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.

  • tigersbrowns2

    what the heck happened to all the creative things Hue was doing on offense last year ?? … did they have to “vanilla things-up” that much for Kizer ?? … the offense through the first 5 games has looked plain & boring. turn Hogan loose !!

  • RGB

    Maybe he’s just better than Kizer.

  • MartyDaVille

    Good analysis, Jake. Enjoyed that.

    Yeah, the differences between the two QBs that you showed are stark. It’s not Kizer’s fault, though. He just isn’t ready.

    Hue was asked about hurting Kizer’s confidence by benching him, but how much confidence can he have to begin with when he’s playing as badly as he was? And speaking of confidence, this switch should do a lot to raise the confidence of the rest of the offense.

  • BenRM

    I think he is better in the sense that Brian Hoyer is better, or Trevor Siemian is better. I watched a lot of him in college by virtue of the fact that ND plays Stanford every year and Stanford was seemingly in the Rose Bowl each year.

    He strikes me as a guy who is fine and might win you a game here and there, but you are always looking to move on from him. (This may be true of Kizer as well. His ceiling could be Derek Anderson.)

    There’s value to that. I’d prefer it to whatever we saw from Kizer. But I certainly don’t think it means you give up on developing Kizer behind the scenes or forego drafting a QB next year.

  • RGB

    But, if Hogan is better, why not develop him?
    It’s not like he’s some journeyman retread. He’s only a second year player.
    I don’t understand the resistance people have to even entertaining the concept that he might be good.

  • BenRM

    Because I don’t think he is good? I think he looks good by comparison (to one of the youngest rookie QBs to ever start in the NFL) and b/c we haven’t seen much of him.

  • RGB

    Well, I’m on the Hogan train! Leaving Kizerville!

    https://media.giphy.com/media/YpcHCLXGmvG80/giphy.gif

  • Casual_Kenny_Reigns

    Years ago, I read a comment on this site that said, “The most popular QB in Cleveland is always the one holding the clipboard.” It’s the single truest axiom ever said.

  • jspring

    Kizer had to sit. His repeated red-zone turnovers killed any chance for his team to be competitive, let alone win games. Coach Jackson could not continue to shove him out there and keep telling his team that winning was THE priority. Right now, the only thing Hue has going for him as a coach is that his players are still playing hard for him, but if he loses that…..

    Kevin Hogan is most likely another career back-up pushed into starter duty by the desperate as usual Browns ala Kelly Holcomb, Derek Anderson, and Brian Hoyer. We all like to dream that the Browns have found another Brian Sipe, Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, and, above all, Tom Brady.- a viable starting QB who somehow just slipped through the cracks. Yet, for every Brian Sipe, Kurt Warner, and Tony Romo there are scores of Kelly Holcombs, Derek Andersons, and Brian Hoyers. So, I’m not getting my hopes up that Hogan isn’t anything more than just another placeholder QB.

    However, if Hogan can avoid turning over the ball within the opponent’s 10 yard line then that’s good enough for now.

  • Eric G

    That stop was shut down a long time ago

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  • jpftribe

    From someone who has never been on the Hogan bandwagon, I completely agree. There are no objective performance criteria I can find that says Kizer is a better prospect other than physical traits. Hogan has had a much better college career, has more NFL experience (ie.. “development”) and has flat out played better in his opportunities.

    I don’t see how anyone can reasonably say the risk of not playing Kizer outweighs the risk of playing Hogan. No one really knows if either of these guys will be able to adequately read NFL defenses and execute an NFL offense.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi JAKE … it’s nice to know somebody still believes in Kizer … his fan club has shrunk drastically.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi J … good post.

  • Pat Leonard

    Good call on the option plays, Jake. That’s one area where Kizer really doesn’t excel. He doesn’t have a good sense about when to hand off versus keep on the option.

  • Mark West

    This was a fine piece of professional sports journalism. Thank you.

  • max74mm

    Excellent article! When you watch the last two plays above you can see how good of a runner Hogan is. He helps his blockers out by making the defender commit to one side before cutting the other way.

  • Warburton MacKinnon

    Can’t depend on the run if you don’t stick with it…has to be dependable not elite,yet Hue won’t do that even when we are not losing. Kizer needs to sit awhile he can’t even handle a pitch on an option play anymore.