Brian or Johnny Cleveland?

Thoughts of a QB switch beginning to Brew

Joey Arko, Staff Reporter

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Just a little over a week ago, Brian Hoyer’s jersey sales spiked from 85th to fifth in the entire NFL, according to data compiled by Dick’s Sporting Goods. For the first time all season, Hoyer’s jersey became a hotter commodity than that of his famous backup—Johnny Manziel—whose jersey sales ranked seventh. It was just over a week ago that Hoyer led a complete and utter dismantling over the Browns’ hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Brian Cleveland” memorabilia, ranging from t-shirts to posters, started popping up everywhere in the Cleveland area.

But that was then, and this is now.

After the Browns received a trouncing at the hands of the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago (giving them their first win of the season), the trumpeting of Brian Hoyer has taken a complete 180. How fast things can change for a lifetime journeyman QB of the NFL.

On Monday, head coach Mike Pettine acknowledged that there was a “brief” discussion in the second half regarding benching Hoyer in favor of the polarizing Manziel. He then went on to say that discussion was extinguished immediately because the starting-QB job still firmly belongs to Hoyer. Pettine wanted Hoyer to finish the game and try to end things on a positive note, with the hope of carrying some momentum into next week.

Nevertheless, Hoyer’s performance on Sunday marked the second straight week in which he’s completed well below 50 percent of his passes (41 percent combined the past two games) and he seems to be pressing as the season goes on.

As a journeyman QB, Hoyer can’t afford to put up those kinds of numbers. He also can’t afford to lose games to teams that haven’t even been all that close to winning prior to playing the Browns—especially with a first-round draft pick waiting in the wings behind him.

Enter Johnny Football.

Pettine’s admission that the coaches momentarily considered putting Manziel in the game against Jacksonville opened the door to the fact that Hoyer’s gig as the starting QB is more week-to-week than long-term. It also opened the door for Manziel mania to slowly rise once again. Hoyer must play well to retain his grasp on the starting job. If he strings together one or two more bad games, the rumblings for Manziel will only grow louder.

But is it wise to turn to the rookie quarterback? Based on how the other rookie QB’s from
Manziel’s class have played so far, it seems as if the answer would be no.

The three rookie QB’s that have had the opportunity to start this season—Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr—have been less than stellar, especially when compared to the play of Hoyer.

At 3-3, Hoyer’s record as a starter eclipses all three of the rookie QB’s, with Bortles being 1-3, Bridgewater being 1-2, and Carr being 0-6. Combined, the rookies have fewer wins (2) than Hoyer does by himself (3). He also has far fewer interceptions than all three of them—Hoyer has 2, Bortles has 10, Bridgewater has 5 and so does Carr.

That’s not to say that Hoyer is more talented than any of them, but that he is better prepared to face NFL defenses at this point in his career. He’s been in the league for 6 years now and has also had the opportunity to study with the likes of the all-time great Tom Brady. Based on where they are in their careers and development, Hoyer is simply better equipped to play right now than any of those QB’s.

It’s probably safe to assume the same could be said of Hoyer vs. Manziel.

Based on the rather low success of his rookie piers, Manziel most likely isn’t as ready as Hoyer is right now to play against the faster, more complex defenses of the NFL. For the sake of his development, sitting behind Brian Hoyer for as long as possible can pay huge dividends in the future for Manziel. The added time to learn the playbook and adjust from the collegiate level to the professional level is enormously valuable. That being said, when it comes to the question of “Brian Cleveland” or “Johnny Cleveland,” the immediate answer remains Brian Hoyer.

At least for now.