The Cleveland Browns are sticking with Brian Hoyer at starting quarterback over rookie Johnny Manziel as they prepare for a critical matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday afternoon.
After throwing his sixth interception without a touchdown pass in the last nine quarters, Hoyer was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Manziel in Cleveland’s 26-10 loss to Buffalo in Week 13. Manziel rushed for a 10-yard touchdown, while going 5-for-8 for 63 yards. He also fumbled on one drive that could have resulted in a Buffalo touchdown. Still, many believed Manziel’s work warranted a start this week against the AFC South-leading Colts.
Head coach Mike Pettine said the decision to start Hoyer over Manziel was not an easy one to make.
"It was close and it was difficult because of how (Manziel) played, but we arrived at the decision to stay with Brian,'' Pettine said according to Cleveland.com. ''We saw flashes of what he was capable of. The fumble was regrettable, but the first drive was good.''
There are conflicting reports about how secure Hoyer’s job truly is. A report from ESPN said Hoyer has a tight leash, and one more poor start or Browns loss could result in Manziel taking over for the rest of the season. FOX Sports indicated that Hoyer has support in the locker room and that coaches feel he gives the team the best chance to win.
The decision takes on greater importance when look at the Browns current position in the loaded AFC North and the wild card race. Even with a 7-5 record, Cleveland is last in the division, and due to a 4-5 record in the conference sits five spots back of a wild-card berth. However, with every team in the division at 7-5 or one game better, the Browns are still in position to claim the crown with four games remaining.
Even with his recent turnover issues, Hoyer’s led the Browns to seven victories, one shy of doubling their output from last season. Cleveland also hasn’t posted a winning season since 2007, or made the playoffs in 12 years.
Hoyer’s troubles might stem from receiver Josh Gordon’s return to the lineup in Week 12. Gordon was suspended the first 11 games of the season for violating the NFL’s drug policy, but was immediately feared upon his return. Gordon’s yet to catch a touchdown, but he’s still racked up 15 receptions for 195 yards off 29 targets.
Cleveland’s lost two of their last three games, but both Hoyer and Gordon have the potential turn the team around against a Colts secondary that surrendered 392 passing yards and three touchdowns to Washington back-up quarterback Colt McCoy in a 49-27 victory in Week 13.
Indianapolis ranks No. 25 in the NFL against the pass, letting up 257 yards per game and 21 touchdowns all season, and 10 plays of 40-plus yards, tied for seventh worst in the league.
But the Colts have had tremendous success rushing the passer, despite losing Robert Mathis to injury earlier in the season. They’re tied for fifth with Denver with 34 sacks on the year, and it’s been a team effort with linebacker Erik Walden leading the way with five sacks. Indianapolis will try to tear down a solid Browns offensive line that’s allowed only 20 sacks all season.
Cleveland’s defense could face a greater uphill battle when it lines up against league-leading quarterback Andrew Luck. The third-year Colts star has torched opposing defenses 4,011 yards and 34 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, while completing 63.7 percent of his attempts.
Ranking eighth overall in passing yards allowed per game, the Browns secondary leads the NFL with 17 interceptions, including the two they forced in the loss to Buffalo.
Start Time: 1 P.M. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Point Spread: Indianapolis -4
Over/Under: 50 points
Prediction: Cleveland over Indianapolis, 30-27