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Kyle Shanahan to Browns backs: Just run, baby

Oct 24, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The Morning Kickoff …

Just run, baby: As a group, the Browns’ running backs are the most interesting personalities on the team. No position group competes more fiercely for playing time each week than the backs.

Each thinks he should be the feature ball-carrier. This competitive dynamic is personified in their locker assignments. If you were to draw a line from the lockers of Terrance West, Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell, you would trace a triangle from almost the farthest reaches of the locker room.

On the stat sheet, they are remarkably close:

* Ben Tate: 69 attempts, 279 yards, 4.0 average, long run of 25 yards, two TDs.

* Isaiah Crowell: 51 attempts, 255 yards, 5.0 average, long of 24 yards, four TDs.

* Terrance West: 59 attempts, 243 yards, 4.1 average, long of 29 yards, two TDs.

But that’s as close as they get. I don’t get the impression they socialize much.

This week, each took turns complaining about the three-man rotation that keeps each from reaching a rhythm in a game. When Kyle Shanahan was asked about it on Thursday, the subject seemed to touch a nerve with the offensive coordinator.

“I don’t ever worry about running backs getting into a rhythm,” Shanahan said. “They’re not quarterbacks. When you hand them the ball they better run hard and do as good as they can, and if they want to be out there , then they need to separate themselves and show that they’re obviously better than the other guy and we’ll keep them out there more.”

Shanahan went on: “I’ve never had to rotate a bunch of running backs because usually I’ve always had a running back who really separates himself from the others. I think we’ve got three solid guys. We’ve even got a fourth guy (Glenn Winston) who I think does a good job who you guys haven’t seen yet. We’ve got a bunch of solid guys who do a good job, but for one of those guys to just get the bulk of the carries and to take off then that’s up to them. They’ve got to show us that they’re ahead of the other guys.”

I think this is a real strong group of backs, the most improved position group on the team. But there’s one thing I don’t understand. Look at their reception totals:

* Tate: Two receptions for minus-4 yards.

* Crowell: Two receptions for 8 yards.

* West: Five receptions for 27 yards.

One way to improve Brian Hoyer’s completion percentage would be to incorporate the backs into the passing game. I just don’t understand why that hasn’t happened by now.

He’s No. 1: Through six games, the only Browns player to lead a league statistical category is safety Tashaun Gipson, who co-leads the NFL with Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin with four interceptions. But Gipson’s 111 return yards are 40 more than his nearest pursuer.

The last Browns player to lead or co-lead the league in interceptions was Anthony Henry with 10 in 2001.

“I was talking to mom about having four picks in six games. It’s crazy how fast they’ve rolled in. I just really kind of scripted this season to come down this way. It comes down to being blessed,” Gipson said.

“I’m so happy for him,” said cornerback Joe Haden. “Ever since he came in as an undrafted rookie (in 2012), he’s always had that label of undrafted free agent. He’s letting his play speak for itself. He’s a playmaker. I’ve known ever since I’ve seen him, just the way he understands football and flies around to the ball. He reads the quarterback and gets good jumps and is able to cover from sideline to sideline.

“He’s Pro Bowl talent for sure.”

Pressure on the quarterback from Paul Kruger has influenced three of Gipson’s four interceptions.

Par for the course on run defense?: Every coach paraded through Berea has preached about stopping the run, and none has pulled it off. Since 1999, the best the Browns have ranked against the run was 18th last season under coordinator Ray Horton (111.3 yards per game).

Mike Pettine’s defense plummeted to 32nd in the NFL this week in average rushing yards allowed per game (155.5). At this pace, the Browns would threaten – but not break – the franchise record for rushing yards allowed in a season.

The Browns are on pace for allowing 2,488 yards on the ground. That would rank only fourth on their all-time list behind 2,736 in the expansion season of 1999, 2,604 (1970) and 2,505 (2000).

What’s refreshing, however, is there have been no clichés tossed about improving “gap integrity” or “gap control.”

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said, “We don’t stress – I don’t want to get too specific here – but we don’t stress gap integrity as much as most defenses do. We talk a lot about changing the math at the point of attack.

“What that means for our guys is taking two blockers. If we can change the math at the point of attack, it frees one of our linebackers up to be a free hitter to the ball. That’s how we’ve had so much success in this defense.

