Browns

Browns Quarterback Review: Why Starting Kevin Hogan Makes Sense

This title was tough to write, and the concept for what I’m about to discuss isn’t easy either. You will find few fans who believe in DeShone Kizer more than I do. I think in his first three weeks, and even some here in Week 5 we saw several plays that showed a glimpse of what he can be as a quarterback in this league. He can stand in the pocket, maneuver within, drive throws down the field, and even escape with plus running ability. All of those talents have led me to think he can genuinely be a quality starter at some point in his career, and I truly think it is justifiable on film.

Head Coach Hue Jackson made light of it after Week 3 when he said Kizer was “lights out” on Sunday. Many people were alarmed by that comment on a day where his quarterback’s stat line was filled with three interceptions. Hue elaborated on that thought during Monday’s press conference:

“I also said a week ago that I thought the young guy played lights out. I think everybody took that to another level. I said that because he played lights out in decision making. I didn’t say delivering the ball, this, that and the other. It is decisions and not taking sacks. Maybe I should have phrased that differently. At the same time, he is growing and he is getting better in some areas, but there are a lot of areas that you have to be good at playing quarterback in the National Football League. I think we all know that.”

Hue is echoing what I believe to be true from watching film of the first five weeks: Kizer knows where to deliver the football pretty consistently. That is not to say he is perfect in this department either, as he has shown some regression in the last two weeks, but for the most part in his 2017 sample size, he is seeing the field well for a rookie.

With Hue’s decision to plug in Kevin Hogan in the second half (more on this later) and Hogan performing well, the Browns now had a key decision to make. Do they stick with their rookie quarterback who needs development, or do the take what the film is showing them and provide the team with the best opportunity to win? That was the decision Hue had to make this week.

Much of Hue’s long-term success is tied to DeShone Kizer. He is the name Hue, and the front office, decided to bring in passing on Carson Wentz and DeShaun Watson. These two have their success immediately and directly tied together. Yet here we stand, five weeks in, having yet another quarterback controversy brewing.

Hue forced that upon himself by starting Kizer Week 1 when the rookie might not have been adequately ready. It’s tough to place blame where it is properly needed here, because much of the blame is left to conjecture. Hue started Kizer because there were no better roster options at the time, but did Hue have a definitive say in passing on Wentz? We don’t know those answers for sure. But what I do know is that these results of late speak volumes about a poor plan in place.

If you’re going to start DeShone you better make sure you have one of these things: An elite receiving core with a legitimate number one target (Watson in 2017), or an elite running game (Dak in 2016). The Browns clearly lack both, leaving Kizer behind the learning curve. He is left to make plays that are the highest degree of difficulty without much help around him. He isn’t anywhere near ready to make those immediate decisions, and process the hardest throws in the NFL — throwing a man open. In fact, and to be fair, that skill is one few quarterbacks have in today’s league. Kizer is too young and unable to be able to see a defense develop before they move, so these throws and schemes are asking for a disaster.

This highest degree of difficulty is what we saw Hue ask of Kizer in Weeks 1-3. He then reeled it in against some defenses that were willing and able to give up yards, but by that time Kizer’s confidence and faith in his teammates had hit an all-time low. In turn he becomes late and unsure about what he is seeing, thus the results of our last two  Sundays.

What made Hue noticeably uncomfortable is that Kevin Hogan played well in relief of Kizer. He had this offense moving up and down the field with relative ease when given the opportunity. Which then requires the question of whether Hogan was ever given an adequate shot. Hue clearly had a say in passing on giving Kevin Hogan reps in the preseason and his explanations for such didn’t make sense. Here is his response when asked about Hogan taking fewer snaps in the preseason and training camp, “That is OK. That is alright. That is what you guys think in practice. There are certain things that I watched him do that I need to see him do that showed me where he was. He is a very cerebral young man. He gets it and works at it every day extremely hard. I knew exactly where Kevin was and what I needed to see from him. That is why I made him the backup quarterback.”

Sure, he made him the backup quarterback, but you’re telling me Hogan hasn’t shown these flashes at practice, not in camp or preseason? That is because he wasn’t given ample opportunity. There’s a reason he is best fit to run this offense for Week 6 and maybe more. Let’s take a look.

Timing

When Hogan came in during the second half, the biggest thing that stood out was his ball placement and quick delivery on timing throws. Joe Thomas noticed it too when reacting to his quarterback play.

