Cincinnati Bengals: brian hoyer

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CLEVELAND -- When the play started, the Browns were 1 yard shy of the goal line. Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer was behind center, handed a direct snap.

By the time the ball left his hand on a fall-away pass, he felt like he had been magically transported halfway downfield, carried closer to the far end zone by disbelief, an exuberant, boyish joy and an overwhelming sense of relief.

At that instant, he and the other 71,000 people inside FirstEnergy Stadium could tell: Hoyer, the hometown kid, was about to be 2-0 as the starting quarterback for the team he grew up cheering.

"I was a little embarrassed," Hoyer later said, joking about his fall-away. "By the time he caught it, I was at the 40-yard line because he was so wide open."

The player who hauled in Hoyer's late fourth-quarter touchdown pass was running back Chris Ogbonnaya, and when he easily crossed the goal line for the 1-yard score with 4:54 remaining, a brash message was sent to the rest of the AFC North and reluctantly received. The Browns, it said, are the division doormat no more. Even without Trent Richardson, they are very much in this race and plan to make life difficult for those teams, like the Bengals, who so many had hitched their hopes to in the preseason.

As the calendar quickly turns to Week 5 -- Cleveland has a short turnaround after Sunday's 17-6 win over Cincinnati with a Thursday night game against Buffalo -- Browns fans are now similarly hitching their hopes onto Hoyer.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Brian Hoyer
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsBrian Hoyer passed for 269 yards in his home debut as the starting quarterback for the team he grew up rooting for.
The North Olmstead, Ohio, native was impressive in his home debut, compiling a 103.9 passer rating and throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. After the first quarter alone, a period that saw him complete all of his first eight passes, Hoyer posted a 147.9 passer rating.

"He did a great job," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "We were a little bit too hyped up early on, I'd say. Guys settled in. He settled in and made some good decisions with throws and made good plays. Certainly he's been the spark that I had hoped for."

Chudzinski decided to go with Hoyer two games ago after starter Brandon Weeden had difficulty leading the offense through the first two games. Weeden also got injured in that stretch, making the decision to stick with Hoyer even easier. Part of the decision was to simply shake things up, another part was to see how change might affect the team.

The decision, so far, has paid great dividends.

If it will for a third straight week is anyone's guess at this point. Chudzinski told reporters after the game he still wanted to evaluate game film Monday and determine whether he'll be sticking with Hoyer, going with Weeden or progressing in a whole different direction at quarterback.

One week after helping beat Minnesota late on the road, Hoyer routinely put the Browns in position to score against their in-state rival Sunday afternoon. Even though the Bengals had multiple chances to make the game closer, they probably should have lost by much more. A pair of missed Billy Cundiff field goals took points away from the Browns, and a couple of failed third-down conversions that led to them took away Cleveland scoring chances. Cleveland's 17 total points very easily could been 23 or 24 or 28.

"They've [the offensive players] definitely improved as the season has gone on," Chudzinski said. "The thing that I like about these guys is any time you challenge them or talk about the things we need to improve on, they respond. It's great when you have a group of guys that feel that way and respond that way."

Hoyer's homecoming was aided in large part by tight end Jordan Cameron's 10-catch, one-touchdown effort. It was the second time this season Cameron had nine or more receptions, and it followed up his six-catch performance in Hoyer's debut last week.

"He's taking advantage of the opportunities in front of him," Cameron said of Hoyer. "It's good to see that, especially because he is from this area. He talked about it being a dream to play in front of these fans and get a win against another Ohio team. It's a big day for him and I'm really happy for him."

Rapid Reaction: Browns 17, Bengals 6

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
4:15
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CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: The Browns' win means we all of a sudden have a three-team race in the AFC North. While Pittsburgh continues its difficult slide to start the season, Cincinnati's loss triggered a race that now includes Cleveland and Baltimore. The Browns, a team the entire sports media universe was willing to write off two weeks ago, suddenly has a chance to really compete for the postseason. The Bengals are in need of some serious offensive help if they want to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.

Dark hour for Dalton: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has had his share of successes in the three years he has worn a Bengals uniform, but he also has compiled his share of moments to remember for vastly different reasons. Sunday afternoon, he had one of the latter. After throwing at least one touchdown in each of his first three starts this season, he didn't have one. He also threw for only 206 yards. The problem, it seemed, was that he never looked comfortable at any point in the game. He and his receivers appeared to be on different pages. Once, in the second half, Dalton threw a comeback route to A.J. Green, who was sprinting downfield on a straight fly route. Other times, his throws were too high, too low or too far behind his receivers.

