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Game Review: A Look at Brian Hoyer's Day in Browns' 24-23 Loss to Redskins

Chris Pokorny breaks down the Cleveland Browns' 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel. The competition is now over, but in the aftermath of talk radio, the media, and listening to fans, a fair amount have said that Hoyer did not look good at all against the Redskins and was flat-out terrible.

Due to the short week before our next game this Saturday against the Rams, I did not have time to do my typical "complete game review." Instead, this week's game review focuses primarily on Hoyer, and why I didn't see anything against Washington that made me think, "this guy should sit on opening day." Hoyer was ready, even if his teammates weren't.

Cleveland Browns vs. Washington Redskins

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  1. Goat of the Game: C Alex Mack - The Browns had a chance to put on a show for the nation, and while the defense delivered, the offense did not. The person who set the negative tone right off the bat -- something that persisted through the rest of the game -- was Mack. The snap at the wrong time backed Cleveland's offense up immediately, and even though you want to see your offense overcome adversity, it set off a chain of things to go wrong for the Browns' offense.

  2. Awarding the Game Ball: S Jim Leonhard - Even if the lead was short-lived, it always feels good to see a pick six that puts your team on top. To make things even better, the pick six came off of former Browns QB Colt McCoy, although McCoy later retaliated with what ended up being the game-winning touchdown.

  3. Play #1 - The Botched Snap: Who is ready for Monday Night Football?

    On the first play, the Browns are going max protection in the backfield with only two receivers running routes -- WR Josh Gordon at the top of the screen, and WR Andrew Hawkins at the bottom. TE Jordan Cameron initially motioned from right to left, but now he is motioning back to his right, presumably to settle into a spot symmetrically to FB MarQueis Gray. The problem? As of this screenshot, C Alex Mack has already began centering the ball, while Cameron is sitll in the way of QB Brian Hoyer.

    Nobody else expected the snap to come. Cameron just barely got past Hoyer, so the ball didn't deflect off him. It catches Hoyer by surprise, as he takes an extra bit of time to gather the ball. With max protection, if the protection holds, Hoyer should still have time to complete a pass or throw the ball away.

    However, RT Mitchell Schwartz did not move right away due to the snap count issue, which gives his defender a clear path to Hoyer. Normally, Cameron might be able to pick this guy up, but he never fully got set. As Cameron was trying to set, he saw the snap come early and his head immediately turned that direction, and he tried to block (nobody), because nobody came.

    Just as Hoyer completes the playfake and plants on his back foot, the defender is already right there. Unless you are a quarterback who can muscle your way out of this situation (i.e. a Ben Roethlisberger), there's no way to avoid this sack.

  4. Play #2 - On-Target Throw to Cameron: The first play made it 2nd-and-16, but then a false start by LT Joe Thomas happened, pushing the offense into a 2nd-and-21 situation.

    WR Josh Gordon is running an underneath route while the other receivers clear out. He seems like the obvious choice to throw the ball to on this play.

    Hoyer anticipates the break by TE Jordan Cameron, though, and throws a pretty much perfect pass to him, out of reach from the defender. The ball bounces off of Cameron's arm as though he didn't expect it -- he might have to shake off the rust a bit after missing a few practice sessions.

  5. Play #3 - A Little Low to Hawkins: On Hoyer's second drive, the Browns ran the ball twice to set up a 3rd-and-4 situation.

    WR Andrew Hawkins is in the slot at the bottom of the screen, with WR Josh Gordon to the left of him. The target on this play is Hawkins.

    Usually we complain about receivers not running their routes past the sticks on third down. In this case, Hawkins appears to be a bit too far out, though, to the point where he faced a near-collision from an oncoming defender. What I like is Hoyer's decisive recognition -- the only person open right away here is Hawkins, and he finds him.

    There are a few things about this play, though -- Hawkins should have showed his body to Hoyer right away, which would have been enough for a first down and would have hit Hawkins in the chest instead of near his feet. The other thing to point out is that this is still what I'd consider a catch I expect our receivers to make. Hopefully the chemistry factor with all of the receivers will improve a bit with more cohesive reps now.

  6. Play #4 - Adjusted Quick Slant to Gordon: When the Browns took over on downs at the 15-yard line, they had to settle for a field goal. What went wrong? Let's take a look at the first play.

    I'm assuming that this was a run play that QB Brian Hoyer utilized the option of throwing a quick slant to WR Josh Gordon instead. Why? Because nobody else is running a route, and all of the linemen are run blocking even after the ball is out to Gordon.

    The cyan arrows mostly indicate that the brief playfake by Hoyer has caught them off guard. Out of the picture, I drew a cyan arrow because a safety is coming. One defender is in Hoyer's path, so he needs to throw the ball to the yellow circle I drew above to fit the window.

