Checking in on the Browns' QB Battle After Preseason Week 1

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Checking in on the Browns' QB Battle After Preseason Week 1
Mark Duncan/Associated Press
Did Saturday's preseason game against Detroit cause any seismic shift in the Browns' quarterback battle?

The Cleveland Browns' quarterback battle saw its first live in-game action Saturday when the team took on the Detroit Lions in the first preseason game of the year. As expected, Brian Hoyer got the start, working with the first-team offense, while Johnny Manziel worked in both the second and third quarters with the backups.

Neither quarterback was dominant, with Hoyer leading the Browns to two field goals and Manziel one in the team's 13-12 loss. Manziel, however, did look like he has made significant strides, despite playing against a second-team offensive line that didn't offer him much protection.

Hoyer completed six of his 14 pass attempts for 92 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Manziel completed seven of 11 passes for 63 yards and no turnovers or touchdowns. He also ran the ball six times for 27 yards, with some runs designed and others improvised. 

Hoyer And Manziel Vs. Detroit Lions
Player Snaps Atts. Comp. Comp.% Yds Pass TD Rush Att. Rush Yds. Rush TD
Hoyer 25 14 6 42.9% 92 0 0 0 0
Manziel 27 11 7 63.6% 63 0 6 27 0

via ESPN and Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

The difference between Manziel and Hoyer was in the passes attempted. Hoyer attempted passes all over the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he had two attempts of 20 or more yards (both incompletions), three attempts between 10 and 19 yards (one completion), five attempts from between zero and nine yards from the line of scrimmage (four completions) and two throws in negative yardage (one completion).

Manziel's throws were more conservative, a testament to the fact that he's a first-year player still in the thick of learning his new offense. He had no attempts of 20 or more yards, three attempts of 10 to 19 yards (one completion), six attempts of zero to nine yards (four completions) and two passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage (both completions).

Manziel's first series didn't exactly excite, with the drive going nine yards—and three-and-out—before the Browns elected to punt. However, he did make plays in the second half. Set up well by Marlon Moore's 52-yard kickoff return, Manziel passed, scrambled and handed off the ball to running back Terrance West, yielding a field goal.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Manziel ran with the ball six times on Saturday. Some were designed and some were improvised.

His best drive came a series later. The Browns went 39 yards in nine plays, and it included a 16-yard Manziel run on 3rd-and-8. It unfortunately led to a Dion Lewis fumble at Detroit's 28-yard line, ending what could have been another opportunity to put points on the board. 

Hoyer's time with the first team was fraught with a few miscues, including overthrows to Josh Gordon and Miles Austin, as well as numerous drops. He certainly looked more comfortable in the pocket, owing both to his style of quarterback play as well as having the benefit of the starting offensive line to throw behind. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Hoyer was pressured on four of his 14 dropbacks, or 28.6 percent. He attempted four passes while under pressure, completing none, with one throwaway, one receiver drop and one hit while throwing. 

Hoyer And Manziel Under Pressure
Player Dropbacks Press. Drops Atts. Comp. TA HAT Drops Press.% Comp.%
Hoyer 14 4 4 0 1 1 1 28.6% 0.0%
Manziel 14 7 4 2 0 0 1 50.0% 50.0%

via Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

Manziel, in contrast, saw pressure on seven of his 14 dropbacks. He attempted four pressured passes, completing two, with one receiver drop. Though Manziel reacted to the pressure well, getting the ball out quickly to his first read or using his vaunted scrambling ability to evade a sack, working behind the backup line didn't allow for a true evaluation of just where Manziel is in his progress.

As such, it's hard to say that Manziel did much to significantly close the gap between himself and Hoyer. He was certainly exciting, but excitement alone isn't reason enough to put him above Hoyer on the depth chart. 

As of Monday, nothing has changed on the Browns practice field. According to The News-Herald's Jeff Schudel, Hoyer remained practicing with the first team, and head coach Mike Pettine's reasoning for it was simple: "The depth chart hasn't changed."

Bob Holtzman of ESPN tweeted Saturday night that a "team source" told him that Manziel is now ahead of Hoyer for the starting job.

However, Pettine refuted that in a conference call Sunday, saying that only he, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains know where things stand and that none have spoken to anyone about it.

He added that it's not yet been determined whether Manziel will start over Hoyer in next Monday's game against the Washington Redskins and that though the hope is they will be able to name the Week 1 starter prior to the third preseason game, it's not "1,000 percent etched in stone."

He also reiterated a point he made earlier in the offseason, saying the "ideal situation" is that a rookie quarterback like Manziel sits a year in order to better learn his trade.

Based on what we saw Saturday and Pettine's subsequent comments, it's clear that Manziel has narrowed the gap between himself and Hoyer, but not significantly enough to threaten Hoyer's job. Seeing Manziel play with the first-team offense next Monday could help clarify this situation, but that has yet to be decided.

As of now, Hoyer remains in the lead to be the Browns' starting quarterback come Week 1 of the regular season, but the situation is fluid. The battle rages on.

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