“We just need to do a better job of taking two at the point whether it’s a defensive tackle holding the double-team preventing a guy from coming off on a linebacker, an outside linebacker, if he gets a down block with a fullback and a guard coming at them, taking both of them, not just one of them. We never want to go one for one at the point of attack. Our guys are buying into it. It just needs to show up more on film.”

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Justin Gilbert not likely to be the cure to Browns' struggling punt return team

Oct 23, 2014 -- 2:38pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Extra Points

Nowhere to go but up: The state of the Browns’ punt return game is not good.

They’ve burned through two lead punt returners and both have muffed the ball away. They don’t have a return longer than eight yards. And this week they check in dead last as a unit, averaging 2.6 yards a return.

“Right now, we’re 32nd in the league,” said special teams coordinator Chris Tabor. “We’re not happy about that. If we continue at this pace, we’re going to be 35th.”

Tabor defended Jordan Poyer, who lost his place on the field in a key moment in Jacksonville, tried to field a punt at the 2-yard line and had it bounce off his face visor, giving the Jaguars the ball at the 8 with a 10-6 lead.

A few games earlier, Poyer had supplanted team record-holder Travis Benjamin, who lost his confidence fielding punts.

Tabor said that both Poyer are Benjamin remain in the mix to fill the role, along with punt “catcher” Jim Leonhard. But there is no clear-cut choice.

“We’re still working through all those things right now. Obviously, it’s an area we need to improve on,” Tabor said.

The X-factor is rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, who, Tabor said, has gotten some work at punt returner. Gilbert holds the record at Oklahoma State with six career kickoff returns for touchdowns. But he returned only eight punts in his career (for 55 yards), and none after his freshman year.

“He’s little bit more of a kick returner than a punt returner,” Tabor said. “They are two different skills. Catching a kick is a little easier than catching a punt. Obviously, you’ve got to look at the rotation of the ball, nose of the ball, wind patterns, all those things. It’s like playing center field, being able to judge and get a bead on the ball and not chase a ball. He’s a guy in the mix and we’ll see where it takes us.”

Wildcat alert: Occasional use of the Wildcat formation has accomplished the goal of having the Browns spend some work time preparing for the 2008 fad popularized by Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano while head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

But the Browns don’t expect Sparano to unleash the Wildcat – with either back Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew taking direct snaps from center – on an extended basis.

“I don’t know if he would commit to it for a whole game,” said defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. “We’re practicing it, repping it, have a plan for it. He’s shown a snap or two of it in every game. I know he was a fan of it when I worked with him back with the Jets in 2012, so it’s been a part of something he’s done his whole career.

“I just listened to his press conference … Like they’re probably preparing for a Johnny Package, we’re preparing for a Wildcat package. If that’s the direction they want to go in all game, then let’s go. That prevents them from throwing the ball deep down the field with the quarterback. I think they feel pretty good about that quarterback (rookie Derek Carr).”

Brownie bits: Nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) and nickel back K’Waun Williams (concussion) continue to work themselves back into game action after missing last week. But coach Mike Pettine said this about Rubin:  “I’m not ready to commit and say he’s full go.” … On the other hand, O’Neil could not conceal his excitement about having Williams back … Pettine is not tipping his hand on whether Nick McDonald would be activated to start at center or John Greco would remain there, and whether Paul McQuistan or Vinston Painter would play right guard if Greco remained at center.         

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Brian Hoyer's one bad game reopens conversation about Johnny Football

Oct 23, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Had to happen: And in his ninth start for the Browns – sixth this season -- Brian Hoyer stunk. For the first time. Not just for one quarter, or two, or three. For the whole game.

And there was no miraculous comeback.

And the Browns lost to winless Jacksonville, 24-6, dropping their record to 3-3, joining the ranks of – egads! – the lowly Seattle Seahawks.

And the sky began to fall.

And the conversation was reopened.

“When does Johnny Football get in?”

This is what it’s like to be Brian Hoyer in the immediate days after your first clunker.

You’re angry about your worst game ever – at any level of football. You can’t wait to erase the memory of missing Jordan Cameron in the end zone. You can’t wait to delve into the gameplan for the Oakland Raiders, the next challenge.

And all around you, the conversation and debate starts again about Johnny Manziel. When will he get his chance? Will the Johnny Package be put in for the Oakland game? And if he goes in and actually does something positive this time, will the coaches keep him in?

