Brian Hoyer’s Struggles with Expectations


The Cleveland Browns’ offense was resurgent in the second half of their Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brian Hoyer looked like a long term quarterback option, up until the end, and was able to make plays with “The New Smurfs” at the receiver position. That has led to a bunch of hope from Browns fans that Hoyer could lead the team to a successful season, especially if Josh Gordon is allowed to return. Even Peter King got into the action this morning in his Tuesday Morning Mailbag:

"I was extremely impressed with Brian Hoyer in the second half of that game. Four legitimate scoring drives, plus some stops by the defense, told me it’s a franchise making progress. Is there hope? Absolutely. The most important thing the Browns can do in 2014 is make progress towards finding a long-term quarterback. It’s unlikely that it will be Hoyer; at some point, you’re going to want to give Johnny Manziel a chance. But I saw some hopeful signs out of the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday."

Yet is it possible that it is all fools gold with Hoyer? Could it be that he has the uncanny ability to be successful when nothing is expected of him and then shrink when the expectations grow? Let’s take a look back at a few key times during his career.


After taking over for an injured Drew Stanton for a few games the previous year, Hoyer was expected to lead a talented Michigan State team in 2007. With NFL caliber wide receiver Devin Thomas (2nd round pick) and tight end Kellen Davis (5th round pick) and running back Javon Ringer (5th round pick) Hoyer had some tools on offense to work with. Yet his team faltered to a 7 – 6 record including losses to unranked Northwestern and Iowa.

The following season, as a 5th year senior, Hoyer was on the pre-season list for Johnny Unitas Award. Needless to say that didn’t happen. Hoyer, losing both Thomas and Davis, struggled. He only completed 51% of his passes, only threw for 9 touchdowns and also had 9 interceptions. The team ended with a better record, 9 – 4, but a big loss to unranked California in the opening week was a huge blow to their hopes.

Hoyer went undrafted following his senior season that started with a lot of expectations.

2013 Cleveland Browns

Hoyer entered the start of the season as the 3rd string quarterback. He was seen as Mike Lombardi’s guy but not someone the coaching staff liked for their offense. Yet when Brandon Weeden got hurt the Browns turned the offense over to Hoyer in Week 3. No expectations as the team struggled out of the gate. Hoyer performed very well, outside of 3 INTs the first week, last year with the Browns.

Hoyer led the Browns to victories over the Vikings, Bengals and Bills, though his season ending ACL injury was in the Bills game. Expectations were still pretty low on Hoyer going into the Bills game, though fans were hopeful that he could be the answer, a local one, to all the questions. Unfortunately Hoyer’s injury happened very early in the game against the Bills, so while he is credited with the win, Weeden did most of the work.

2014 Pre-Season

The Browns conducted a quarterback competition this summer. The famous Johnny Manziel came to town to take the reigns from little Brian Hoyer, or at least that was the national narrative. The Browns coaching staff and front office made it clear that the job was Hoyer’s to lose. They also made it clear that they expected to compete this year and Hoyer’s experience, and good play last year, gave us all hope in him. Very similar to his first full year starting at MSU in 2007.

Hoyer didn’t do well in the competition. He over and under threw receivers. He looked anxious in the pocket. He didn’t lead the offense with any consistency. This led to the Browns giving Manziel time with the first team. Neither Manziel nor Hoyer took advantage and the whole competition looked like a train wreck. Hoyer was given the job but he obviously didn’t earn it, he was just the safer pick at the time.

The opening game against the Steelers was the first time Hoyer had the chance to settle back in as the starter in regular season since  his injury against the Bills. Against an aging Steelers defense, with a solid running game and good defense, the expectations were on Hoyer to keep them in the game and make good decisions. The coaching staff and front office continued to preach they want to win and fans were excited about the teams chances.

Then the first half happened. Hoyer was 4 – 11 passing for 57 yards. The offense sputtered, getting only a field goal after a long, 47 yard pass to Jordan Cameron. Hoyer made poor throws and bad decisions hurting the offense’s rhythm and timing. Open receivers were overthrown, underthrown and just plain missed. The defense was terrible at tackling and those things combined for a 27 – 3 deficit going into halftime.

Then in the second half, in a game where very few had any expectations of the Browns competing, Hoyer came alive. Using a no huddle offense Hoyer led the Browns on 4 scoring drives to tie the game up. Hoyer was crisp, decisive and on target. While not perfect his performance was a vivid reminder of what we saw last year. Browns fans now thought their team had a chance. Hoyer was in position to lead them to one of the best comebacks of all time.

And that is when things fell apart again for Hoyer and the Browns offense. Expected by the coaching staff to lead his team into field goal range, Hoyer took over at the 20 yard line with 1:53 to go. Sack. Incomplete pass. Completed pass for -5 yards, that the Steelers looked ready for the whole way. Punt. Steelers FG. Gave over.


Hoyer had expectations on him 4 different times so far that he has not performed well during. Last two years at MSU, especially his senior season when making the Unitas list, did not live up to expectations. The QB competition this off-season had high hopes for Hoyer, and was stacked in his favor, and he struggled. The start of the Steelers game was a place of expectations by the coaching staff and the fans. The final drive put pressure on Hoyer to make good decisions and get them in field goal range. All 4 expectations times were met with disappointment.

Yet he excelled when expectations were low. Taking over for Stanton at MSU, taking over for Weeden last year and when the Browns seemed fully out of the game, all times Hoyer played well.

This tells me that Hoyer struggles with expectations. It doesn’t mean he can’t be successful. His play in low pressure situations shows he has the skill. Learning to slow his mind down, not grip the ball so tight and just relax and throw the ball are mental techniques that need drastic improvement.

Can he do it? Sure he can, but I’m not trying to put any more expectations on him.

What do you think of our conclusion on Hoyer? Off base or right on?