The signing of Hanie comes on the heels of their Week 13 starter, Brandon Weeden, suffering the after-effects of a concussion. Weeden was the starter against the Jacksonville Jaguars because of a concussion suffered by Jason Campbell the week before. Now, it appears that Hanie could very well be under center when the Browns take on the New England Patriots this Sunday.
If so, that would make Hanie the fourth quarterback to start for the Browns this year and the 21st to do so since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. This time, however, it is not because of any abject failure at the position but instead multiple injuries that have forced the Browns' hand.
Weeden began the year as Cleveland's starter, but a thumb injury gave the job to Brian Hoyer, one he wouldn't likely have lost if he hadn't suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills. Weeden then gave way to Campbell in October and now both men could be sidelined for at least Week 14 if not longer.
Ideally, either Weeden or Campbell will go through the league's concussion protocol and be cleared to play in New England this week. But if not, the Browns will likely turn to Hanie and not Tanney, simply because of the experience factor. Hanie has had four starts in the regular season, all for the Chicago Bears in 2011 in relief of Jay Cutler, while Tanney's experience is limited to the preseason.
Though Hanie might be the best option available to the Browns right now, he's not going to set their offense on fire this week. In fact, Hanie's first (and, ideally only) start for the Browns has the potential to be a real dud.
4 starts for Chicago Bears, 2011
For two straight weeks, Browns receiver Josh Gordon has had over 200 receiving yards—something that had never been done before. Through 10 games, he has 1,249 yards and seven touchdowns. But Gordon's streak of success could end with Hanie under center. Hanie simply isn't the kind of quarterback who can throw deep to a receiver like Gordon.
Hanie's career average yards per pass attempt are a mere 5.85 and he averaged 6.01 in his four games as the Bears' starter two years ago. Those games all resulted in losses, and Hanie threw just three touchdowns to nine interceptions while taking 19 sacks. If the Weeden era has been disappointing, just ask Bears fans of what they thought of Hanie's short stint as starter.
With Gordon's powers mostly neutralized by the weak-armed Hanie, the Browns will have to rely on short passing. This could involve Gordon, but Hanie's main targets will likely be slot receiver Davone Bess, tight end Jordan Cameron and of course, running back Chris Ogbonnaya, who has bailed out many a Browns quarterback this year.
What helps, at least against the Patriots, is the run game. Though the Browns are 28th in the league in average rushing yards per game, at 82.3, the Patriots defense ranks 31st in stopping the run, giving up an average of 138.2 rushing yards each week. Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whittaker and Willis McGahee could all combine for a nice rushing week for the Browns, taking the pressure off of Hanie in a very difficult road contest.
Hanie will have a limited playbook to work with, so it's reasonable to not expect a lot of passing even if the Browns are down by a significant margin against the Patriots. At least the Browns should find some running room against the Patriots. The same is the case in Week 15 against the Bears; however, the hope is it won't come down to Hanie for the second straight week.
If Weeden and Campbell cannot play, who would you prefer the Browns start at QB this week?
2013 has been the year of the stopgap quarterback for the Browns. They are limping their way to the end of the season with the hope of starting fresh next year with Hoyer, a rookie or someone who can bring new life to their passing offense and stay healthy. Hanie's potential start this week is simply a product of "next man up." He's a very short-term solution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.
The Browns just need to make life as easy as possible for him this week, installing a simple offense that doesn't ask him to do things he's not capable of and that leans on the run. It's very possible that he's not even on their roster by this time next week.
The goal of defeating the Patriots this week is a nearly impossible one for the Browns to reach. The best-case scenario, should Hanie have to start, is that they get through Week 14 without any additional injuries and can get things back on (relative) track for Week 15.