Hoyer homecoming: Dalton might have had a day to forget, but hometown kid and Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer will remember it for the rest of his life. Not only was the Cleveland native making his first professional start in the stadium where he attended games as a teenager, but he had the type of showing that made Browns fans believe he could be their starting quarterback for the long haul. Hoyer replaced Brandon Weeden two weeks ago and looks to continue starting after passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Penalty problem: The only real issue the Browns had Sunday was their apparent penchant for penalties. They had five in the game for 80 yards. Two of the penalties that came in what appeared to be pivotal situations in the second and third quarters were called on defensive back Buster Skrine. He made up for them, but the Browns will want to clean those up as they move forward.

Stock watch: In the wake of the Trent Richardson trade and their decision to name Hoyer the starting quarterback, the Browns have been dominating headlines because of their offense. After the defense's performance in Sunday's win, it deserves some attention, too. The unit entered the game ranked third in the NFL in sacks with 12 and continued the pressure against Dalton. The Browns sacked him twice and held the Bengals to a season-low 266 yards of total offense. Despite being called for two penalties in the second and third quarters, Skrine had an otherwise strong performance, intercepting a pass and breaking up three more. D'Qwell Jackson led the Browns with 10 tackles.

What's next: Cincinnati (2-2) will have one of its biggest conference games of the season next Sunday when New England makes a trip to Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns (2-2) look to build upon their momentum when they host Buffalo on Thursday night in the second game of a three-game homestand.

W2W4: Bengals at Browns

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
4:00
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Plain and simple, teams in the AFC North just don't like one another. They can't stand each other. If there is a division in the NFL in which the teams involved have the truest sense of hate for one another, it's this one.

Just think about it. Whenever the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns get together, enormous, vocal crowds usually turn out. Both franchises can enter a particular meeting having a poor season, stumbling to their respective losing records and still, FirstEnergy Stadium or Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking. That's what makes a true football rivalry.

This year, though, neither team appears to be bad. Far from it. The Bengals are a hot pick to end up in the AFC Championship Game, and the Browns, post-Trent Richardson trade, are suddenly the darling upstart of the conference. If there has been an underdog in the AFC to root for the last two weeks, Cleveland has been it.

When the two teams meet for the first time this season at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, here are four things you'll want to watch for:

1. The homecoming. As a teenager in Cleveland, Brian Hoyer attended Browns games, dreaming he'd one day get an opportunity to start a game there as a professional quarterback. That day is on the horizon. It's Sunday. For the first time in his five-year career, the longtime backup will be taking starting snaps for the team he grew up cheering, in the city that raised him. After his impressive performance in last week's win over Minnesota, Hoyer was given the starting nod again this week, playing in place of Brandon Weeden, who has been dealing with a thumb injury. Watch for Hoyer's excitement level. Understandably, it will be high, and a packed home crowd ought to make it even higher. If he's too pumped up, though, it could be a problem for the Browns. If the Bengals can put pressure on him early and fluster him, the homecoming could be a long one for Hoyer.

[+] EnlargeMichael Johnson
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsBengals defensive end Michael Johnson will have his hands full Sunday against the Browns' Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.
2. The battle in the trenches. Both teams feature offensive and defensive lines with a mix of young, promising talent and cagey, wily veterans. Cleveland's offensive line is anchored by six-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas. The left tackle will be matched up with Bengals fifth-year defensive end Michael Johnson, who had his best game of the season last week against Green Bay. Among Johnson's more memorable plays from the win was his forced fumble that led to Terence Newman's recovery and 58-yard touchdown return, and his pass deflection on a fourth-and-5 one drive later that iced the win. Cincinnati's offensive line is anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth. He likely will be paired against defensive end Desmond Bryant. When Bryant isn't giving him trouble, though, rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo could. Mingo and Whitworth hail from the same Louisiana town and college football power (LSU) and have a long friendship that will be put to the test on the field for the first time.

3. Cameron coverage belongs to ... Be on the lookout for where Browns tight end Jordan Cameron lines up on the line of scrimmage, and keep an eye out for which Bengals linebacker gets awarded the responsibility of covering him. Through three games, Cameron already has tied a career high in receptions (20) and set career marks with 269 receiving yards and four touchdowns. At the start of his third season, Cameron is blossoming into another one of the NFL's bright, young, pass-catching talents at tight end. Cincinnati certainly has had its eye on him all week, and the team feels confident it has a game plan that will stop him. Against the Vikings last week, Cameron had six receptions for 66 yards and three touchdowns.

