Browns coach Mike Pettine told Cleveland media last week that he wanted to name a starting quarterback by Tuesday.
Based on what Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel showed on Monday night in Maryland, Pettine might be looking to see if "None of the Above" is on the ballot when it comes time to choose.
Hoyer started Cleveland's preseason game against the Washington Redskins, Manziel also played with the first team, and neither one looked good. Manziel and Hoyer combined to go 4-of-13 for 45 yards in the first half. As a team, Cleveland had 84 yards, six first downs and three points before halftime. And the Browns' first-team offense included Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate against a defense that probably won't be very good this season, so the quarterbacks' struggles can't be excused that easily.
The reason for picking a starter before the third preseason game is clear: Having them continuously splitting reps with the first team doesn't do either much good. It also makes the coaching staff look indecisive and weak, especially because the results of one preseason game shouldn't determine the starting quarterback. But now the choice is between Hoyer, a limited and unexciting option, or Manziel, a first-round pick with talent but who did not produce much when given a chance to play with the starters. And while it would be foolish to make such a big decision based on the tiny sample size of a preseason game, the final impression from both before the team's self-imposed deadline was bad.
Manziel (whose middle finger gesture in the third quarter is sure to get plenty of attention) got some work with the starters after two nondescript series by Hoyer, coming in with 5:26 left in the first quarter. He misfired on a pass to Cameron on his first attempt, throwing well behind him. Then he took a sack by Ryan Kerrigan on third down, and after he was down Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo rubbed it in a bit by doing the "money" hand gesture that Manziel did after he was drafted. Manziel was partially at fault for the sack, because he held the ball too long. Despite taking over in Washington territory after a turnover, the Browns went three-and-out and had to punt.
Manziel had another chance after a long Washington drive was stopped at Cleveland's 1-yard line. He kept his calm in his own end zone and hit fullback MarQueis Gray for a 17-yard gain. He also made a nice throw on the move to Andrew Hawkins later in that drive. The rest of that drive wasn't too good. He had a pass slightly behind Gordon that was dropped. He threw one off target to Cameron. On third down he was under pressure and fired a wild incompletion to Gordon. On that drive he also lost a yard on a read-option run. Through his first two series with the starters, Manziel was 2-of-7 for 29 yards.
Hoyer came back in for the fifth series and played the rest of the first half. Another turnover gave the Browns great field position, and on third down Hawkins was wide open on a post route. And Hoyer threw well behind him and high, such a terrible throw that Hawkins couldn't pull it in. Hoyer was 2-of-6 for 16 yards in the first half. The Browns got just one first down in Hoyer's four series of work.
Manziel got a few more opportunities to impress in the second half. He didn't do a ton more after halftime to definitively win the job, but he was OK. He had an interception dropped, although the play was negated due to a penalty. Manziel did have a nice throw on third-and-6 to Gordon. He also threw a touchdown, although, that came on a quick flip on a screen pass to Dion Lewis, who did most of the work on the eight-yard score. Manziel was pulled early in the fourth quarter and his final line was seven-of-16 for 65 yards.
The only reason for the Browns to pick Hoyer to start Week 1 is to give Manziel more time to learn. Manziel is clearly the quarterback of the future. But with the way both played on Monday night, they didn't make the decision easy.
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