AFC North: Brian Hoyer

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
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A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix:

Two successful misdirection plays allowed the Cleveland Browns to flip the momentum Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and eventually blow out their longtime tormentors.

A 45-yard catch by a wide-open Jordan Cameron led to the Browns’ first touchdown. The tight end caught a 51-yard touchdown pass later in the second quarter, again after the Steelers were sucked in by play-action.

What left Steelers coach Mike Tomlin incredulous after the 31-10 loss is that the Steelers twice let Cameron run free after he had caught a 47-yard pass against them in the season opener Sept. 7.

The success of the Browns' running game this season set up the misdirection plays and the Steelers could see more of the same Monday night when they host the Houston Texans.

Arian Foster, who is third in the NFL with 513 rushing yards, is as good of a stretch-play runner as there is in the league. The Texans are likely to use play-action to Foster to set up shots down the field if the Steelers are too aggressive in trying to stop the run.

Foster gashed the Steelers the last time he played against them, rushing for 155 yards and a touchdown in 2011.
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 8-1 against the Browns in Cleveland and his success in his native Ohio has been well documented.

Roethlisberger
He is used to hearing boos, especially from Cleveland’s famed “Dawg Pound” seating section. But Roethlisberger said fans might be louder than ever on Sunday with the Browns coming off a 29-28 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer rallied the Browns from a 28-3 deficit last Sunday in leading the largest road comeback in NFL regular-season history. Hoyer has the Browns at 2-2 and they should be brimming with confidence when they host the Steelers in a 1 p.m. ET game.

“This is as big of a game in Cleveland in probably a while, just because of their record, our record, the rivalry that’s there,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “I anticipate it being a hostile environment, maybe like nothing I’ve ever seen up there before.”

The Browns have been installed by oddsmakers as slight favorites in the game at FirstEnergy Stadium. They have rarely been favored to beat the Steelers since the NFL returned to Cleveland since 1999, and for good reason.

The Steelers have won 26 of the last 31 meetings between the AFC North foes, but the dynamics in what has been a one-sided rivalry shifted significantly in the last month.

The Browns did not roll over after falling behind the Steelers by 24 points in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7. Hoyer rallied them from a 27-3 halftime deficit and the Steelers needed a field goal by Shaun Suisham at the end of the game to avoid an embarrassing collapse.

A month later, Hoyer has the Browns really believing they can win, especially after they stunned the Titans with their comeback last Sunday.

“Cleveland wants to make a statement,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "They want to say that they’re back and they want to say that they can win this game.”

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown agreed.

“I think they’ve got a lot of momentum going," the two-time Pro Bowl receiver said. "We should look for a great match up in the Dawg House. The intensity keeps rising.”
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers did everything they could to turn what should have been an easy win into a devastating loss.

They were one play away -- perhaps Mike Pettine's decision to opt for a punt instead of attempting a go-ahead 52-yard field goal with 4:37 left and the score tied 27 -- from losing to a rival that never beats them in Pittsburgh.

But Ben Roethlisberger led a late drive to save the Steelers from themselves while offering another painful reminder to the Browns that they once drafted Kellen Winslow Jr. over him.

The bad news for the Steelers after they blew a 24-point halftime lead before winning 30-27 on a 41-yard field goal as time expired is if they need to score 30 points to beat the Browns how many points will they need against elite teams? And how many other times will the offense have to bail out the defense?

A defense that couldn’t stop the run last year got gashed for 183 rushing yards and yielded 6.1 yards per carry. The Browns were simply more physical than the Steelers' defense, and that is something that happened too many times last season.

Four of Cleveland's runs in the second half alone covered at least 15 yards, including a 22-yard scamper by rookie Terrance West that set up the Browns’ first of three touchdowns after halftime.

“They found rhythm with the running game,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “but it was the chunks and misdirection game that was creating real issues for us.”

A review of game film will solve whether Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was able to play pitch and catch with no-name receivers because of the success of the running game. Or whether West rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries because Hoyer was so successful with play-action and throwing to no-name receivers that the Steelers gave too much respect to the pass.

The common thread in the second-half meltdown by the Steelers’ defense is it got caught completely flat-footed by the no-huddle offense that the Browns ran almost exclusively after halftime.

The indictment there is two-fold.

The Steelers should have been expecting the no-huddle or something with the Browns trailing 27-3 going into the third quarter. And even if they were completely surprised by the no-huddle the Steelers should have been able to adjust.

It is one thing to get shredded in the no-huddle by Drew Brees or Andrew Luck, two quarterbacks who will visit Heinz Field later this season. It is quite another to get lit up by a journeyman like Hoyer.

