For many, Brian Hoyer becoming the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns was nothing more than another story of a hometown kid getting his shot. With the recent history surrounding the position in Cleveland, Hoyer’s chances of becoming a permanent fixture with the franchise were very slim.
After watching Brandon Weeden fail to grasp the job despite the team handing it to him on a platter for two consecutive seasons, Hoyer jumped over veteran Jason Campbell during the 2013 season. His reward was an opportunity to start on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, and he answered the call with 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in a come-from-behind victory.
His poise and composure despite throwing three interceptions earned him the chance to start the very next week at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Once again, the hometown kid rose to the occasion with 269 yards passing and two touchdowns. Suddenly, it seemed as if the Browns finally had a capable player at the position.
In his third game just a few short days after beating the Bengals, Hoyer took the field for a Thursday night game against the Bills. With the city of Cleveland behind him, Hoyer was ready to make a statement and lock up the quarterback job for the rest of the season. Instead, he would tear his ACL after just four pass attempts—leaving the Browns with Weeden to once again lead them.
Weeden would finish off the game and earn Hoyer the victory, drawing the veteran journeyman to a 3-0 record in his three starts with the Browns. At that point, the record did not matter—questions began to swirl in regard to whether or not the soon-to-be 28-year old could return to form in order to lead the Browns in the 2014 NFL season.
We all know the story from here. Turmoil overtook the organization following the season, as the team removed its head coach and majority of the front office from power. Ray Farmer was promoted to general manager, and the team went on one of the most scrutinized head coaching searches in the league—eventually landing on a guy on nobody’s radar, Mike Pettine.
With the executives who brought him to the team gone, Hoyer’s future with the Browns was now in doubt. Then on the night of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Farmer and the Browns took a player who would instantly polarize the fan base in regard to who should be the starting quarterback. After trading up to the famed No. 22 spot (Brady Quinn and Weeden both selected there), the Cleveland Browns selected Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
The selection of Manziel set the world on fire. Season ticket sales went through the roof, Manziel’s jersey and apparel sales caused backorders on websites. It had been decided by the media and fans, Manziel was the heir apparent and next starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. It did not matter what Hoyer did in their eyes, the man known as “Johnny Football” was going to save their dreaded franchise.
While all of this was going on Hoyer was staying focused on his rehab, getting stronger and learning his new playbook. Labeled a game-manager who would never be able to win the game for his team, Hoyer was focused on getting things right and being 100 percent come training camp.
As the hype-machine overtook Berea thanks to the presence of Manziel, neither quarterback really stood out. Manziel looked like a rookie who had never had a playbook because, well, he was a rookie who never had a playbook. Hoyer looked like a seasoned veteran who was timid coming off an injury because, well, he was coming off an ACL injury.
Suddenly, it was “here we go again” to some fans in Cleveland as neither player was impressive in the preseason. And when you have two unimpressive players in four games, you are going to have a house divided. One wants to usher in the new era with the rookie quarterback, with the expectation of a bad season. The other half wants the hometown guy who is 3-0 as a starter for the Browns to get another shot.
Another shot is exactly what happened, as Hoyer was under center for the season opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After two quarters of the first game of the season, the social media dumpster fire was in full force as the Browns had come out and laid a massive egg on the road. Hoyer looked scared and nothing like the player who handled the Cincinnati Bengals in his final full game as the team’s starter before a knee injury.
With the world ready to hand it over to Manziel in the second half, Hoyer came out of the locker room a changed man—leading the Browns on a furious comeback which fell just short thanks to a last-second field goal by the Steelers. Pittsburgh would win 30-27, but Hoyer would finish with 222 yards passing and a touchdown—completing 60 percent of his passes in the process.
Many people find it difficult to find positives in a loss, but the second half against the Steelers lit a fire that has carried over through the team’s first nine games. Hoyer has the Browns in first place in the AFC North for the first time since the 90s, as the team is 6-3 heading into their contest with the Houston Texans. In the process, Hoyer has extended his record to 9-3 as the starting QB of the Browns—tied for No. 2 in Browns history among those with at least 10 starts with Tommy O’Connell and behind only the great Otto Graham (57-13-1).
Even as Hoyer continued to rack up the wins, many questioned whether he could be the future of the franchise. Instead of getting caught up in it, Hoyer continued to rack up wins and passing yards with a less than stellar receiving corps. Currently sitting at 2,212 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, Hoyer is on pace to eclipse 3,900 yards through air—which would be good for the second best passing season in the history of the team behind Brian Sipe’s 4,132 in 1980.
Still, his ability as a quarterback is questioned each game. The doubters cite his low completion percentage, tendency to miss receivers from time to time and average arm strength as reasons why Manziel should get the nod week in and week out. Yet despite all of this, Hoyer still ranks among the league’s best in some categories you may not know about—but are very important to the quarterback position.
Thanks to the great premium statistics at Pro Football Focus, you can really dive deeper into the effectiveness of a quarterback outside of the normal yards, touchdowns, interceptions and completion percentage. One of their best statistics in this writer’s eyes is called “Yards in the air without drops.” YIA is defined as the total number of yards a quarterback has thrown for, minus yards after the catch (not including dropped passes).
To me, this statistical category really tells you how many yards are actually a product of the quarterback himself. Of Hoyer’s 2,212 yards passing this season, 1,418 of them are considered YIA without drops—good for No. 5 in the league behind elite names like Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. In fact, 63.8 percent of Hoyer’s passing yards are in the air this season (not coming from his receivers after the catch)—which is second in the league.
Another great statistic for Browns fans is that Hoyer and his receivers have only given up 73 yards on dropped passes (10 total drops according to PFF), which is also good for No. 5 in the league. Hoyer is also No. 5 in the league in passing yards per attempt at 8.05, and tied for No. 5 in interceptions thrown with four.
What is even more impressive about Hoyer standing out in a number of these “throwing” categories is that he is No. 21 in the league in pass attempts with just 276. On a run dominant team, Hoyer has found a way to impact the game through the air—even though many do not want to give him credit for it.
In fact, there are probably a number of teams in the league who would love to have a guy like Hoyer on their roster. His tenacity, leadership and ability to control his offense despite lacking elite traits is truly remarkable. For a guy who is supposed to be a career backup (yours truly said he was the next Matt Flynn), Hoyer has continued week in and week out to find ways to lead this Browns team to victory.
As we approach another defining game in the Hoyer and Pettine era, the local kid from North Olmsted will have an opportunity to take his team to 7-3 in front of the Cleveland faithful on Sunday. For a player who has continued to defy the odds week in and week out, it is tough to bet against him no matter how difficult of a defense he will be playing.
So instead of chanting “Johnny” and wondering when the Manziel era will begin in Cleveland, how about we all sit back and enjoy the show. Because before you know it, you may just find yourselves chanting “Hoyer” as the Browns take the field in a postseason game for the first time in over 10 years.