The Manziel Era Will Likely Start, Could it be Over by Next Year?
By Joe Zevchek
Although Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine was expected yesterday to announce his decision who will start at quarterback against the Bengals, he smoothly stepped around the issue, stating that he still needed to talk to both players within the next few hours and stating that he wouldn’t address the issue any further.
Between that statement, and his scathing assessment of the offense’s performance on Sunday, Pettine all but stated that the staff was ready to move on from the Brian Hoyer era and into the Johnny Manziel one.
How the team arrived at this point has been and likely will continue to be a hot point of debate, but frankly, the coaching staff has handled the situation as well as they possibly could to this point. Even further, now is the perfect time for Manziel-or SOMEBODY else, to start-not last week, not next week, and not week 1.
Few quarterbacks come into the league ready to start right off the bat. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are really the only good recent examples. Yet most first round picks are pressed into service right away. When training camp started, Pettine stated that he preferred to start a veteran over a rookie. Taking into account Manziel’s less-than-prototypical size and a playing style that some would call reckless, and it was clear from the get-go what Pettine’s choice was. While a shaky preseason kept the debate ignited, Pettine deferred to his personal model, and chose Hoyer’s experience.
Despite being a veteran, Hoyer was still a relatively unknown commodity. He had shown plenty of poise and ability in his 2 full games last year, and there was hope and some belief that he could maybe, possibly, hopefully, develop into a franchise quarterback. At the least, he could provide a steady hand to lead the team while Manziel learned the playbook.
While Hoyer certainly rewarded the coach’s faith to start the season, his decline in play is undeniable. Pettine wasn’t wrong to pull Hoyer last week against Buffalo. The team was faltering in a crucial game and something had to be done to get the offense moving. Conversely, the decision to keep Hoyer as the starter moving into the game against Indianapolis was equally justifiable.
No matter his struggles, Hoyer’s play the this point was indeed a significant reason as to why the Browns are in playoff contention. He led game- winning-drives, managed to guide the offense through periods when the running game struggled against Oakland and Tampa Bay, and provided leadership on a team that hadn’t had it from their quarterback for years. Joe Thomas said it perfectly when he said that inserting the unknown rookie just to see if he could play was a sign of surrender in a season that was (and still is) very meaningful.
Why Hoyer’s play has dipped so badly is a topic in itself. The running game has mostly picked back up, at least in spurts, and while he has faced some tough pass rushes he hasn’t been sacked constantly. The most likely explanation is that it’s all mental. Since he had shown promise that he could lead a winning team, he’s undoubtedly put pressure on himself to show that he’s more than a game manager and can be a play maker. The return of Josh Gordon only gave him the best weapon he could ask for to help him do that, thus, all the forced throws into the direction of number 12.
The coaching staff showed their faith in and appreciation for what Hoyer had accomplished this season by giving him the start against the Colts. Instead of rewarding that faith, Hoyer wilted in the face of it all, despite the defense and special teams putting the team into a position to not just win, but dominate the game.
Even while Hoyer played terribly from the first snap, Pettine’s reasoning for keeping him in the game was fair as well. The Browns led all game, and rookie mistakes could have blown that lead in a hurry. It might be hard to imagine Manziel playing worse than Hoyer, but it was still possible. Smart coaching does not entail knee jerk reactions with uncalculated risks.
Yet the end result still leaves a heap of blame at the feet of Hoyer. What’s worse is that as his play get’s worse, Hoyer seems to show less accountability.
A far cry from the guy who lambasted himself following a win in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Hoyer is tightening up in the face of pressure, but not in a good way. It’s not fair to say that Hoyer isn’t mentally tough. He’s fought hard to have the successes that he has had to this point. But the pressure knowing that the alleged quarterback of the future was waiting for him to fail might have been too much. It’s not unfair to him. It’s only natural that the Browns were going to take a quarterback high in the draft, given the situation following last season. He was given an opportunity to take the job, he did so, and had he kept performing no one would have worried about the college phenom on the bench.
The Browns’ possible frustrations could point to a scenario that no one is talking about- drafting yet another quarterback in the spring
Which brings us to Manziel himself. The stories surrounding the team’s approval (or lack thereof) over his preparation and lifestyle are well documented. The coaches and Manziel’s teammates say a lot of the right things, but where there is smoke, there is often fire. It’s possible that the staff still worries that no matter what Manziel’s physical talents can produce, his lack of knowledge of the offense could hurt more than Hoyer’s ineffectiveness.
Their frustrations are understandable. Naturally, Manziel will have some rookie mistakes, but if he’s not preparing the way he should and still struggling with the playbook it’s unacceptable considering he’s known that his time could be coming. With reports stating that Hoyer is expected to leave in free agency, the Browns’ possible frustrations could point to a scenario that no one is talking about- drafting yet another quarterback in the spring. With a young roster and a boatload of picks, it wouldn’t be impossible for the team to make a play to trade up. If not, taking a late-round prospect is well within the realm of possibility.
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Either way around it, it’s clear that the Brian Hoyer era is over. Frankly, he should be applauded for helping to get the team this far in the face of a lot of adversity. But Sunday was a clear sign that his play is now hampering the team. The best case scenario is that he’s given Manziel enough time to learn and ready himself to take over. If the concerns over Manziel are so severe that the coaching staff is honestly still hesitant to play him, then Connor Shaw should be activated to start. If the coaching staff wishes to send the message that performance and accountability are paramount, then the job should go to the man most deserving, even if he has spent the year on the practice squad.
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