The success of the Browns’ no-huddle offense already has the Steelers thinking they will see it a lot Thursday night in Baltimore.

“This is a big-time copycat league and teams are going to continue to do that to try and move the ball on us,” Brett Keisel said.

And if the Ravens and other opponents use the no-huddle extensively against the Steelers?

“Let ‘em,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We’ll be ready.”

At least one person thinks so.

Browns vs. Steelers preview

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
12:00
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Johnny Manziel and Ryan Shazier USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on these rookies in Week 1: Cleveland's Johnny Manziel and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier.
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their long-standing rivalry Sunday at Heinz Field.

And something has to give in the game in which Johnny Manziel is expected to make his NFL debut. The Browns have lost 10 consecutive games at Heinz Field, while the Steelers haven't won a season opener since 2010.

ESPN NFL Nation Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN NFL Nation Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 1 p.m. ET game.

Brown: Pat, how many times have you written the surname Manziel since the Browns drafted Johnny Football in early May? Well, let's get the obligatory Manziel chatter out of the way. How do you see the Browns using Manziel on Sunday and how much do you expect him to play?

McManamon: As for the first part, Scott, let's say more than five and less than 10,000, but just barely less. I would be surprised if Manziel does not see the field for a play or a series in each half. The Browns and coach Mike Pettine have been coy about how he'll be used, but he does bring a different element than Brian Hoyer, and the Browns could put him on the field the same way the Steelers first used Kordell Stewart. Certain down-and-distance situations might be good for the read-option, or certain spots on the field might be good for a quarterback who can move. I don't think Manziel will play a lot, but I do think he'll play in the right spot, as judged by the coaching staff.

Scott, a slow start doomed the Steelers last season. How determined are they to avoid that slow start again, and how much bad luck is it for the Browns to draw the Steelers in the opener?

Brown: For the record, I am not going to start calling you Pat McFootball no matter how many times you privately lobby me to do so. Take a picture with the Biebs in it and we will talk. With that order of business out of the way, I will say the schedule-makers did not do the Browns any favors by having them open in Pittsburgh. I suspect the Steelers will publicly downplay the notion that this is a must-win game, but in reality it is. The Steelers cannot start slow again this season, and with road games against the Ravens and the Panthers looming, they have to beat the Browns. As hard as it is to win in the NFL, nothing is more served on a platter than an opponent that hasn't won in Pittsburgh in more than a decade and has an offense riddled with question marks. Did I mention Ben Roethlisberger, who has never forgiven the Browns for passing on him in the 2004 NFL draft, has lost just one time to Cleveland?

Getting back to the Browns' offense, who do the Steelers have to worry about beating them with wide receiver Josh Gordon out for the season?

McManamon: Nobody, really. The Browns will try to run the ball and use tight end Jordan Cameron creatively, but there is no real outside threat even close to the threat Gordon provided. And Cameron better get used to consistent double coverage. It's almost unfair to throw a quarterback into a game with these circumstances. Running back Ben Tate probably will be the offensive bell cow. He'll be featured prominently in the game plan. But the Steelers stop the run in their sleep. This game will be a serious challenge for the Browns' offense and offensive coaches.

Speaking of offense, how has and how will the marijuana possession charges against Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount affect the team, if at all, this weekend?

Brown: It is a footnote to this game. Not to minimize the stupidity that the Steelers' top two running backs showed -- and they are worthy of all of the unflattering nicknames that have surfaced on social media, among other places -- but the issue has presumably been dealt with from the Steelers' end. If Bell and Blount had been suspended for the season opener, we would have seen Roethlisberger throwing a ton of passes and a one-dimensional offense. But with both Bell and Blount slated to play against the Browns, the Steelers' offense will be at full strength.

I am real interested in seeing whether the Steelers try to set up the pass through the run or vice versa. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin predictably gushed about Cleveland's defense at his news conference earlier this week, and certainly that unit is the strength of the Browns. Will that defense be as good as advertised?

McManamon: Let's tap the brakes on this "good defense." Nobody knows yet. The defense has new names -- and they are good names to have -- but they might not be improved. Also, a defense that was supposed to be good a season ago made a habit of blowing late leads. The weak spot this season is the same as last -- cornerback opposite Joe Haden. First-round pick Justin Gilbert is going through significant growing pains, and Buster Skrine is coming off a thumb injury. The Browns wanted Isaiah Trufant to be the nickelback, but he's on injured reserve. Smart teams pick at weaknesses; it would be surprising if the Steelers don't pick on the second corner. The other concern, which has been an ongoing issue: Will the defense wear down because it's on the field too much due to the offense struggling?

Staying with defense, Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is an Ohio State guy, and there's been a lot of positive press on him throughout preseason. Has he been that good?