“There’s overreaction when you win. There’s overreaction when you lose, and especially at the quarterback position,” Hoyer said. “When you win, you’re the hero. When you lose, you’re the goat. I think that’s just the way it goes. That’s the way this league kind of has become. It comes with the territory. It’s something that I knew going into it that’s the way it is.

“There’s not much you can do about it. You worry about what you can control, and that’s what’s going on in this building. The outside noise you just kind of try to block out, whether it’s good or bad. Sometimes, you can get caught up when people are patting you on your back. It feels good, and yeah maybe you want to check and see what they’re saying, but if you’re going to do that you better be able to take it when they’re saying bad stuff, too.”

Dealing with it: In one game, Hoyer was transformed from comeback player-of-the-year candidate to the walking dead.

“Three weeks ago everyone was saying Tom Brady was done with,” Hoyer said. “He’s the greatest quarterback of all time. He had one bad game, and people are throwing him under the bus.

“I think when you see that even the great ones have bad games you know you’re going to have a few. Yeah, it sucks. You don’t want to go out there and not perform well. Obviously, we prepare our butts off all week to go out there and execute and play the best of our ability, but sometimes you have a situation where you don’t play great, and the other team plays well. It’s a bad combination.

“For me, really of all the games I’ve ever played, that was the worst I’ve ever felt after one. That’s just something that you have to deal with, learning on the job. It’s not always going to be perfect, and you’re not always going to win the game. The games you lose, yeah you might have played well, but for the first time in my career in the NFL I played a really bad game. It sucks. I take a lot on myself, and that’s why I probably wasn’t very pleasant to be around for the past two days.”

The Brady example only goes so far.

Brady is Brady, a winner of three Super Bowls and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Hoyer, or course, is just trying to establish himself as a viable starting quarterback who can not only withstand the rigors of a full season but also take a team to the playoffs.

And Brady’s heir-apparent, Jimmy Garoppolo, isn’t the most famous, most talked about, most loved by network TV cameras quarterback to enter the NFL since Tim Tebow.

Brady doesn’t have Johnny Manziel nipping at his ankles.

Hoyer’s hole card: Who had Zach Mettenberger making his first NFL start before Johnny Manziel?

The Titans announced on Wednesday that they were turning over their team to Mettenberger, who was the 10th quarterback taken in the 2014 draft.

On Sunday, the Raiders come to town with Derek Carr making his seventh consecutive start. Carr was the fourth quarterback taken, No. 36 overall.

Last week, the Browns lost to Jacksonville with Blake Bortles making his fourth consecutive start. Bortles was the first quarterback taken, No. 3 overall.

Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater will make his third start for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Bridgewater was the third quarterback taken, No. 32 overall.

This is the time of year when teams with losing, veteran quarterbacks can’t resist taking a look at the hotshots they have waiting in the wings.

But so far, Manziel, the second quarterback taken, No. 22 overall, has appeared in two games for a total of three plays.

Hoyer has a few things going for him. At 3-3, he has the Browns poised to make a run at division contention. The Ravens (5-2) are only 1 ½ games ahead, and they beat the Browns by only two points. And Hoyer has the firm backing of his head coach, Mike Pettine, who was an admirer of his work when Pettine game-planned Hoyer as defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills a year ago.

“I don’t even think about it to be honest with you,” Hoyer said of the elephant in the room. “I know what goes into my preparation. I know that talking to my coaches, that’s the farthest thing on my mind. Yeah, I don’t doubt that (Pettine) has my back. I also know that if you have one bad game, I think that people are just going to be calling for your job already. That’s just the way it goes. But I know within this building I feel more than comfortable.”

Just to be safe, I would suggest to Hoyer not to have another game like the last one.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns' rookie backs said three's a crowd -- so who sits now?

Oct 22, 2014 -- 3:18pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Extra Points …

Wait and see: If restoring the running game is the key to everything the Browns do on offense, then the major decisions of the practice week are these:

* Who plays center and right guard?

* What’s the rotation at running back?

The short answers are we won’t know until the end of the week. As usual, coach Mike Pettine will choose his best option based on performance at practice.

Here are the options considered for each decision:

Center and right guard

Nick McDonald is the Alex Mack replacement-in-training, but Pettine indicated on Wednesday that it still might be too soon to expect the center to make his first start with a new club. McDonald came off a reserve list last week after finishing off rehab of a wrist injury. Pettine disclosed that McDonald took reps last week mostly on the scout team.