    It's a bang-bang play, but Hoyer nails it. Gordon should have caught this and then set up about a 2nd-and-1 situation or even a first down. Instead, the cornerback on Gordon knocks the ball loose, resulting in an incompletion.

  7. Play #5 - Behind Hawkins for Possible TD: If there is one play fans have a legitimate gripe about, it would be the end zone pass to WR Andrew Hawkins.

    The routes are seen above, with WR Andrew Hawkins at the bottom of the screen. He is going to run straight past his defender, and Hoyer makes the right decision again by finding the open man.

    The pass is behind Baby Hawk, something we can't have on a regular basis. With that said, I'm always a believer that the receivers can help elevate a quarterback's game (just ask Andy Dalton). In the screenshot above, Hawkins has the time to reach back and haul in the touchdown, but he doesn't get his hands around quick enough. The ball actually deflects off of the back side of his left hand, rather than cupping his left and right hands together for the completion.

  8. Play #6 - First Completion is Fumbled: At last, the first completion for Hoyer!

    Hoyer runs a little bootleg and is going to hit FB MarQueis Gray in the flat.

    The ball is there and Gray sprints upfield for a first down...however, the fun is short-lived, as Hoyer and the rest of Browns fans discover that the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Redskins.

  9. Final Assessment on QBs: I saw QB Tom Brady throw a pick six last week. In three preseason games, QB Eli Manning is 7-of-16 for 49 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 1 lost fumble. I'm not going to judge these quarterbacks based on their preseason performances, because their reputations precede them. Sometimes quarterbacks roll in the preseason, but other times, they just don't get enough possessions to get things going. That's when I like to look at the specifics of "what went wrong," which is what I did in the screenshots above for QB Brian Hoyer.

    In Hoyer, I saw a guy who was confident in his reads and consistently found the open receiver. He finished the game 2-of-6 for 16 yards passing. Two of those incompletions were drops right on target. The other two were perhaps a erratic from Hoyer, but WR Andrew Hawkins got his hands on the ball both times. On one of his completions, the drive ended because the receiver fumbled. To start the game, the offensive line screwed up and put him in a hole.

    All of those circumstances have to be factored in. While it sounds ridiculous to say Hoyer "earned" the starting job from that performance, I think it's clear that he was more fit for the job than QB Johnny Manziel. You could write a book on why Manziel is or isn't ready, and both sides of the argument would contain very valid points. For now, Hoyer offers some early-season stability, and we'll see where that takes us.

  10. Notes on Roster Bubble Players: Here are a couple of thoughts on potential roster bubble players who I have not already discussed:

    -RB Dion Lewis: All I know is that in two preseason games, Lewis has received the most reps as the third running back. He also caught a touchdown pass after making a couple of nifty moves and shoving the ball over the goal line for a score.

    -WR Charles Johnson: I'm not sure what a 1-catch, 3-yard stat line does to improve your odds of making the team. Head coach Mike Pettine really isn't giving guys like Johnson or the other young receivers reps with the first-team offense during games, so it's hard to imagine anyone beyond the veterans contributing the begin the year.

    -CB Leon McFadden: Getting a heavy dose of playing time, McFadden has exactly the type of game he needed to perhaps stick on the roster. If the Browns feel rookie Pierre Desir needs to be a 53-man redshirt in year one, McFadden could make the roster and see playing time. He's also making a few plays on special teams.

    -CB Royce Adams: Not good. Per Pro Football Focus, Adams "spent 15 snaps in coverage and managed to give up 5-of-8 balls for 105 yards and two touchdowns. That’s 7.5 yards per snap in coverage."

  11. Special Teams Tackles: There were three special teams tackles, with one each from WR Marlon Moore, CB Leon McFadden, and S Johnson Bademosi. There were two assists -- one each from ILB Craig Robertson and CB Leon McFadden.

  12. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, QB Johnny Manziel had way more snaps than you probably thought, compared to QB Brian Hoyer. On defense, the inside linebackers loaded up on tackles on the stat sheet.

  13. Brownies: The officiating on defensive holding calls in the preseason is absurd league-wide, not just our games. ... ESPN drove me nuts with their lack of replays, either of the penalties or of plays in general. ... The Browns' defense showed a knack for getting sacks and turnovers, and I'll take that any day of the week, even if it means more yards are given up. ... QB Connor Shaw delivered despite getting very little, if any, reps in some of the training camp sessions. ...

    WR Taylor Gabriel remained a stable force among the backup receivers. ... WR Travis Benjamin got his clock cleaned but is OK. ... QB Johnny Manziel flipping off the Redskins bench was a wasted opportunity; if those moments happen, it has to be at a time when it's warranted (rivalry game when in contention and it's the heat of the moment), but a preseason game of bench players?

Up next, the Browns take on the St. Louis Rams this Saturday at home. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!