Brown: He has, but the caveat, of course, is that Shazier has yet to play in an NFL game that counts. That changes Sunday, and most telling about the progress Shazier has made is the fact he will become the first Steelers defensive rookie to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001. There will be the inevitable growing pains as the first-round pick adjusts to the speed of the game at this level. Probably the biggest concern with Shazier is whether he will consistently be able to shed blocks since the 6-1, 237-pounder is not the biggest linebacker. The Browns' offensive line is one of their biggest strengths, so it will be a good opening test for Shazier. I think the kid is going to be a star, and I predict he will win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Browns' Brian Hoyer OK with his role

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
6:50
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PITTSBURGH -- Brian Hoyer spent a couple of weeks with the Steelers in 2012 when the team needed quarterback depth because of injuries.

One of his fondest memories from his brief time in Pittsburgh is when he ran into defensive coordinator and fellow Ohio native Dick LeBeau shortly after the Steelers released him.

Hoyer
"He said, ‘It was great to have you here. If I can ever help you with anything you let me know,' " Hoyer recalled late Wednesday afternoon during a conference call with the Pittsburgh media. "I don't know if that offer is still on the table now that I'm the Browns quarterback but what a great guy and a great coach."

That offer is likely suspended until further notice and LeBeau will be anything but helpful to Hoyer on Sunday when the AFC North rivals meet at Heinz Field.

Hoyer will start in the 1 p.m. ET game, though the Steelers are also expecting to see Johnny Manziel.

That the journeyman is already sharing time at quarterback reflects how tenuous Hoyer's hold on the starting job is with Manziel considered the quarterback of the future.

One thing that the Browns probably love about Hoyer is his maturity and how he has dealt with Manziel mania. Hoyer praised Manziel's work with ethic on Wednesday and said he has no problem ceding snaps to the former Heisman Trophy winner if it benefits the team.

"If it can help us win then that's all I care about," Hoyer said. "Obviously you want to be the guy on the field but if there's a certain situation that they think (Manziel) helps us win that's what this game is all about. It's the ultimate team sport."

Hoyer has seemingly been the ultimate team player since the Browns took Manziel in the first round of the draft.

He has blended in, something that is impossible for the polarizing Manziel to do -- ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge ripped Johnny Football on Wednesday -- and adjusted to the circumstances that changed radically after the draft.

"I've eliminated watching ESPN, NFL Network, going on line, going on social media, reading the newspaper and it's actually made my life pretty simple," Hoyer said. "It's like you're living in the '60s or the '70s, you're not getting caught up in it."

Browns get some needed positives

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
12:44
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CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns needed it.

The quarterbacks needed it.

The offense needed it.

Doesn’t matter who it was against, where it was and how it happened. This Browns offense and these quarterbacks finally got some positive things done in the preseason finale, a 33-13 win over the Chicago Bears' third- and fourth-team players.

Brian Hoyer had one drive and scored one touchdown. He was quick in his decisions and accurate on his throws. That was enough for coach Mike Pettine, who put Johnny Manziel in for the rest of the first half and the first drive of the second. Manziel had five drives, scored 13 points and made some nice plays.

It seemed as if both were able to exhale, understand their role and just play, and it seemed to matter. Hoyer got the reps with the starters, prepared with the starters and, unlike last week against the St. Louis Rams, was ready to play with the starters, albeit against backups.

Hoyer went 6-for-8 for 69 yards, and, though he lamented missing a touchdown throw to Jordan Cameron, he did guide the first-team offense on a touchdown drive on the game's first possession.

Pettigrew
Pettine
"Brian was sharp," Pettine said. "He made good decisions, and he threw the ball well."

Manziel finished 6-for-17 and said he didn't throw particularly well. But he did look more comfortable in the pocket, made more decisive reads and did make plays with his feet, running for 55 yards while throwing for 83.

The best play came when he escaped the pocket, jitterbugged to avoid four or five defenders and ran right and found Nate Burleson for a short completion that Burleson turned into a 27-yard gain.

"That’s who he is," Pettine said. "Somebody said on the sideline, 'There's Johnny being Johnny.' There was one play where it was no, no, no. Yes, yes, yes. It was typical of his playmaking ability that he had a guy open early and didn’t get it to him and he ended up making a play with his feet."

The Browns didn't like the word "relief," but there seemed to be a deep exhale after this game.

"We need that," running back Ben Tate said. "We've been making so many mistakes the last couple games. … That's what it's supposed to look like."

It matters.

It matters because, had it not gone well, the Browns would have been badgered about negativity and "what’s wrong?" questions all week.