This will be the first such test for the Bengals since the season opener, when Chicago's Martellus Bennett had three catches, including a touchdown in the Bears' 24-21 win. In the Bengals' other two games, injuries kept them from seeing just how effective the tight end could be in those offenses. The Packers' Jermichael Finley went down with a concussion in the first quarter of Cincinnati's 34-30 win last week.

4. Cornerback watch. There may be more attention paid to the Bengals' pregame by their fans than anything else Sunday as they await the fate of their cornerbacks. Three of them, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick and Newman, were dealing with injuries this week. Safety Reggie Nelson also had his own injury concerns. Only Newman appears set to go, though, after Kirkpatrick, Hall and Nelson were listed as doubtful on the Bengals' injury report Friday. Coach Marvin Lewis is holding out hope that more optimistic news may come Sunday morning, but there is a strong possibility it might not. If it doesn't, look for Brandon Ghee, a young cornerback who is just returning from a concussion that had kept him out since the preseason, to slip into Hall's role. Newly re-signed safety Chris Crocker also could be in the mix to replace Nelson if need be. The cornerback watch will be a captivating one because it could have an impact on the Bengals' efforts at slowing Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who hauled in 10 passes from Hoyer last week.

Bengals at Browns: Numbers watch

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
9:00
AM ET
When the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, they will be looking for their 14th win in the teams' last 18 meetings.

They've owned this rivalry in recent years, but interest remains high throughout the Buckeye State. This time around, it may be as intense as it has been for a while. Cincinnati has the hype and the hope of a playoff-bound team, and Cleveland has gone from anticipated division doormat to potential contender.

As the teams get set for their matchup Sunday afternoon, here are a few numbers you'll want to keep in mind:

65: Percentage of teams since 1990 that reached the playoffs after starting a season 3-1. Cincinnati enters this game 2-1. Cleveland is 1-2. In the last 23 years, 36 percent of teams that started off 2-2 made it to the playoffs, while just 14 percent made it to the playoffs with a 1-3 start.

17: Consecutive games the Bengals have gone without allowing a 300-yard passer. That's the longest active streak in the NFL. The last quarterback who hit that mark on them was Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden. It doesn't appear he'll be replicating that feat this time around, since Brian Hoyer will be starting in his place.

6: Games separating another team from reaching the Bengals' 17-game streak. The Seahawks currently have an 11-game streak going since a quarterback passed for 300 yards on them.

10: Maximum point-differential in the last eight games of the series. Cincinnati has won six of those contests.

10: Second-half points the Browns have scored this season, tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest after halftime this season.

5: Combined number of wins for the Browns in division play between 2008 and the present.

3: Touchdowns for Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (two rushing, one receiving). Entering Week 4, those three scores led all rookies.

1: Number of third-down runs the Browns have this season, a league low.

2.77: Average in seconds before Hoyer attempted a pass against the Vikings last week, the fastest in the NFL entering Week 4.

4.28: Average in seconds before Weeden attempted a pass in his two starts this season, the slowest in the NFL entering Week 4.

86.1: Hoyer's QBR when he isn't pressured, according to ProFootballFocus.com. When he was under pressure last week, his QBR was 0.0. That was the result of being sacked more often (three times) than he completed a pass (twice) while under pressure.

85.2: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's completion rating when he isn't under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That ranks as fourth in the league. When Dalton is under pressure, PFF says his completion rating is 47.4 percent; good enough for third-worst in the league.

Information from ESPN Stats & Info was used in this report. Follow on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.
A.J. Green, Joe HadenGetty ImagesJoe Haden, right, hopes to contain A.J. Green, who had two TDs in his last game in Cleveland.
The 80th edition of the Battle of Ohio may be one of the more intriguing ones in quite some time.

Then again, it is still very early in the season, so maybe not.

Yes, in general, victories have seemed to elude both teams throughout their long tenures. But perhaps the winds have shifted this year. With a new quarterback and a revamped offensive look after the blockbuster trade of their biggest young star, the Cleveland Browns enter the game buoyed by a win and believing in Brian Hoyer.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, hope and hype have meshed this season as their fans think this might finally be the year Cincinnati gets past its first-round playoff hurdle.

As you get set for Sunday afternoon's contest between the 2-1 Bengals and 1-2 Browns, check out the spirited exchange between Coley Harvey and Matt Williamson as they pondered a few storylines:

Matt Williamson: The Browns' pass protection improved dramatically in Week 3 in Minnesota. Joe Thomas and the edge protection did a great job against Jared Allen & Co., but Michael Johnson is coming off a spectacular performance himself. Do you think the Bengals’ pass-rushers continue their dominant ways?

