The key to being a successful quarterback in the NFL is recognition and execution. When Brian Hoyer made plays last Sunday against the Vikings, he did three things especially well. He recognized bad coverage, understood his physical limitations and delivered the ball accurately and quickly.
Hoyer certainly wasn’t perfect, however. He completed just 56 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. Two of his interceptions were complete misreads of zones down the middle of the field. The other was a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage.
We could dwell on the negatives but for one week, the quarterback played just well enough to win the game. Let’s look at three plays from the victory. Each one shows a different characteristic of why he was successful.
Play 1: 47-yard touchdown pass to Gordon with 4:50 to go in the first quarter
The Browns are in an 11 personnel package (one tight end, one running back and three wide receivers) on this early first down play. All three of the Vikings cornerbacks are playing man-to-man coverage. The two linebackers and the near safety will drop into zones across the middle of the field, leaving one deep safety to protect over the top.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon is running a hitch and go route. At the first down marker he is supposed to hesitate like he is running a comeback route. If the corner jumps the route, then Gordon will turn up field and run towards the end zone.
As you can see, the corner guarding Gordon bit on the hesitation and is now out of position. Brian Hoyer helped create the perception of a comeback route by flinching forward with the football. The corner, who was peaking in the backfield, saw the motion and tried to get in front of Gordon.
The deep safety, who has not recognized the play yet, is still drifting towards the center of the field. If he drifts past the hash marks it will give enough room for Hoyer to drop in a pass for a touchdown.
The corner covering Gordon is now beat by almost five yards. The safety drifted too far towards the middle of the field despite the Browns’ only legitimate deep threat running in single coverage down the sideline.
Hoyer recognizes the Vikings' mistake and places the ball perfectly in front of Gordon, allowing him to waltz into the end zone for a touchdown.
While Hoyer facilitated the play with a flinch of the ball, the Vikings handed the Browns this touchdown. Hoyer did a good job of recognizing the mistake and delivering the pass with enough air under it to lead Gordon into the end zone.
Play 2: 19-yard touchdown pass to Cameron with 15:00 to go in the second quarter
The Browns are now inside the red zone, where zones become tighter and windows close quickly. In this part of the field, a route that seems open is often just bait for a corner or safety to create a turnover.
The Browns line up in a 12 personnel package (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers) with both receivers to the right side of the line of scrimmage.
Tight end Jordan Cameron, who is on the left side of the line, will run a corner route. The cornerback in front of him will play man-to-man unless Cameron goes deeper than 15 yards. At that point Cameron becomes the responsibility of the deep safety.
This is a cover two defense. In a tight area it forces a quarterback to make a perfect throw and can create turnovers with the tight proximity of the defensive zones.
Cameron has left the cornerback’s zone, and he will now drop down to cover the shorter crossing route. The deep safety has now picked up Cameron.
The danger of the cover two is that throws between the zones looks enticing. However, unless you have the arm strength to deliver the ball with extreme velocity, there is plenty of time for the defender to cut in front of the route.
The defense wants Hoyer to throw the ball into the green area and give the safety a chance at a turnover.
Instead of taking the bait, Hoyer throws the ball over the top of the zone where the safety is already beat. The perfect strike to Cameron puts another touchdown on the board.
If Brian Hoyer had Brandon Weeden’s arm strength, he could have possibly thrown the ball under the deep zone for a completion. Instead, Hoyer recognized that he could not make that throw and threw the ball over-the-top with precise touch.
This was about as perfect of a throw as you can make. Throwing under the zone is the exact mistake you often see young or inexperienced quarterbacks make and regret. Until you know and accept your physical limitations in this league, you will never be able to make intelligent decisions.
Play 3: 3rd-and-10 down three points with 3:12 to go in the fourth quarter
While the touchdown pass on this drive was fantastic, the most important play happened well before it. After two incompletions to start the drive, Hoyer was staring at 3rd-and-10 and the third loss on the season for the Browns.
The Vikings were playing man-to-man coverage on the outside against Josh Gordon and Davone Bess. Both receivers were running slant routes with the Gordon as the primary route. The slant is all about timing and ball placement. Against this coverage it should be open most of the time, but the receiver must beat his man and the ball must be thrown quickly.
The cornerback has to respect Josh Gordon’s speed and gives him a cushion. He isn’t even two yards off of the line of scrimmage and already Hoyer is in his throwing motion. The safety is playing deep so he can’t get beat over the top.
As long as the ball is delivered accurately, it is up to Gordon to fight for the first down.
From the end-zone film copy, we can see the ball is thrown right on the money. Gordon now just has to fight for three more yards, which he does with ease. The play results in an 11-yard gain, a first down and clears the path to the game-winning touchdown.
Hoyer had to deliver this ball accurately and, more importantly, quickly to get the first down. Gordon is the team’s best playmaker and he did just that on this snap.
These plays were obviously not typical of Hoyer’s entire day. He has plenty to work on and change before he starts another NFL game. They were, however, a stepping stone.
While he did have Josh Gordon at his disposal, a luxury Weeden did not have the first two weeks, he gets credit for using him frequently.
I am especially impressed with the red-zone touchdown throw to Cameron. That is such an easy turnover to make, and Hoyer made the correct read and then delivered the ball where only his receiver could catch it. If he can cut out the turnovers, Hoyer showed the poise and skills to deserve at least one more start for the Browns.
All screenshots courtesy of NFL.com Game Rewind coach's film.