It matters that they didn't face any starters, but it matters more that the night went well.

And it matters because, heading into the season opener in Pittsburgh, they can take another deep breath and focus on preparing.

"Whether it was against their backups or whatever it is, momentum is important, and I think our guys will head into next week with a very different mindset," Pettine said. "Just looking back, if it hadn't gone our way tonight, I think it would have been a bit of a shadow cast over us."
BEREA, Ohio -- Brian Hoyer insists there is not great cause for concern with the Cleveland Browns' offense.

He knows things have looked bad and there have been struggles, but he also said after watching the film that there were some good things in the 33-14 loss to St. Louis.

“If we just sucked, then I think we’d be down on ourselves,” Hoyer said Tuesday as the team looks ahead to the preseason finale Thursday against Chicago. “I think we realize what we can be.”

Hoyer
Problem is, it hasn't been seen yet. The first team has one touchdown in three games, and the Browns have been outscored 70-49 in three losses.

It is preseason, but this also is a team with a new and complex offense learning on the fly -- a team that until a week ago had a quarterback competition, and a team that has lost 10 games in each of the last six seasons.

Even with preseason being about evaluating and assessing players and positions, winning should never be taken for granted when losing has been so pervasive.

Hoyer, though, said the offense is not “down on ourselves.”

“I think the most frustrating part is that we do do some things really well,” he said, “and then we shoot ourselves in the foot.”

The first-team offense has scored 16 points in its playing offense -- all on possessions with Hoyer at quarterback. Those 16 points came on 15 possessions. The only touchdown came on a late two-minute drive against the Rams.

There have been turnovers, missed throws and some serious struggles -- with only six passes that gained at least 15 yards. Hoyer said the team runs the play called no matter what the defense is doing, but clearly the Browns would like some better production.

Because they need the time, coach Mike Pettine will play the starters up to a quarter Thursday, a game normally reserved for reserves.

Hoyer, though, is not ready to say he and the starters need a positive experience from the fourth game. Just that they want one.

“I don’t think there will be any kind of hangover, whether it’s positive or negative, going into the regular season,” he said. “I think it’s a whole new ballgame when that comes around.”

That’s not a new statement from a Browns player at this point of preseason.

The hope in Cleveland would simply be that Hoyer is the guy who is finally right about it.

No coach should face a crisis midway through the preseason, but Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine has one with the team's quarterback position. He must take decisive action, starting with these 10 suggestions:

  1. End this competition nonsense immediately. The incessant attention to every throw, the nonsensical sharing of snaps, the inability of Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel to take the job ... it's all hurting the team. Continuing the silliness might lead to one guy playing well in one quarter of the preseason, but more likely it would lead to more struggles and a schism on the team. What's happening now isn't helping Hoyer or Manziel. End it.
  2. Make Hoyer the starter. Tell him it's his job. Tell him to stop thinking it might not be his job. It's his, and he's the guy. Not because he earned it; he didn't. But he at least has a two-game track record from last season to lean on, has some experience in an NFL offense and understands what it takes to play and act professionally. Let the team start to coalesce behind him and step toward unity. And let the team take a breath and find itself with one quarterback in charge.
  3. Show that Manziel isn't ready. He's especially not ready for Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, the first three teams the Browns face. The Browns' system is too cumbersome for a guy to learn quickly. Manziel has moved from a spread college system based on speed and running plays quickly to one with play calls longer than the Gettysburg Address. If the Browns wanted Manziel to start immediately, they needed to tailor the offense to him, not fit the proverbial square Manziel peg into the hexagonal Kyle Shanahan/Dowell Loggains hole. Manziel gives every indication that this offense is that complex to him.
  4. [+] EnlargeHoyer
    AP Photo/Evan VucciNaming Brian Hoyer as the Browns' starter could help the team get behind one quarterback in preparation for the season opener.
    Sit Manziel down and talk to him about what it means to be a professional. This isn't a game anymore. Teammates have their livelihoods depending on how he plays and acts. Wagging a middle finger at the Redskins' bench might seem funny to him, but it's not. He might seem like the feisty competitor, but he's not. It's a sign of concern, and Pettine should be credited for not sugarcoating that reality. At this point, Manziel's signature moment with the Browns is an obscene gesture on national TV. Isn't that wonderful?
  5. Explain to Manziel that he's not in College Station anymore. The NFL is full of loud, nasty, belligerent guys who are eager to get under someone's skin and throw him off his game. Manziel's celebrity appearances on the party circuit make him a target of every barb known to the sports world. If he thought Monday night was bad or if he thought other experiences were bad before Monday, what's ahead will be worse. Washington proved it could get into his head.
  6. Stand up and say that the way things have progressed is Pettine's fault. Much as it's the quarterback's job to accept blame and spread credit, it's the same for the head coach. Hindsight says it might have been wiser to name Hoyer the starter heading into camp. There's the assumption that it would have helped him just play and not play like he's wearing a straitjacket. It might help the entire team if the coach simply said he made a mistake, he let the scrutiny get into people's heads and it's his fault.
  7. Then, channel his inner Blunt Force Trauma (his nickname) in a sit-down with Hoyer. Tell Hoyer he wants him to be the guy. Tell Hoyer he's rooting for him. Tell Hoyer he learned behind Tom Brady, for crying out loud. But add that Hoyer must back up his coach and go play. Stop worrying. Just play the way he did last season. If Pettine wants to be touchy-feely, he can remind Hoyer of the note he wrote him after his injury in 2013. Then he can call Hoyer's high school coach, Chuck Kyle of St. Ignatius, and ask Kyle to have the sympathetic father talk with Hoyer.
  8. Don't let a decision be made on anything other than football. Manziel is not a read-option quarterback to be experimented with; he can make plays with his feet and throw on the move. Move the pocket. Roll out. Forget the pistol and forget the other nonsense until Manziel proves he understands the game. If the Browns want to make it simple for Manziel as he learns, have at it. What's being thrown at him right now is too much, and it shows.
  9. Don't say the decision is not for the long haul -- something Pettine said last week. Pettine has been wonderful to deal with, but that slip was a head-scratcher. Former Browns general manager Phil Savage used to say that every person in the building had to be on board with the quarterback decision. When the coach says he doesn't want the starter to believe it's his team because he's starting the first game, the quarterback himself can't believe.
  10. Meet with the offense and channel his father, the original Blunt Force Trauma. The message: Take your heads out of the sand and start to play football because we're all in this together. Josh Gordon, you barely look interested on the field. Are you? The other receivers, who were brought here to help. Are you ready? Hoyer is the quarterback. The decision is made. Put your heads into the fresh air, breathe deep and play football.
BEREA, Ohio -- Johnny Manziel knew how it sounded the second he said it.