Coley Harvey: It certainly seems the Bengals’ pass rush has finally hit its stride. All season their fans had been waiting for a performance like Sunday’s against the Packers, when they hurried quarterback Aaron Rodgers for eight sacks, and limited him to just 244 yards of passing offense. The week before, he threw for 480. The line also accomplished something that hadn’t been done in five years: batting down three of Rodgers' passes at the line of scrimmage. Johnson was key in those deflections, coming away with arguably the game’s biggest when he swatted Rodgers’ fourth-and-5 passing attempt on Green Bay’s last play of the 34-30 Cincinnati win.

One name that hasn’t appeared much on stat sheets through the first three games is Geno Atkins. The newly re-signed defensive tackle has been swallowed up by double-teams and has been chipped by virtually every player on the offensive lines he has faced. The attention teams are giving him has benefited players such as Johnson and fellow defensive end Carlos Dunlap. You have to imagine that trend continues.

Pressure is something Hoyer seemed to handle pretty well in his start against Minnesota last week. If he gets the nod behind center again this week, do you think he’ll pick up where he left off?

Williamson: I like Hoyer quite a bit ... as the Browns’ long-term backup quarterback. It has surprised me a great deal that he bounced around the league so much in a short amount of time, and I respect how he played in Minnesota, but again, I think his ceiling is that of a high-end backup. Can he spark this team, though? For sure. He clearly has eyes for Jordan Cameron and especially Josh Gordon -- for good reason. Gordon being out of Cleveland’s lineup had a much bigger effect on this offense than many realize. But overall, yes, I think Hoyer can have a nice day once again targeting Gordon and Cameron.

A.J. Green is obviously a very special wide receiver, but the Bengals have gotten away from him at times. They now have a wealth of other receiving options, including the rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert, but if Joe Haden can slow down Green one-on-one, much as Ike Taylor did in Week 2, could the Bengals struggle to create offense through the air?

Harvey: Yeah, I suppose that could happen, but I’m not banking on it. There’s just something about playing on the road that seems to get Green going. His home-road splits are actually quite creepy. In the 16 road games he has played in his career, Green has 106 receptions for 1,619 yards and 16 touchdowns. In the 18 games he has played at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, he’s caught just 75 passes for 1,037 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s even been targeted by quarterback Andy Dalton about 8 percent more often on the road than he has been at home. The two games in which Green was stifled this season? Yep, you guessed it: They were at home.

OK, so maybe I’m reading too far into the home-road splits, but I have a feeling Green will do well this weekend. He had a tough matchup in Week 1 at Chicago. Even though Charles Tillman intercepted two passes while covering him, Green still caught nine passes and two touchdowns. Still, Browns fans should watch Bernard and Eifert. The two rookies figure to be an even larger part of the offense.

There obviously has been a lot made of Cleveland’s offense in the past few weeks, but it looks like D'Qwell Jackson has been the unsung hero of the defense. He had 10 tackles last week. How much should Bengals wideouts and running backs be wary of going across the middle with Jackson out there?

Williamson: Jackson has played very well and is highly productive, for sure. He has excellent range, reads plays well and is excelling against the run and in coverage. But I would say the true unsung heroes are those in front of him. Phil Taylor is a personal favorite of mine as a dominant interior presence that demands extra blocking attention. Taylor makes room for everyone, especially Jackson, to do what they do best, but Desmond Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes and others are also playing very well on the interior for Cleveland and should give Cincinnati’s guards and center all they can handle against both the run and pass.

I briefly mentioned Gio Bernard earlier and I must say, I don’t think it will be long before he is putting up Pro Bowl numbers year after year for the Bengals. But right now, he and BenJarvus Green-Ellis split carries, which makes some sense so early in Bernard’s career. However, coach Marvin Lewis needs to unleash his rookie running back. When do you see that happening?

Harvey: I agree with you, Matt. At some point, Lewis needs to start going even more with Gio. And that’s not a slight to Green-Ellis. He’s been a solid back since he arrived in Cincinnati, and has even benefited from having Bernard on the field. When they’re on the field together, Green-Ellis’ yards-per-carry average is higher than it is when he’s back there in a one-back formation.

I suspect the Bengals will keep bringing along Bernard slowly, but before the season is over he should be seeing 20 touches.

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