Gillmore will become the third Ravens rookie to start a game on offense this season, but he doesn't come across as a player who wants to become the next Jimmy Graham.

"I'm going to do what I can in the pass game, but I know why I'm here, and I'm going to continue to block," Gillmore said earlier this week.

The Ravens seem to have more confidence in him in the passing game than Gillmore himself. After not getting a pass thrown his way for the first five games, Gillmore has caught all three passes thrown in his direction the past two weeks.

"He gets better every day as a receiver," coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s not the fastest guy in the world -- not to be confused with a speed merchant -- but he has good hands. He has very good body control. The big tight ends are really valuable in this league because they have catch radius and they can get away from a defender. It’s hard to cover them one-on-one. That’d be a big asset for us if he could keep growing that way.”

Still, no one should be surprised if fullback Kyle Juszczyk is the Ravens player who fills Daniels' void in the passing game.

He hasn't made the impact as many expected (eight catches for 95 yards and one touchdown), but he is a more polished receiver than Gillmore and he can stretch defenses down the seam. A fourth-round pick in 2013, Juszczyk led the Ravens with 10 catches for 90 yards in the preseason.

The other option for the Ravens is to use more three-wide receiver sets. But teams haven't fared well when trying to spread out the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati has held quarterbacks to the fifth-worst passer rating (73.7) when offenses line up three or more wide receivers.

Tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have had a great deal of success going against the Bengals' linebackers. The Ravens can only hope Juszczyk and Gillmore will continue that trend.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- On the day the Baltimore Ravens announced that tight end Owen Daniels is out for Sunday's game, they essentially revealed that the starting left side of their offensive line will return.

Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele are both considered probable for the first-place battle at Cincinnati. They haven't been on the field together for the past four weeks.

Monroe and Osemele, both of whom are dealing with knee injuries, had full participation in every practice this week.

Defensive end Chris Canty, who is out for Sunday's game, has been cleared "to start training heavily," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's a matter of how fast he can get back in shape." Canty will miss his fourth straight game.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals, wide receiver A.J. Green is doubtful with a toe injury. The rest of the injury report:

Out: TE Owen Daniels (knee, did not practice Friday), DE Chris Canty (wrist, did not practice Friday).

Probable: OT Eugene Monroe (knee, full participation), G Kelechi Osemele (knee, full participation).
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns likely will have defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin on the field when they play the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

“He’s had a good week,” said coach Mike Pettine. “He feels good. He’s been cleared. Obviously feel real good about him.”

Rubin missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but though Rubin is a confident guy, don’t expect the return of one player to be a panacea for the Browns' ailing run defense. In the four games Rubin played, the Browns gave up 152.5 yards rushing. For the season, they are giving up 155.5 yards. Improvement has to come from more than just one guy.

Pettine also said he had decided who would start at center and right guard, but declined to name them, citing a strategic advantage in withholding the information until Sunday.

John Greco, who started at center following the injury to Alex Mack, said he got reps at center and right guard, but didn't know how the Browns would line up. The team has until Saturday at 4 p.m. if it wants to activate Nick McDonald off the non-football injury list.

Backup safety and designated punt-catcher Jim Leonhard missed Friday’s practice after hurting his ankle in practice on Thursday. Pettine said he expected Leonhard would play.

There’s a chance Billy Winn could return from the quad injury that sidelined him for two games. Winn practiced Friday, and if healthy, he could improve the depth on the defensive front.
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is likely to return to action on Sunday after missing the last four games because of a sprained knee.

Shazier is listed as probable for the Steelers’ 4:25 p.m. ET game against the visiting Indianapolis Colts on the team’s final injury report of the week.

Shazier
The Steelers will probably be without a starter on the offensive side of the ball as right tackle Marcus Gilbert is listed as doubtful after suffering a concussion last Monday night. Mike Adams will start his first game this season if Gilbert is unable to play against the Colts.

The Steelers have ruled out safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring), nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) for Sunday.

The Colts have ruled out starting wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) for their first game in Pittsburgh since 2008 while running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) is questionable.

Here are my projected healthy scratches for the Steelers with the assumption that Gilbert won’t play against the Colts: wide receiver Justin Brown, quarterback Landry Jones and cornerback B.W. Webb.
CINCINNATI -- About a half hour before the Cincinnati Bengals released their injury report Friday afternoon, coach Marvin Lewis sounded more optimistic about A.J. Green playing this weekend than he had the last three weeks.

According to Lewis, Green (toe) has "looked better and better" during his rehab all this week. He peaked Friday, when he "looked like football form," Lewis said.

But despite that optimism, there is some pessimism about whether Green really will be able to help the Bengals this weekend when the Baltimore Ravens come to town.