So he quickly advised not to take it out of context.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Mark DuncanJohnny Manziel is aiming to show more progress during the Browns' preseason game on Monday night.
But Manziel had a candid admission after the Cleveland Browns' final training camp practice: “I’m not ready for Pittsburgh right now.”

In the Manziel world, which he admitted Saturday includes “chaos,” “overanalysis” and “hype,” this statement could officially be called a doozy.

Except in the real world of what someone means and intends, a little perspective comes in handy. Manziel wasn’t saying he could not be ready to start the Browns' season opener Sept. 8 in Pittsburgh, just that if he had to play the Steelers now, he would not be. He said he has two more weeks of practices and two more games to prepare, and he said he gets more comfortable each week. Too, coach Mike Pettine altered his stance to say that the starting quarterback probably would get playing time in the fourth preseason game, which if it’s Manziel, gives him more playing time to prepare.

As training camp ends and the regular season gets closer, Manziel is doing his best to downplay expectations. In one media gaggle Saturday, he said, “I need to stay in my lane,” and, “I don’t look at it that I was drafted to come in Day 1 and save the franchise,” and learning the offense “is a process,” and “I’ve only played one game,” and “my expectations are not through the roof.”

This is the humble Manziel, the one who is barely noticed behind the scenes at the team’s office. The confident Manziel is in there, but he’s smartly and wisely leaving that guy to show up on the field. The contrast is stark between the guy who appears on every NFL fan’s social media timeline and the guy trying to win a starting job in his first NFL training camp.

If Manziel was upset about not starting the Browns' second preseason game -- at Washington on Monday night -- he didn't show it. Asked about the fact that Brian Hoyer is getting the start, Manziel said, "I'm taking it with the same approach I've had the past three weeks of camp."

This is a guy who handles questions very adeptly. It’s obvious he’s been through the wringer before, and it’s obvious he understands there is a hierarchy in the NFL, one that states young players should not be heard too loudly until they've produced.

Manziel even shrugs off the louder elements of his life -- the constant attention off the field.

“It’s been a constant in my life,” he said. “It’s been the one thing that’s been the most constant in my life for the past two years. So I don't even pay attention to it anymore, I don't ever really see it; it never really even fazes me.”

It will be interesting to see how Manziel reacts if he is not the starter two years after winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.

He had one blip in camp when he misread the schedule and was late for a morning meeting, but otherwise, the only complaint about him is the same one fans of Hoyer might have: He hasn't seized the job. Manziel has worked hard, done his best and tried to go from a simple one-side-of-the-field offense to long play calls and much more complex reads.

