Pressure is the Cause of Struggles for Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer

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From the moment he arrived on the scene, Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brian Hoyer has been faced with pressure. Pressure from the fans to be an elite quarterback, pressure from the media and fans to give way to Johnny Manziel and pressure from his hometown to be the savior of a franchise.

The Brian Hoyer-Johnny Manziel battle is almost near its end.
The Brian Hoyer-Johnny Manziel battle is almost near its end.

So far, Hoyer has handled all of that pressure pretty well on the surface—leading the Browns to a 7-5 record this season and having the team in a position to be in the playoff conversation in December for the first time since 2007. So when it comes to pressure from the outside world, I’d say Hoyer is doing pretty well.

However, it is the pressure he is receiving from opposing defenses this season which is at the root of his struggles—including his decline and fall from grace in the eyes of the fans and many pundits around the league.

Thanks to the great statistics at Pro Football Focus, I was able to isolate Hoyer’s performance when he is being pressured—and let’s just say it isn’t pretty. Through 12 games, Hoyer has racked up 3,065 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 57.2 percent completion percentage and 79.1 rating leave a lot to be desired, but overall he has been an above-average quarterback for the team on the surface.

When you go deeper into the statistics well, this is where you can truly pinpoint Hoyer’s struggles this season—and specifically over the last few games. On the season, Hoyer has faced pressure in 126 of his 421 total dropbacks (all statistics from Pro Football Focus)—which equates to being pressured 29.9 percent of the time. In those situations, Hoyer has accumulated 546 yards passing, three touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 39.6 percent of his passes. Hoyer has also been sacked 17 times this season when facing pressure.

Brian Hoyer passing data from Pro Football Focus.
Brian Hoyer passing data from Pro Football Focus. Click to enlarge.

What is even more incredible than his inefficiency and inability to deal with the pressure is his numbers during the team’s three most recent games. Against Houston, Hoyer had a total of 52 dropbacks in which he was pressured 19 times. He went on to complete just 4-of-17 passes for 57 yards.

In the win over Atlanta, he was pressured 11 times in 43 dropbacks. Hoyer completed 6-of-10 passes for 79 yards and two interceptions. And in the loss against Buffalo, he was pressured eight times in 32 dropbacks—completing 3-of-6 passes for 26 yards.

Overall the numbers in his last three games read pretty poorly against pressure, and tell the complete story of why he has gone from game manager to on the hot seat. Hoyer faced a total of 38 pressures and completed 13-of-33 passes for 162 yards, zero interceptions and two interceptions. His pressured QB rating during these three games was 41.1, 45.4 and 61.8 respectively.

When you look at the overall body of work against defensive pressure, Hoyer has only had three performances this season in which he had a QB rating over 70. The games are not hard to identify—129.5 in the win over Pittsburgh, 82.1 in the win over Oakland and 77.1 in the win over Tampa Bay. No matter how you slice it the numbers tell the story, Hoyer is just not good in the face of pressure.

**Update: Google Doc Shows Pressure Percentage in the NFL

Despite the numbers, it is hard to truly pinpoint just how bad Hoyer is against pressure without someone to compare him to. So for comparison’s sake we will look at a few other quarterbacks to see just how bad Hoyer’s pressure numbers are.

Peyton Manning passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Peyton Manning passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

At the top of the quarterback food chain is obviously Peyton Manning, who is an elite quarterback in every sense of the word. This season, Manning been pressured on 105 dropbacks, completing 46-of-92 passes (50 percent) for 561 yards, eight touchdowns, six interceptions, 12 sacks and a QB rating of 84.6.

Andrew Luck's passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Andrew Luck’s passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

Next on the list is emerging elite quarterback, Andrew Luck. Luck has been pressured on 184 dropbacks this season, completing 72-of-149 passes (48.3 percent) for 1,122 yards, seven touchdowns, four interceptions, 21 sacks and a QB rating of 78.2.

After these two upper tier quarterbacks, I decided to take a look at two middle-of-the road guys.

Alex Smith's passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Alex Smith’s passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

First up is Kansas City’s Alex Smith—a player Hoyer has received a lot of comparison to. On the season, Smith has been pressured in 140 dropbacks and completed 42-of-92 passes (45.7 percent) for 468 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 33 sacks and a 63.1 rating.

Andy Dalton's passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Andy Dalton’s passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

The next guy on the list is Hoyer’s in-state foe, Andy Dalton. The former TCU starter has been pressured 93 times this season, completing 33-of-73 passes (45.2 percent) for 504 yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions, 14 sacks and a QB rating of 52.5.

Finally, I wanted to look at some of Pro Football Focus’ worst rated starting quarterbacks to try and find someone as bad as Hoyer. So I turned to the lowly quarterbacks of the New York Jets—Geno Smith and Michael Vick—to find someone.

Geno Smith passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Geno Smith passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

On the season, Smith has faced pressure on 124 dropbacks, completing 33-of-91 passes (36.3 percent) for 383 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions, 19 sacks and a QB rating of 42.5. Vick, on the other hand, has been pressured on 62 dropbacks and completed 13-of-63 passes (36.1 percent) for 101 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception, 19 sacks and a QB rating of 33.1.

Michael Vick passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Michael Vick passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

So after analyzing the pressure data of six other NFL quarterbacks, Hoyer’s numbers fall in line somewhere between the 2014 versions of Geno Smith and Andy Dalton—yeah, it is that bad. To make matters worse, Hoyer has a worse QB rating (46.3) against pressure than two rookies—Teddy Bridgewater (61.5) and Derek Carr (56.8).

Teddy Bridgewater passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Teddy Bridgewater passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Derek Carr passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.
Derek Carr passing data from PFF. Click to Enlarge.

When it comes down to it, the numbers do not lie—Hoyer is plain bad when it comes to playing the quarterback position under pressure. And with a matchup against the Indianapolis Colts looming on Sunday, things are not going to get any easier. The Colts are tied for No. 5 in the NFL in sacks with 34—so things could get ugly again on Sunday.

After opening Pandora’s Box by yanking Hoyer from the game against Buffalo and inserting Manziel, many thought it would be the rookie’s time in Cleveland. While that did not exactly occur for the “Manziel Maniacs” today, do not fret—if Hoyer continues to play poorly against pressure it won’t be long before Manziel is in. And this time, it will likely be to stay.

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Bob is the Founder, Site Director and Senior Writer of Cleveland Sports Zone. He has been writing about sports for over nine years thanks to his passion for Cleveland sports and a Journalism degree. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, ESPN, USA Today and other major sports networks.

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