We have a decision: Brian Hoyer has beaten out Johnny Manziel as the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine was underwhelmed by both quarterbacks' performances in the team's second preseason game against the Washington Redskins on Monday and had pondered delaying a decision he said he wanted made well in advance of the third preseason game.
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But Pettine apparently feels that Hoyer was the safer option, at least to start the season, which led to him naming Hoyer his Week 1 starter on Wednesday morning. Pettine made it sound as if the much-scrutinized decision was a fairly easy one despite appearing to wrestle with it publicly.
“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said, per the Browns' official website. “We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”
The Browns' opening trio of games could be quite tough — at the Pittsburgh Steelers, plus home games against the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints — and the prospect of starting a rookie against that slate had to be a bit frightening.
The exciting Manziel has been fair in two preseason games and actually has put up bigger statistics than Hoyer and led the team to more first downs. But Manziel was erratic against the Redskins and hit a low point when he flipped the opposing bench the bird, which Pettine frowned on after the game and admitted could be factored into his decision.
Hoyer has NFL starting experience, including three wins in three starts a year ago before suffering an ACL tear, and appears to be the steadier play. Although he fared poorly on Monday, his offensive line succumbed to a fierce rush and his receivers also let Hoyer down with dropped passes. Pettine said Hoyer's poise — also dealing with the distractions of Manziel Mania all spring and summer — and his game experience were big factors in him winning the job.
“I think Brian’s been very poised,” Pettine said. “I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on.”
Hoyer is now expected to receive all the first-team snaps in the Browns' third preseason game — typically the big tuneup for starters heading into the regular season — against the Rams this weekend. Manziel will mop up after.
How long will Hoyer's leash be? The Browns have a bye in Week 4, and a slow start by the team or the offense — which expects to be without star wideout Josh Gordon, a likely suspension candidate — could force Pettine to make an early call to the bullpen for Johnny Football. The problem, though, is that backups often do not get many reps through the course of the regular season, so rust could be a consideration for Manziel.
We know who will start against Dick LeBeau and the Steelers' defense in Week 1, but the Browns' quarterback story appears to be far from over.
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