“In limited reps he got last week, more scout team than anything else, he looked like he was getting back into it,” Pettine said. “That’s a lot to ask to put him right back in there. We do have that three-week window (to activate McDonald). I don’t want the circumstances to accelerate that. You want a guy to be ready when he’s ready. It’s something we’ll evaluate at end of the week.”

If McDonald is not ready, John Greco would make his second career start at center. Right guard then becomes a question.

The Browns could give Paul McQuistan another try or give Vinston Painter his first start in a regular game. Painter has appeared in two games on special teams.

Running back

Pettine confirmed coaches have discussed the merits of reducing the workload to two – feature back Ben Tate and a backup.

So after rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell both spoke on the difficulty of finding a rhythm in a three-back rotation, one will pay the price and probably not see the field on Sunday.

“It’s still going to play out during practice this week,” Pettine said. “That’s something we did discuss and have a plan for the week practice-wise. Then we’ll revisit it at the end, and then make a decision on how we’re going to substitute those guys.

“It is a luxury to have, the three backs. To me, every week’s diferent. We’ll look at some different things. I don’t want to lock it in and say we’re set on three.”

Wildcat redux?: When I asked Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano about exhuming the Wildcat – the gimmick offense that propelled his Miami Dolphins team from 1-15 to 11-5 in 2008 – he laughed.

“Any time I show up anyplace I guess there’s that rumor going around,” Sparano said on a conference call. “That’s what they are, rumors. We’re going to do whatever’s in the best interest of the Oakland Raiders to try to win a football game.”

Don’t laugh.

Sparano used the Wildcat in the 2008 season as a means of getting backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field together. It took the NFL by storm and was effective simply because nobody else was doing it and defenses couldn’t prepare for it in the early going.

Even His Eminence, Bill Belichick, was blindsided. Sparano debuted the Wildcat in Game 3 and rolled up 216 rushing yards against Belichick’s befuddled Patriots in an epic 38-13 shellacking. (Belichick won the rematch nine weeks later, 48-28, as Sparano expected a Wildcat-prevent defense and had Chad Pennington throw 41 times.)

As NFL defenses saw more of the Wildcat and prepared for it at practice, the offense returned to the cold storage tank. Some day, it will be back.

The perfect storm could be approaching to warrant a cameo appearance.

The Raiders are 0-6. They have a rookie quarterback learning the ropes. Their feature back, Darren McFadden, was exposed to the Wildcat at Arkansas. And free agent pickup Maurice Jones-Drew is closer than ever to being 100 percent after early-season hand surgery.

Further, the Raiders’ conventional running game has sputtered to the tune of 69.3 yards per game. And did I mention the Browns’ historic problems defending the run? They check in this week ranked dead last, yielding an average of 155.5 yards on the ground.

So, beware the Wildcat. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Brownie bits: Nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. Pettine said that while Rubin did receive a second opinion on his ankle injury, surgery was never a serious option … Nickel back K’Waun Williams (concussion) also returned on a limited basis … We all jumped the gun on Pettine’s appearance at linebacker Khalil Mack’s pre-draft pro day last March in Buffalo, where Pettine last worked and still had a home. Mack has been surprisingly stout against the run, but has yet to record a sack in six games … Did Raiders QB Derek Carr see anything helpful on film of fellow rookie Blake Bortles’ victory over the Browns last week? “Some lady did have a funny Blake Bortles face picture in the back of the end zone,” he said. “So I took a picture and sent that to him.”

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Scouting Report: Oakland Raiders

Oct 22, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

                        Browns vs. Oakland Raiders

                        Sunday, 4:25 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium

Record: 0-6.

Last game: Lost to Arizona Cardinals, 24-13, Oct. 18, in Oakland, CA.

Coach: Tony Sparano, 0-2, (interim); 29-34 overall.

Series record: Raiders lead, 13-9 (counting postseason).

Last meeting: Browns won, 20-17, Dec. 2, 2012, in Oakland.

League rankings: Offense is 32nd overall (32nd rushing, 26th passing), defense is 22nd (29th rushing, 11th passing) and turnover differential is minus-4.

