Even after last Monday night’s lackluster passing performances by Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, head coach Mike Pettine called for an end to the quarterback competition, naming Hoyer the starter. Whether you believe the he “won” the job rather than had it handed to him, only one thing seemed clear: Manziel is not ready to start week one. While re-watching the game, the thing that struck me about Hoyer was his ability to stand in the pocket, go through his reads, and deliver the ball.
Against the St. Louis Rams, the opposing offenses must focus on neutralizing the pass rushers and staying in the pocket. However, with Robert Quinn and Chris Long rushing from the outside while Aaron Donals and Michael Brockers come up the middle, standing tall against the rush is a daunting task.
Given the the Rams’ strong pass rush, expect the offense to try to run the ball early and often, but come back and hit play action passes when the linebackers begin to bite on the run fakes. This way, the quarterback will be able to get out of the pocket and away from the defensive linemen.
In two games, Hoyer has played very well rolling out and throwing play action passes. While playing behind the first team line, he has thrown seven play action passes and completed four. However, this number is skewed as Miles Austin and Marqueis Gray each dropped a pass.
Johnny Manziel’s new role-Although the battle to become the starting quarterback on week one is over, coach Pettine has said that Manziel may enter the game at some point in a package designed around him. Love it or hate it, the pressure to play the rookie from Texas A&M is huge and as a unique and electrifying talent, Manziel has no shortage of supporters. Even if he is not included in any solo package, Manziel will likely get an opportunity to start, if the Browns’ offense and Hoyer falter.
Chris Kirksey vs. Craig Robertson: Round 3- One of the most positive developments in the preseason has been the epic battle between Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson. In both games Robertson has looked great while defending the run and Kirksey has been a lockdown cover linebacker. For the third game in a row, they will be important. The Rams offer a steady dose of run plays with Zach Stacy as the primary back, so Robertson will be called on often. And in the passing game, Kirksey will be needed to lock down tight end Jared Cook and the receivers in St. Louis’ short passing game.
Justin Gilbert: On the road to being a starter?- With Buster Skrine out, the rookie top ten pick has an opportunity to grab the starting spot opposite Joe Haden. He performed will against the Lions, his debut, and will challenge quarterback Sam Bradford on Saturday night. Although Bradford cannot throw a deep ball well, he is a good passer on short routes which will be a challenge to Gilbert who defends deep routes much better.
The Browns pass rush- Although the Browns’ pass rushers have been given very little credit, they have played very well, especially Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo on the edges. Kruger often gets criticized for not living up to his $40 million contract, but he has played very well in the past two games, coming up just too late on multiple sack attempts. Mingo, the sixth pick in the 2013 draft, certainly looks the part, as he bulked up in the offseason into the 230’s, the most he has ever weighed. He got a lot of credit for being all over the field, but Mingo also looked comfortable in 1-on-1 situations against the offensive tackles of Washington. With the immobile Bradford manning the quarterback position for the Rams, the Browns’ pass rushers should have a field day.
Browns offensive line vs. Rams defensive line (the best in the NFL)- Many people seemed disappointed that Mitchell Schwartz has not improved his pass blocking last week. Well, won’t this week be a treat for you. The 2013 NFL sack leader Robert Quinn brings his talents to Cleveland along with former second overall pick Chris Long and rookie first rounder Aaron Donald. I am as high on Cleveland’s offensive line as anyone, but Saturday night’s game may be a rude awakening. In fact, the battle in the trenches could very well seal Brian Hoyer’s fate in the game. If the pass protection breaks down, Hoyer does not have the receivers to bail him out, which could lead to an ugly offensive game.
How will Brian Hoyer respond to being named starting quarterback?
The Browns have named Hoyer quarterback, but we don’t know how that will affect the team. Perhaps he needed the reps with the inexperienced and lackluster receivers that he previously split with Brian Hoyer. Maybe, the respect that he will garner as the starter will allow him to adjust plays at the line that he previously was unable to do. The notion that a quarterback competition forces the two competitors to maximize their abilities and gets the best performance out of both may be true. However, the split first team reps also puts both quarterbacks behind the curve when it comes to learning the plays, gaining chemistry with receivers, and making adjustments at the line
Are either Nate Burleson or Travis Benjamin in danger of being cut?
The answer seems to be a clear yes, but Burleson is threatening to answer this question himself by not ever stepping on the field. He has been recovering from a broken arm since he had surgery in May. If you remember, his agent tweeted that Nate “hurt his arm in OTA’s. He had a very minor surgery. He will be 100% for day 1 of camp!”. However, that was clearly an optomistic projection, ad Burleson has yet to take a snap in practice or a game. Benjamin, on the other hand, managed to play against the Redskins on Monday night, his first game in 2014. Previously, he was recovering from injury, as well. Both need to play Saturday to ensure their spot on the roster, but Burlseon, once again, looks doubtful.
Who will claim the 3rd running back roster spot?
Between, Isaiah Crowell, Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker, and Dion Lewis, the Browns need one to break out and win the job as third running back. However, no one has grabbed the position yet. Crowell has played a limited number of snaps and Ogbonnaya has not taken a play at running back. Baker played in the first game, but did not do anything to show his worth to the team. Lewis has played the bulk of third running back snaps, but he fumbled against Detroit and seems to small and does not have the versatility that others possess. Expect Crowell and Ogbnnaya to receiver the majority of third running back plays on Saturday.
Will a receiver establish himself as the primary target?
By this time, I expected that Jordan Cameron, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, or another receiver would have become the clear number one target, but that has not happened. Instead, all the wideouts have disappointed with Hawkins not getting open and Austin dropping passes. Cameron should take over as the primary receiver/tight end, but in Kyle Shanahan’s offense a true receiver has often gained the bulk of targets. Hopefully, someone will step up on Saturday to take the pressure off Cameron.
Who will be cut on August 26 when the roster shrink from 90 to 75 players?
By Tuesday night, the Browns will cut fifteen players. So, in the fourth quarter, many players will literally play for their jobs. The NFL recently expanded practice squad rosters from eight to ten, so some may get a call from Cleveland to re-join the team. However, this will be the last time many put on a Cleveland uniform.
(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)