At this point for both the quarterbacks, what happens Monday night matters the most.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns ended the last open practice of training camp with a line of folks taking the Ice Bucket Challenge to fight ALS, and with some stone-cold realities facing them as they head toward the rest of preseason.

One is that coach Mike Pettine brought up the dreaded two-quarterback reference, saying he believes the team has two quarterbacks who can win. An adage in the NFL is that when a team has two quarterbacks, it has none. Pettine said he will decide on a starter Tuesday, one day after Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel face the Washington Redskins in the Browns' second preseason game.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCoach Mike Pettine said the Browns would like to settle on a starting quarterback by Tuesday.
The other reality is the crippling effect that the looming suspension of Josh Gordon will have (the NFL has yet to determine its length). The team's receivers have done little to distinguish themselves when Gordon is not in the lineup, and at the rate things are going Travis Benjamin might be the other starting wideout alongside Miles Austin. With Nate Burleson out with a hamstring, the team’s young receivers have struggled.

The Browns may be bringing in receivers with a front-end loader after the upcoming rounds of roster cuts -- especially if, as expected, Gordon is suspended for the season.

As for the quarterbacks, Friday clearly belonged to Hoyer. Perhaps knowing he'll start Monday vs. the Skins helped him relax, but he had one of his best days in some time. Manziel made some good and some not-so-good throws.

The competition that has droned on all camp will continue through Monday and come to a conclusion Tuesday, according to Pettine. As the coach said, at that point it would be nice if one of the two quarterbacks has stepped forward and seized the job.

If not, “a decision still has to be made,” Pettine said.

He said he’ll do it with input from quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and GM Ray Farmer. But Pettine said there’s a balance between naming the starter and expecting the starter to produce.

“I don’t want whoever the starter is to feel like, ‘If I make one mistake, I’m out,'" Pettine said. "But I also don't want him to feel like, 'I've achieved something, this is my team for the rest of the year.'"

Earlier this week, Loggains spent a lot of time gushing about Manziel and not talking much about Hoyer. Pettine still went with Hoyer as the starter in preseason Game 2, which indicates the head coach may take a more active role in the decision than he said he would.

At least he won't be flipping a coin.
Brian Hoyer won’t be able to say he wasn’t given a fair chance to win the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback job.

Hoyer
Coach Mike Pettine will give Hoyer the start for the second preseason game in a row when the Browns travel to Washington on Monday night.

The most disappointed folks will be those who wanted to see Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel take the field immediately. They will get their wish soon enough, though, as Pettine has promised Hoyer and Manziel will share reps and both will be with the starters.

This decision by the Browns seems to be a clear signal that Hoyer still has to seize the job to win it. To date, that hasn’t happened. Hoyer has not lost the job by any means -- Pettine has pointed that out as well -- but neither he nor Manziel has taken it.

As long as that happens, there will be debate, second-guessing and questioning because the Browns won’t be able to point at one player and say he won the job. With that comes controversy, additional scrutiny and increased pressure -- elements to a quarterback debate that no one with the team wants.

It’s a cycle Browns fans have seen before with no clear-cut starting quarterback victor.

But it’s the way things have gone in the preseason. At this point, it’s almost a matter of default who starts, though who the job defaults to also is a matter of debate.

Is it the rookie because he’s the future investment? Or is it the veteran because of his experience?

A week ago, it seemed like Manziel had momentum going into the preseason opener against Detroit. He was practicing well, completing more than 60 percent of his passes the final three days before the game.

But he has leveled off since, completing 50 percent in this week’s practices (all unofficial numbers, of course).

The Browns are left in a quandary of sorts, having to pick one guy even though one guy has not emerged.

Hoyer getting the second start almost makes it seem as if the team hopes he seizes the job. Pettine has said over and over that in his ideal world a rookie does not start right away.

Hoyer can win the job -- but he has to earn it.

If he doesn’t, he may see it taken from him.
For the first time in several days, there were very few questions about the Cleveland Browns' quarterback situation at Mike Pettine’s media get-together.

Pettine will decide who starts the second preseason game in Washington on the team’s off-day on Thursday, though he was clear that Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer would get the same amount of time with the starters. As the competition continues, with each quarterback getting time with the starters on alternating days in practice, other questions linger. Let’s take a stab at some of them:

What does the signing of Rex Grossman mean?