Offensive overview: With rookie Derek Carr entrenched as the starting quarterback, Sparano has tried to scale back the offense. Carr has quietly put together a decent start to his career (8 touchdowns v. 5 interceptions), but you’d never know it looking at the offense’s rankings – 32nd in total yards, 32nd in rushing and 31st in points. The rushing figure sabotages everything because offensive coordinator Greg Olson would like to use the running game to set up play-action, like his former mentor Jon Gruden. Free agent Maurice Jones-Drew was signed to wrestle away the feature back role from Darren McFadden, but hand surgery cost him time and now he is a backup. McFadden (3.8 yards a rush) is not the player he was three years ago. The team’s longest run of 41 yards was produced by Carr. Despite the unproductive running game, Carr’s pass protection has been outstanding (four sacks in 199 dropbacks). He leans on veteran wideout James Jones (30 receptions) and gets big plays from 6-4 wideout Andre Holmes (16.8-yard average), who can go up and get the throw-it-up balls, but can also break a QB’s heart with drops.

Defensive overview: Jason Tarver was retained as defensive coordinator after Dennis Allen was fired, but some subtle changes have emerged since Sparano assumed the job as interim coach. Downsizing the gameplan has resulted in more players being rotated in with the hope of keeping the unit fresher and faster. It has a terrible time getting off the field. Opponents are converted a league-high 52.8 percent of third downs. That figure would be higher if not for three kneeldowns among the Raiders’ 40 “stops.” Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has been an ironman, seldom leaving the field, and is flying all over against the run but has yet to produce a sack in the pass rush. Like most teams, they show 3-4 and 4-3 looks and sometimes have standup ends rush the quarterback while other linemen drop back into zone coverage. The defense is loaded with minimum-wage veterans on their second or third team who aren’t the players they were with their first teams, such as end LaMarr Woodley, end Justin Tuck and cornerback Carlos Rogers. But don’t count Charles Woodson in that group. At 38, the free safety is still covering a lot of ground and making plays from sideline to sideline.

Special teams overview: Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is 5 of 6 on field goals with a long of 53 yards and ranks 25th with 15 touchbacks. Janikowski lost trust in punter Marquette King as the holder and a recent change resulted in backup quarterback Matt Schaub taking over the role. King is 30th in gross punting (43.3 yards) and 11th in net (40.4). Rookie TJ Carrie is 10th in punt return average (9.4 yards) and had a 60-yard return last week erased by penalty. Carrie recently assumed kick returns, too, and has a 24.3 average. The coverage teams have yielded a 29-yard punt return and a kickoff return of 44 yards.

Players to watch:

1. Quarterback Derek Carr: Not a sack waiting to happen like his older brother David was, he’s completing 60.5 percent of his passes, has 8 touchdowns v. 5 interceptions and has managed a decent passer rating of 80.9 through his first six starts.

2. Free safety Charles Woodson: The 2009 NFL defensive player of the year, his 13 defensive touchdowns are tied for the most in league history. He is the league’s active leader with 58 career interceptions and needs one Pick 6 to tie Rod Woodson’s career record of 12.

3. Wide receiver Andre Holmes: At 6-4, he has a wide catching radius and can come down with jump balls. He is a big play threat with a 16.8-yard receiving average and three touchdowns.

Injury report: FS Usama Young (knee) is out; DE Justin Tuck (knee) and FB Marcel Reese (knee) missed the last game; DE Lamarr Woodley (undisclosed) left the last game. WR Vincent Brown (hamstring) has missed the last two games.

Small world: Interim head coach Tony Sparano was on the Browns’ coaching staff in 1999 and 2000 … free safety Usama Young played with the Browns in 2011-12.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Brian Hoyer's accuracy has to improve for the Browns to achieve consistency on offense

Oct 21, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Consistently inconsistent: Brian Hoyer has had his moments in this young season, marked mostly by streaky runs of clutch throws during breath-taking comebacks.

He has etched his name in the history books twice in six games, authoring the biggest comeback win on the road in an NFL regular-season game and the largest Browns’ win over the Steelers in 25 years.

But those have been offset by some inexplicable stretches of misfires, rushed throws and bad aim.

There was a 4-of-11 first half in Pittsburgh, and a 5-of-11 first half in the rematch in Cleveland. There was a 9-of-19 first half against New Orleans, and an 8-of-21 first half against Jacksonville, which was followed by an 8-of-20 second half against the Jaguars.