“I don’t know what his reads are and what they are telling him based on coverage and stuff, but it seemed like the ball was coming out quickly. That is kind of general, but that is sort of my litmus test as an offensive lineman: Is the ball being thrown or is it being held onto?”

The examples were there early and often as opposed to what we saw from Kizer.

Hogan Completion to Louis for 8 yards

Hogan to Williams for 13 yards

Hogan to Treggs for 9 yards

Hogan to Louis for 26 yards

At first glance you would think the Jets were in prevent during most of these snaps, yet that isn’t true. Hogan was involved in a tight game all second half and played well against the Jets constantly moving secondary. What struck me most was his timing with the patterns being run and his ability to have the ball out before breaks were being made. Those are quality NFL throws and with this offense, and its lack of play makers who can separate, it requires a quarterback with a better feel for timing and rhythm. That quarterback is Kevin Hogan right now.

Kizer just held onto the ball far too long. He seems unsure of where he is going, and when he does come to his best option it is too late and he is forcing mechanics. This ball has to be out at the top of his drop, before his outside receiver plants at the top of his hitch route. Instead he holds it and double clutches as he doesn’t trust his ability to throw the deep out. There were pieces of evidence like this all day, and they are now far out weighing the good we are seeing.

More evidence of double clutching and throwing off timing.

You didn’t see Hogan double clutching like this on Sunday. One has confidence in what they are seeing, and the other doesn’t.

Play Action

They key element to Browns success in 2017: running the football. Well, that part has been a disappointment obviously, but the action to sell the run game has also been poor. Let’s look at some examples of Kizer “selling” play action with his fakes. This simply isn’t fooling anyone.

He barely shows the ball here and his shoulders never truly come square to hide it.

Another example of poor ball handling, because when faking the stretch zone you have to expose the ball for belief.

Who exactly is he fooling with these? Defenses are already having a hard time believing the Browns are going to run the ball as it is, let alone when your quarterback is sloppy with his football and ball handling. These plays are destined to fail. Kizer has seen very limited success in play action, and I think it is on him to fix it.

On the other hand, Hogan has seen large amounts of success off play action because he is patient enough to sell run first. His mechanics have been solid. Small little things sell run fakes: a head bob, or an extended hand, or hiding the ball with square shoulders. Kizer could learn plenty from Hogan. It’s the initial set-up here, then ducking the shoulders and reengaging his pad level that throws off the defense. This is perfectly done.

I mean, look how he sells this thing. His entire body is into it, and the football is extended as it needs to be. The Jets defense bits on this hard.

Again, on the Njoku touchdown ball, Hogan extends the ball like he needs to and holds down the linebackers and safeties for the split second necessary.

These are things Kizer can correct once the game slows down for him, and he doesn’t feel like he is in such a rush to get his eyes downfield. It comes with patience, and right now Hogan is utilizing this more effectively than Kizer.

Read Option

As collegiate based schemes keep working their way into the NFL on a more consistent basis, the Browns have utilized Hogan in these really well. They usually give him these read option plays to gain some cheap yards, and on short yardage situations, he runs them well. I would like to see more run/pass (RPO) options for him, but I will settle for these.

Hogan excels at holding onto the ball until the last possible second, and then getting some easy careful yards. The Browns need all the advantages they can get in the run game. Make a defense prepare for all possible outcomes.

Conclusion

Hue has really made a mess of things, there is no better way to put it. When this roster didn’t have a better option than DeShone Kizer heading into Week 1, the only move was to make Kizer the starter. Yet, from the sound of things, Kevin Hogan wasn’t given a fair shot at the job either.

So, did Hue force Kizer into being ready when he wasn’t? That is the burning question.

Kizer impressed early, but as his teammates failed him and the film gave defensive coordinators a plan to work against him, his flaws reared themselves in the worst way. The Browns can’t win with the DeShone Kizer we saw in Weeks 4 and 5. They can win with the Kevin Hogan we have seen in 2017. He is getting rid of the ball quickly, excelling in play action, and making sound choices with the football. The hope here is that Kizer is able to take this opportunity to learn and process in order to slow the game down for his eventual return as the starter. Or maybe, just maybe, Kevin Hogan can be a competent NFL quarterback the Browns have needed. I do know this, just play the guy who gives the team the best chance to win, now. That’s only fair to the team and its fan base.