[+] EnlargeDowell Loggains
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will be part of the group that decides between Brian Hoyer (6) and Johnny Manziel (2).
Grossman stepped into the offense, directed players on where to go, made signals to motion receivers and dropped passes into receivers’ arms. He clearly has the advertised knowledge of the system. But Grossman’s signing had the bees buzzing locally and national that it’s not good for Brian Hoyer, that Grossman isn’t needed if Hoyer starts but he is needed if Manziel starts. Hoyer might not be the best mentor if he doesn’t start, and Grossman would be, so the thinking goes. This led to wild speculation that the Browns might trade Hoyer to Houston, where Bill O’Brien is a Belichick guy leading the ship. Radio chatter was prevalent, and some stories even appeared. “Stories is a good word for them,” coach Mike Pettine said, before adding: “I addressed that yesterday.” That is when he said “absolutely not,” when asked about Hoyer being expendable with Grossman on the team. One other factor: Grossman was the third quarterback in Washington the last two seasons; he’s at the point where he’s happy to be on a roster. Maybe Grossman is simply an upgrade over Tyler Thigpen.

What if nobody wins the job?

The two quarterbacks presently are in the muck. That means they are mucking around together, with neither seizing the job. Kyle Shanahan said early in camp that he fully expected someone to make the decision easy, but that hasn’t happened. They’ve both had good moments and bad moments. If this continues through Monday’s game, the Browns have to decide: Does neither winning the job mean that Hoyer gets it by default, or does it favor Manziel because he’s the hot-shot, first-round draft pick?

What if it’s a tie?

In baseball, a tie goes to the runner. In basketball a tie (up) is a jump ball. In football, a tie goes to overtime. But there is no overtime possible in this competition if Pettine sticks to his plan to name the starter before the third preseason game. If both Hoyer and Manziel play well Monday and they’re both relatively equal the way they were the first game – Hoyer had 92 total yards, Manziel 90 – then does the tie go to the veteran because he’s better able to read defenses like Pittsburgh’s, or does it go to the rookie because he’s the hot-shot, first-round pick.

Does the early schedule matter?

The Browns open at Pittsburgh and at home against New Orleans and Baltimore. It would be tough to find a tougher opening series of games, and Pettine admitted it had to be kept in mind. Would the Browns be reluctant to throw a rookie into that buzzsaw of games?

What about Josh Gordon’s situation?

Take the biggest playmaker out of a lineup and the entire offense suffers. When the biggest playmaker is a receiver, the quarterback suffers. When the remaining receivers play the way the Browns remaining receivers have played the past week or two, the ripple effect is very bad. Defenses can stack the box to stop the run and pressure the quarterback because they don’t fear a playmaker on the outside. Some would say this favors Hoyer because a veteran would be needed to stabilize what’s left of the offense. Other would say Gordon’s absence favors Manziel because the Browns will need someone to create plays, which is his skill.

What matters most? Pettine has said it over and over again: Who gives the Browns the best chance to win?The definition of “best chance to win” will be made by quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pettine.

BEREA, Ohio -- Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Nothing at all. Just keep moving.

That may as well have been the theme following the Cleveland Browns' training camp practice Monday, as coach Mike Pettine said it was simply “part of the plan” to give Johnny Manziel all of the first-team reps the first practice after the team’s scrimmage.

“We wanted to work them both in,” Pettine said of Manziel and Brian Hoyer, “and it’s part of our process.”

That may be 100 percent true. But as the Browns head to the first preseason game, Pettine would only say that there’s a “more than reasonable chance” Hoyer starts in Detroit rather than virtually guaranteeing it -- which he did earlier.

In the day-to-day drama that is life with Manziel and the Browns -- wow, he rolled out nicely after that handoff! -- the practice move with Manziel means something to all but the head coach. If, for instance, a starting wide receiver or linebacker suddenly found himself taking second-team snaps through an entire practice, it would be noteworthy. That it’s the second-team quarterback taking snaps with the starters makes it more noteworthy, and that it’s Manziel takes it close to Tim Tebow frenzy.

Manziel did not have an especially great practice. His best completion was a deep post to Travis Benjamin that Joe Haden inexplicably did not break up, though he was there for the underthrown ball. Manziel later threw an interception and had an unwise decision to throw across the field and across his body in a two-minute drill. Three passes were dropped, but he also didn’t sniff the end zone on the two-minute drill and unofficially finished 6-for-17 in all his team work. Hoyer, meanwhile, finished strong, with a touchdown up the hashmark to rookie Willie Snead and an effective final two-minute drill that had him throwing into the end zone prior to a field goal.

The growth process continues, with Manziel at times stumbling through practice when he can’t really run around to make a ton of plays.

The most encouraging thing that came out about Manziel happened when Pettine said that he has made his biggest improvement with the playbook, calling the plays, getting out of the huddle and making his reads. That was one of Manziel’s biggest challenges as he transitions from college to the pros, and if he’s grasping that and not making mental mistakes over and over, it’s a good sign.

