Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced to the media on Wednesday morning that veteran Brian Hoyer would indeed be the team's starting quarterback in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Noting that Hoyer "was the clear leader from the beginning," Pettine cited Hoyer's full "body of work," which included three wins for the team last season before tearing his ACL in October as well as his "great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room," as reasons for the decision.
This should come as no surprise. While rookie Johnny Manziel certainly pushed Hoyer for the starting job, Manziel has shown he's not yet prepared enough to take the reins of Cleveland's offense to open the regular season.
That fact was not lost on Pettine and the Browns coaching staff when deciding between Manziel and Hoyer, with Pettine adding, "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player," echoing comments he made back in June to the MMQB's Greg A. Bedard:
We felt this entire draft class, every single one of [the quarterbacks] needed a redshirt year, with Johnny really being the only one that had a chance given the right circumstances to be an opening-day starter. It could happen, but in my ideal world, it's not opening day.
It's not that Hoyer has outplayed Manziel in the preseason, of course. Through two games, Hoyer has completed just eight of 20 pass attempts for 108 yards and no scores. Manziel, who played with the second-team offense in his first preseason outing and with the first and second units in his second, has completed 14 of 27 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
However, Hoyer simply has a better overall command of the offense. It has been evident on the field, where Manziel is often seen staring down his first read and, if not available, scrambling rather than completing the play as called.
It was also seen in Manziel's "Sunday Conversation" with ESPN's Jon Gruden (via ESPN.com's Pat McManamon), in which he stumbled through reciting one of the Browns' complicated offensive play calls.
Manziel's tenure at Texas A&M was an exciting one. His ability to improvise and extend plays made him one of the most compelling figures in the 2014 NFL draft. But Manziel's collegiate skills won't immediately translate into NFL success. He needs to learn the complete Browns offense and be comfortable with the pace of an NFL game.
Throwing him to the lions—or, rather, the Steelers, whom the Browns open their season against—would spell doom for Manziel. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau eats rookie quarterbacks for lunch. As Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman points out, LeBeau is 17-2 when going up against first-year quarterbacks. Manziel wouldn't stand a chance.
Of course, this does not mean that Hoyer's job is safe for long. Manziel could certainly steal the starting job from him as early as Week 4, when the Browns are on their bye week. Hoyer will be, and should be, looking over his shoulder, especially if he struggles through his team's difficult first three games.
But the only decision that makes sense for the Browns when it comes to their Week 1 starter is to give that job to Hoyer.
He's the contender who has had NFL regular-season starting experience. He knows how to win a professional football game. And his greater understanding of the offense—especially one that will likely be without its most dangerous weapon, wide receiver Josh Gordon—gives the Browns a better chance to win.
Pettine was right to make it a competition between Hoyer and Manziel this summer. But he was right to always have been leaning in Hoyer's direction well before making his final decision. Manziel had a chance to surpass Hoyer, but he didn't—not significantly enough to warrant unseating the veteran.
The Browns quarterback battle, at least when it comes to Week 1, has reached its logical conclusion.
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