Earlier this year, I wrote about Brian Hoyer's fantastic start to the season. Things were good. The Browns were a surprising 2-2, including a win over the Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The Browns' offense looked unstoppable at times, which was a surprise based on their preseason play and the absence of top offensive weapon WR Josh Gordon.
Fast forward half a season, and it is clear to me that the Browns should make a change at quarterback and start Johnny Manziel. Admittedly, I wanted the Browns to draft Johnny back in April, and admittedly I am not sure if he's our answer at quarterback. What is becoming increasingly clear to me, however, is that Brian Hoyer is not the answer.
It is time to find out what we have in Johnny because for the first time we can firmly say that starting him gives us the best chance to win.
A system fit? A poor supporting cast?
After a fast start, Hoyer has cooled off considerably. Has it been due to a lack of weapons? Perhaps, but he was excelling with the likes of Miles Austin and Taylor Gabriel to start the season. Has it been due to losing pro bowl center Alex Mack (and a subsequent dropoff in the running game)? Again, perhaps. But Hoyer has failed to excel at "game managing," and he has proven that he can't carry a team when the running game isn't there. Even the Seahawks need to make a play from time to time when the running game gets shut down, and they have the perfect man for that job in Russell Wilson. From what we have seen of Hoyer, he isn't that guy.
Our system requires a QB who can avoid turnovers and convert in key situations regardless of the supporting cast. How has Hoyer been doing in those areas? Let's look at the stats.
Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt
As a review, this stat attempts to evaluate QB performance as a whole by awarding bonuses or penalties for TDs, INTs, and sacks, and rolling those in to yards per pass attempt. It is one of the best "one number" stats out there as it is superior to QB rating, and we actually know what goes into it unlike ESPN's Total QBR. It isn't perfect, but it is pretty damn good.
Hoyer's ANY/A on the season isn't bad. In fact he's 10th in the league with 6.48 ANY/A, which is very good. But there's one problem: he's trending the wrong way, and he's trending there hard.
Hoyer's first four games: 7.66
Hoyer's 2nd four games: 6.92
Hoyer's last four games: 5.02
Colt McCoy (career): 4.91
Brandon Weeden (career): 4.82
Aaron Rodgers (best in 2014): 9.02
Peyton Manning (2nd in 2014): 8.24
Ben Rothlisberger: 7.50 (5th in 2014)
Conclusions based on ANY/A:
Hoyer began the season like a true franchise QB. He was playing at a top 5 in the league level. Since then, he's fallen off a cliff. In his last 4 starts he performed more like Colt McCoy than a franchise player.
This is simply the rate at which a quarterback gets sacked. Early in the season, Hoyer did a great job of avoiding negative plays. He's still doing a good job of avoiding sacks, but we've seen a slight rise in his sack rate. This data is noisy due to a small sample size, so take it with a grain of salt.
Brian Hoyer (season): 5.2%
Hoyer's first four games: 3.6%
Hoyer's 2nd four games: 6.98%
Hoyer's last four games: 4.03%
Peyton Manning (1st in 2014): 2.64%
Andy Dalton (5th in 2014): 3.43%
Andrew Luck (10th in 2014): 4.13%
Brandon Weeden (career): 6.4%
Colt McCoy (career): 7.9%
Conclusions based on sack rate:
Hoyer took too many sacks in his second four games. He seems to have stabilized, but he hasn't been able to sustain his low sack rate from the first four games. He's not great here, but not beyond repair.
This is an area where I thought Hoyer could do better during his hot start, but instead of improvement, we've seen massive regression. The Browns have only scored TDs on 52.50% of red zone trips this year, which is actually worse than last year's 52.78% when we started 3 different players at QB. The Browns aren't just rushing the ball for TDs once they get into the red zone, more TDs from Hoyer would be welcome.