But a few years back, Brady Quinn was the celebrated Browns draft pick taken 22nd overall. He created quite a buzz with a strong first preseason game. A few days later, one of the then-assistant coaches rolled his eyes at the buzz and pointed out Quinn had been given a total of six plays to run, which hardly made him regular-season worthy.

What does that mean for Manziel, who continues to stress he’s not thinking in terms of any kind of gap with Hoyer? Sticking with the facts, it means he made some plays with his feet in the scrimmage when he threw a touchdown pass that was ruled incomplete and two days later was spending his entire practice with the starters.

Move along, please.
After waffling back and forth for the better part of a day about the performance of Johnny Manziel in Saturday’s Cleveland Browns scrimmage, it’s time to get off the fence.

What Manziel did mattered.

Manziel
And it changes the conversation about the starting quarterback job. It doesn’t change the entire dynamic, but Manziel took advantage of his first real chance to alter the discussion a bit.

The usual caveat applies: Nobody but the coaches and players know where the throws were supposed to go, or how the play was supposed to be run. So in a sense, everyone is going on guesswork.

But results are results, and what Manziel did has to mean something. Why have a scrimmage if it doesn’t?

A few years back, when Steve Spurrier arrived at Florida, he had an incumbent quarterback by the name of Kyle Morris and a young one in Shane Matthews. Through all of spring practice, Spurrier said Morris was ahead. But in the spring game -- i.e. scrimmage -- Morris was OK and Matthews was good. Spurrier immediately elevated Matthews, who had an excellent career at Florida.

The reason one afternoon wiped out a month of work?

“That’s when the silks are on,” Spurrier said.

That’s when it matters.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel showed some glimpses of potential in Saturday's scrimmage, perhaps setting him up for some first-team work.
Browns coach Mike Pettine made no secret prior to the scrimmage that it would mean more than practice, and the games would mean more than the scrimmage.

Manziel had a productive scrimmage -- not so much in terms of numbers, but in terms of the way he played and what he got done. He ran around, he moved, he threw what should have been a touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge and shortly after threw another that should have been a touchdown to Charles Johnson. Barnidge was incorrectly ruled out of bounds, and Johnson could not handle the throw as he was hit.

Manziel squeezed in two throws to receivers on the sidelines as he ran out of bounds, and he ran the read-option plays he was given well. He ran for first downs, threw for a first down on a fourth down, and made a lovely throw to Barnidge for what should have been a score.

Perspective matters here -- both positive and negative.

Manziel started slow, turned the wrong way on a handoff, and admitted he's adjusting even to hearing plays called from the sidelines. Pettine admits Manziel can't run every time and has to choose his spots, so he has much growth to do in terms of standing in the pocket, making a read, and completing a throw. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive coordinator who wants discipline, and he's already warned that teams will hem in Manziel, and his strength could easily become a weakness.

But Manziel also is a rookie running an offense far more complex than he was used to in college. "Cleveland Browns Daily," the team’s radio show, said one play might have as many as 16 words. That’s a tough adjustment for a guy used to a quick call and quick read and quick throw.

Now he’s doing pre-snap reads, calling protections and going through progressions.

So when he can make something of nothing while he learns, it’s meaningful.

What we don’t know is whether Manziel ran around with a purpose, or whether he ran around a la Colt McCoy, who seemed to scamper to his right frequently when his first read wasn’t there. If Manziel is running without a purpose, he has some growing to do. If he’s running with a purpose because that’s his game, well then have at it.

Brian Hoyer has been steady and solid in practice. He made a very large leap from Day 1 to Day 2 of training camp and has been consistent since. The one thing he’s not done, though, is improve tremendously since that day. He’s been right at or around the same level.

Criticizing the guy would be absurd given his attitude, professionalism and approach. He’s what every team needs in its players.

And when a Joe Thomas compares his competitiveness to Tom Brady, it’s worth listening and giving him time to progress.

It would still make sense for Hoyer to start the opener. Manziel remains a rookie, and the Browns do open at Pittsburgh.

But Manziel no doubt will start to get reps with the starters this week (it hasn’t happened yet), which will increase the attention and scrutiny. And when Pettine kind of off-handedly says that they started training camp with Hoyer as the starter “because we had to have someone out there with the 1s,” it raises eyebrows.

In theory, Manziel should get better as he learns the offense.

In theory, his plays with his feet should help an offense that will need help.

In reality, he’s a highly ballyhooed first-round pick who did some noteworthy things in a scrimmage.

He took advantage of his chance in the scrimmage, and he’s changed the conversation a bit.

If Manziel does the same things in Detroit, the conversation might just become a full-fledged discussion.

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