That's because Green was listed as doubtful on the Bengals' injury report. That means, in a probability sense, the Bengals believe he has a 25 percent chance of participating in Sunday's game.

Along with Green, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who returned to practice in a limited capacity this week, was listed as questionable. Thompson might still be about a week away as he finishes recovering from a knee injury that has had him out since Week 2. Cincinnati will welcome the reserve lineman back with open arms when he makes his return, because he should give them a much-needed jolt in run-stopping situations.

Here's the Bengals' full injury report:

OUT
LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)

DOUBTFUL
WR A.J. Green (toe)

QUESTIONABLE
DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

PROBABLE
RB Giovani Bernard (ribs)
CB Leon Hall (back)
TE Kevin Brock (neck)
LB Vontaze Burfict (neck)
DE Wallace Gilberry (eye)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder)
OT Marshall Newhouse (back)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
OT Andre Smith (shoulder)
DE Robert Geathers (toe)
CINCINNATI -- If you have already benched Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green on your fantasy team and penciled him in as "out" for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, don't.

His head coach gave a rather sizable nugget of hope Friday afternoon that Green could play this weekend.

After uttering his normal "we'll see," when asked about Green's status for Sunday's game, coach Marvin Lewis added that his injured Pro Bowl superstar has been progressing well through his rehab duties all this week.

"He looks good and each day of this week, he has looked better and better, and [Friday], he looked like football form," Lewis said.

For a third straight day this week, Green (toe) was training off to the side of the Bengals' practice surface, going through rehab and conditioning drills that tested his speed, agility, quickness and cut-ability. The fourth-year receiver has spent all season battling an injury to his right big toe that he has all but called turf toe. Since aggravating the injury in a practice three weeks ago, he has seen a pair of foot specialists who told him to expect to try to return this weekend.

During this latest workout, Green was seen during the open practice period jogging and performing various agility and speed drills. He didn't seem to favor the injury much when he was put through a series of short bursts and sprints.

Since last Friday, Lewis has remarked about how true Green's progression has been to the doctors' prognoses.

"It's a feel thing," Lewis said about Green's injury. "It's a feel and pain and tolerance thing that way."

After resting Green last week and the week before, the Bengals are hoping to get the wideout beyond the uncomfortable feeling that popped up in that practice three weeks ago. They know he's going to have a measure of pain associated with the toe the rest of the season, but they want him to not have to worry about whether the feel is off or the pain intolerable the rest of the season.

"That's what we're trying to avoid," Lewis said. "We're trying to get over the hump and find the solution that, other than totally shutting him down the rest of the season, will get him the rest of the season or as much of the season as we can get him.

"I don't want him to be frustrated by it. I want him to feel good about when he tells me, 'OK, I'm ready to go.'"

One week after Green was injured in the Bengals' season opener at Baltimore, he tried to give the foot a go in the Week 2 game against Atlanta. He only lasted six plays before having to come out.

In three-plus games, he has 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
CINCINNATI -- In their two losses this season, the Cincinnati Bengals converted just five percent of third-down chances they have had.

Yes, five ... percent.

Only one of the 20 third-down conversion opportunities have gone favorably for them in the two games that have been lost by a combined score of 70-17.

When an offense isn't able to turn third-down opportunities into first downs, it stays on the field for a shorter amount of time, and it greatly diminishes its scoring capability. That offense also is susceptible to allowing its short, quick possessions to turn into long ones for its defense.

Case in point: last Sunday's game at Indianapolis.

That afternoon, the Bengals were 1-for-13 on third down. They simply couldn't get anything done offensively, and ended up losing, 27-0. Beyond that, they also lost the time of possession battle by nearly 20 minutes, as the Colts' offense was on the field for 39 minutes and 43 seconds, wearing down Cincinnati's defenders in the process.

Why were the Bengals so awful on third down in both losses? To find the answer, we have to look all the way back to first and second down. When a team doesn't execute on first or second down, third-and-long scenarios become far more common than necessary. When an offense is in third-and-long, it's chances of getting a first down greatly diminish.

"It's kind of tough when you don't get positive yards on first down," receiver Mohamed Sanu said. "We can't start that way. You've got to get positive yards to stay within our game plan to be able to execute it."

This season, teams have a nearly 26 percent better chance of converting a first down from third-and-4 or shorter than they do of converting a third-and-5 or longer. According to ESPN Stats & Information, NFL offenses are averaging a 58.3 percent conversion rating on third-and-4 or shorter, and a 32.4 percent conversion rating on third-and-5 or longer.

It might be simplistic in nature, but it is a football truism: The best way a team can avoid third-and-longs is if it gains meaningful yards on first and second down.