The overall 16-of-41 day in Jacksonville came on the heels of an 8-of-17 effort in the big win over Pittsburgh. So, in the last two games, Hoyer is a 41.3 percent thrower. That is an amazing number.

Hoyer’s season completion mark of 55.8 percent ranks last among NFL starting quarterbacks – lower than Geno Smith’s 57.3 – in a season in which the league average is 63.3. And this in Kyle Shanahan’s “quarterback-friendly” offensive system that has seen past quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, Robert Griffin 3 and Kirk Cousins post completion figures of 66.1, 66.7, 67.9, 65.6 and 68.8.

I asked Hoyer if he felt that completion percentage was a relevant statistic.

““Yeah,” he answered. “I mean, you go 16 of 41, regardless if there are batted balls or throwaways, even with those, you’d like to be in the 60s. I think it’s about being efficient. For me, I wasn’t efficient (Sunday) regardless of the situation. You’ve got to be able to get out there and complete the passes.”

The system: Shanahan’s offensive system sets up its quarterback with the wide-zone running scheme. When that gets rolling, the play-action and bootleg misdirection passing game can produce big plays from quarterbacks.

We’ve seen unheralded Browns receivers running wide open in secondaries as Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West took turns having big games – or, at least, big portions of games.

Hoyer, the quarterback, has been the beneficiary of the Browns’ highly-ranked offensive line and running game. So the questions not spoken have been: What happens when the running game is stopped? Can Hoyer make the plays from the pocket?

The answer on Sunday was no. A single play by Hoyer may have stolen that game in Jacksonville on a day in which the Jaguars “wanted it more than the Browns.”

The one play could have come on the pass to Jordan Cameron, open in the back of the end zone on the third-down play preceding the Browns’ second field goal. Or it could have come after Andrew Hawkins’ 65-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.

But it didn’t come.

Hoyer’s pass for Cameron, which came not from play-action but from the pocket in “empty” formation – no backs – was high and uncatchable.

On Monday, Hoyer attributed “a few missed throws” to lack of patience in the pocket.

“Things felt like they were flying around a little bit more than usual,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there a little bit longer even when you don’t think you can. It’s something that I need to work on.”

But on the misfire for Cameron, he said, “That wasn’t a thing with the pass rush or anything like that. It was just … I’m trying to look off a safety and I came back to throw to his spot. He kind of … it was kind of that he thought one thing and I thought another. We’ve just got to get on the same page with that, especially on a critical play like that.”

Hoyer was leveled to the ground by Jacksonville tackle Sen’Derrick Marks on the fifth play of the game. I asked him if that hit “accelerated” his mental time clock and caused his impatience.

“No, I think I always have a pretty good clock,” he responded. “I’ll hang in there and take a hit. But I don’t want to be taking sacks. I think sacks set you back. So I always do try to go through progressions pretty quickly and sometimes you get through them a little too quick, where somebody ends up popping up after you’ve already moved on from them. So, it’s just something that comes with repetition and just kind of slowing your mind down a little bit, especially when they are bringing a good pass rush. You still got to just be the same tempo in your mind.”

The leash: There is another statistic that speaks to Hoyer’s inconsistency and feeds the perception that he is more inaccurate when throwing from the pocket without the benefit of play-action.

On third downs, Hoyer is a 48.4 percent passer with a QB rating of 67.4. Third downs are generally when the play-action game is rendered ineffective because defenses aren’t going to respect handoffs in those situations.

I asked coach Mike Pettine if Hoyer’s low completion percentage was a concern.

“To me, I know this one severely dropped it, so, I don’t want to put it all (on the Jacksonville game),” he said. “If it becomes a couple more games, still a trend like that, that’s something to look at, but to me, we just looked at his effectiveness and the offense there.

“Sometimes, the completion percentage will be affected, whether you’re trying to throw the ball away or take some more shots downfield where your percentage isn’t going to be as high, but you don’t need to hit as many.

“That’s not something that, to me, is a concern … today.”

In the context of considering playing time for Johnny Manziel, Pettine said, “Nothing has changed … We’re not going to hit the panic button after one loss. We know that while the quarterback position needed to be more productive, it was more symptomatic of the entire offense. Brian is still firmly our starter.”

The statistic that governs that decision is wins and losses. In the meantime, the ones to watch are completion percentage and third-down passing. Hoyer’s have to improve.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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