Is it time to unleash Johnny Football on the NFL?
Who should get the starting nod at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday against Indianapolis – Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel?
That’s the question facing head coach Mike Pettine, and if he gets the answer correct the Browns just may be able to extend the season into January.
Hoyer has forced the coaching staff into making a decision based on his play during the month of November. Despite helping the Browns go 3-2 over a five-game stretch, Hoyer only completed 54 percent of his passes, while throwing for three touchdowns against eight interceptions, resulting in a quarterback rating of 66.2 for the month.
That performance is reminiscent of Derek Anderson’s December to forget in 2007, when he put up a month that saw him complete 53 percent of his passes, threw eight interceptions against seven touchdowns, and posted a quarterback rating of 66.6 as the Browns missed out on a playoff spot.
With the Browns hanging on (barely thanks to their poor performance in potential tiebreakers) to hopes of making the playoffs, Pettine has to do what he can to give the Browns the best chance over the season’s final four games.
“The level of Brian’s play — it’s warranted discussion.” – Head coach Mike Pettine
So does that mean Manziel is the answer? Well, that depends. (We know, way to take a definitive stand.)
At 7-5, the Browns realistically need to go 3-1 the rest of the way to have a realistic chance at the playoffs – nine wins is not going to make it in the AFC this year; 10 wins may not even be enough given the aforementioned tiebreaker breakdown.
The Browns still have Carolina, which at 3-8-1 is a mess, and Cincinnati, which the Browns already beat easily on the road, so even if they lose this Sunday to the Colts it is not unrealistic to see the Browns walking into Baltimore for the final game of the season with a 9-6 record and the playoffs still a possibility.
If the Browns were convinced they were getting the early season Hoyer, rather than the one we’ve all been watching the past five weeks, this would be an easy call. But for a combination of circumstances – lack of a running game, injuries, Hoyer quite possibly finally hitting his ceiling – is there really any reason to think that Hoyer is returning?
If that is the case, the Browns may not have much to lose by turning to Manziel.
If the team as a whole plays well, then the Browns should still be able to win two of the next three games to get to that nine-win mark for the Baltimore game. While it may be unrealistic to expect Manziel to light it up and get the Browns back to scoring almost 27 points a game the way they did in the first five weeks of the season, it’s also hard to imagine him playing as poorly as Hoyer has over the past few weeks. (And it’s not as if the Browns are turning to Ken Dorsey or Bruce Gradowski here.)
“We’re 7-5. This just doesn’t happen by luck. It was hard-earned, and we’ve worked to get where we’re at.” – Quarterback Brian Hoyer
It’s also interesting to note that, according to an article from Josh Katzowitz at The Wall Street Journal, while this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks are not winning, it turns out they are also not playing all that poorly.
While Blake Bortles (Jacksonville), Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota), Derek Carr (Oakland) and Zach Mettenberger (Tennessee) have combined for just five wins against 25 losses, their collective passer rating of 76.3 is the fourth-best mark for a rookie class since 2000 and their 223.9 passing yards per game average is better than any class this century.
We would like to think that the Browns are better overall than the Jaguars, Titans, Vikings and Raiders, so Manziel would be in a better situation than his fellow rookies and have a better opportunity to up that rookie win total.
Pettine is in a situation here where no matter what he decides he will be second-guessed. If he believes that keeping the veteran Hoyer in place, Pettine will be criticized for not having the guts to make a switch. (And a subset of the Browns “fans” will give Hoyer zero chance on Sunday despite the fact that he has helped the Browns go 4-2 so far at home.)
But if he turns the offense over to Manziel and Manziel plays like a rookie quarterback making his first start of the season, Pettine will be criticized for not sticking with the quarterback that helped the Browns get into a position to play meaningful games in December.
Whatever decision Pettine makes, he needs to stick with it the rest of the season. If Manziel is ready to take over – and despite the one drive during a game where the Browns were trailing 20-3 we still are not sure he is ready for 60 minutes of football – then he’s the starter the rest of the way. But if Pettine believes that Hoyer is still the answer, he needs to stick with him as well. Because if Manziel isn’t ready to take over now, why would he be a week or two later?
“I think — coach Pettine always says it — there’s always a lot of overreaction regardless of if you win or lose …” Brian Hoyer
This is the first really big test of Pettine’s coaching tenure in Cleveland, and while it may not be a make-or-break decision, it is still an important one. Even if they miss the playoffs, the worst thing for the Browns would be to close out the season at 8-8 (or worse) after starting the year at 7-4.
We have a feeling about which way Pettine will go with this decision.
Let’s just hope he makes the right call.
In other Browns news …
Uni Watch had a small but very interesting item about the Browns in today’s column.
According to Paul Lukas, as part of the upcoming uniform change, the Browns will a “new texture” to the helmet stripe. Not really sure what that means, but it shouldn’t be all that bad (hopefully).
The bigger news is that the Browns will reportedly adopt a new shade of orange for the helmets, something along the likes of what Oklahoma State and Oregon State use.
And here we thought the brown pants were bad.
We’re generally a fan of the chrome-style helmets that many college football teams have been wearing the past few years (Baylor is a good example) with one exception – the chrome look simply doesn’t work with the color orange.
Ever since the team announced they were getting “updated” uniforms we’ve feared that they will somehow screw up one of the NFL’s iconic uniforms.
This latest news about the helmet does nothing to appease our fears.
(Photos courtesy of The Associated Press and The Plain Dealer)