"First downs are important," Bengals Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It doesn't matter if we are throwing it or running it. [It's about] getting something positive there. Something to put yourself in a positive down and distance for second and third down."

Against the Colts last week, the Bengals had six drives that began with them either losing yards or not gaining any on their first-down plays. They had 14 drives total.

Such problems were exacerbated by the fact the Bengals had trouble running the ball when they did. Despite trailing only 10-0 in the first half, they barely ran. At halftime, the running backs had eight rushes. Of those, Bengals ball carriers were first contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on six of them. It was a clear sign that even if the Bengals could run on first down, the Colts' suffocating defense wasn't trying to let them.

Combine that with short or incomplete passes on first down, and you got a series of long third downs. Nine of the Bengals' 13 third downs last week came from third-and-7 or further. The others came with them needing four or fewer yards. The lone conversion of the day came on a third-and-4.

"In the NFL, stats will show you third-and-long means you are not going to have a very good day," Whitworth said. "If that's what you are going to have all day long, it is going to be a rough day."

Of the teams with the 11-lowest conversion ratings on third-and-5 or longer, the Bengals, at 3-2-1, are the only one with a winning record.
video 
BEREA, Ohio -- Brian Hoyer is finding out what life is like for a Cleveland Browns quarterback.

Win, and he’s celebrated. Lose, and he’s suddenly asked about the backup. It’s happened for 15 years in Cleveland, since Ty Detmer was given one game to hold off Tim Couch in 1999.

With Hoyer, the scrutiny becomes more intense because his backup is the darling of Instagram, Johnny Manziel, a guy who threw for 7,000 yards in college. That increases the scrutiny exponentially, which Hoyer learned in training camp.

Now the chatter about Manziel arises again after what Hoyer called the first bad start of his career. It’s not even stopped by coach Mike Pettine, who said that Hoyer is still “firmly” the team’s starter.

Which raises the question: How committed should the Browns be to Hoyer? How long is his leash? And how long should it be?

Browns reporters Jeremy Fowler and Pat McManamon take a look at that bubbling issue:

Pat McManamon says:
Hoyer
 If the Browns backup’s last name was anything other than Manziel, this discussion would not take place. If Hoyer played anywhere other than Cleveland, this also might not be a discussion.

Hoyer simply has to deal with this.

What’s lost in the discussion is the judgment that’s made about every backup in the league -- that the backup will be better than the guy starting.

It’s illogical. No coach should keep a player on the bench if he’s clearly better than the starter.

Manziel is still working in a vastly different environment than what he did in college. In his preseason playing time, he struggled. Watching has no doubt helped Manziel grow and better understand the system, but he still is a rookie going from a fast-paced, one-read, one-side-of-the-field system to one that has paragraph-long plays.

Hoyer had one bad game. He admits it. But one bad game does not make a guy a bad player. Nor does it suddenly mean that a coach who a week earlier was praised for beating Pittsburgh has suddenly lost his mind.

Hoyer deserves to remain the starter until his bad games become a pattern, or until the playoffs are out of the picture. At that point seeing what Manziel offers is logical. But seeing what a guy can do does not always equate to trying to win.

The Browns have suffered too long with knee-jerk reactions and short-term quarterbacks.

Hoyer deserves the long term -- along with the team and the fans.

Jeremy Fowler says:

Manziel
 The Browns were never going to pull Hoyer after one bad game, just like they weren’t going to sign him to a lucrative contract after five good ones. Have to let this one breathe a bit until Browns coaches know exactly what they have, good or bad.

But the way the schedule is set up, it’s difficult to imagine Hoyer struggling three straight weeks -- and the Browns not at least giving Manziel serious consideration in meeting rooms. In other words, the leash is three bad games in a row.

Jacksonville (last week), Oakland (this week) and Tampa Bay (next week) are all considered inferior talent. Can’t lose to all three. Can’t look skittish against all three.

Even then, would the Browns want to start Manziel at Cincinnati on a Thursday night? Maybe, at 3-5 by that point, the Browns would be in season-salvage mode, with which Manziel would be happy to help.

Hoyer’s three-game leash is based on a few factors: the equity he built up with five good games, Pettine’s soft spot for Hoyer, and the Browns’ dump-happy nature with quarterbacks that has plagued the franchise.

Still, if Hoyer continues to struggle but finds a way to beat Oakland or Tampa Bay, the Browns would be .500 with eight games to go, setting up nicely for a veteran to manage the season. Hoyer should be able to handle that, right?

Crucial times in Berea, no doubt. Maybe the solution is playing Manziel for a series or two if the Browns find themselves in a significant hole again. You wouldn’t be pulling Hoyer outright but could see what type of spark Manziel is ready to provide.

Everyone wins.

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