Brian Hoyer (season): 2.8%
Hoyer's first four games: 4.5%
Hoyer's 2nd four games: 3.33%
Hoyer's last four games: 0.7%
Aaron Rodgers (1st in 2014): 8.8%
Tom Brady (5th in 2014): 6.2%
Ryan Tannehill (10th in 2014): 5.1%
Brandon Weeden (career): 3.0%
Colt McCoy (career): 3.0%
Conclusions based on TD%:
You simply cannot be a competitive NFL team in 2014 without scoring touchdowns. Hoyer has been getting worse in this area, with only 1 touchdown in his last 4 games. He's throwing TDs on less than 1% of his passes right now.
Brian Hoyer (season): 2.5%
Hoyer's first four games: 0.8%
Hoyer's 2nd four games: 2.5%
Hoyer's last four games: 4.1%
Aaron Rodgers (1st in 2014): 0.9%
Tom Brady (5th in 2014): 1.4%
Ryan Tannehill/Matt Ryan/Colin Kaepernick/Joe Flacco (t-9th in 2014): 2.1%
Brandon Weeden (career): 3.4%
Colt McCoy (career): 2.8%
Conclusions based on INT%:
In his first four games, Hoyer threw the ball to the other team once. Over the last four games, he's done it six times. For a team who attempts so few passes and is built around the threat of the run, a 4.1% INT% is very bad. Hoyer is trending hard in the wrong direction. It is especially disappointing to see Hoyer struggle in this area because he was doing so well in his first 4 games.
Brian Hoyer (season): 254.67
Hoyer's first four games: 252
Hoyer's 2nd four games: 183
Hoyer's last four games: 260.5
Andrew Luck (1st in 2014): 331
Kirk Cousins (5th in 2014): 285
Nick Foles (10th in 2014): 270
Conclusions based on yards/game:
Hoyer simply hasn't been asked to gain a lot of yards. The Browns have been in the top 10 in the NFL in offensive plays per game, but they are 22nd in pass attempts. He isn't a guy who is going to march the ball up and down the field repeatedly, and we have only rarely asked that of him.
These volume stats say less about Hoyer's success/failure, and more about his role. They also underscore how important efficiency is: you can't hide behind the running game and then make mistakes when you're finally asked to make a play. Our quarterback must be efficient with his opportunities.
Passer Usage %
This is a stat I created (at least, I think I created it) earlier this season. It measures the rate at which a QB is called upon to throw the football. Because different teams operate at different paces (think of a plodding, grind it out team vs. a no-huddle, up-tempo offense like the Eagles'), the sheer volume of passing attempts doesn't tell you how much a team relies on its QB to throw. Passer Usage % does. For this calculation, I ignored all plays once Johnny Manziel was substituted for Hoyer in the 4th quarter against the Buffalo Bills.
Passer Usage % is:
QB passing attempts / (team rushing attempts + team passing attempts) x 100
Brian Hoyer season: 47.15%
Brian Hoyer first four games: 53.08%
Brian Hoyer 2nd four games: 50%
Brian Hoyer last 4 games: 46.72%
Russell Wilson: 46.9%
Andrew Luck: 60.26%
Peyton Manning: 57.4%
Ben Rothlisberger: 57.68%
Hoyer is not asked to throw very often relative to other QBs. Our offense is built around the run, particularly if it can put points on the board early and avoid having to come from behind. But when Hoyer has been asked to throw recently, he's been much, much less efficient than earlier in the year. Hoyer does lead the league in 4th quarter comebacks and game-winning drives, but several of those comebacks would not have been necessary if our offense was up to speed earlier in games.
Time for Change
Avoiding turnovers, converting 3rd downs, and scoring touchdowns will always be key stats for "game managers" on teams that like to run the ball. Recently, Hoyer's throwing way more interceptions, he's throwing way less TDs, and the Browns are 31st in the league at 3rd down conversions on the season. Hoyer has fallen off a statistical cliff, looking completely lost right in the middle of the Browns' playoff run.
It's time to see what we have in the rookie.
***All stats for this column were updated for Brian Hoyer through week 13, but other quarterbacks' stats reflect only weeks 1-12***