It’s been a crazy week and a half for the Cleveland Browns organization. We missed out on doing our film column last week because of the Trent Richardson trade bombshell. So it’s nice to get back to a little normalcy as we look at the Browns first win of the season over the Vikings.
Most Browns fans have spent the past four days fawning over Brian Hoyer and heaping praise on the Ohio kid for his late-game drive to win the game. I’ll leave all the over-the-top talk to the rest of the blogs. I for one wasn’t too terribly impressed with what I saw from Hoyer. I thought he made some nice throws and showed some good poise, which are both positives. My issues that I have when I looked at the film was actually what so many have praised him for: being decisive and getting rid of the ball quick. So often because he was getting it out quick he wasn’t reading the defense and ended up forcing throws that weren’t there when other options were open.
Most of his success came from going to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Now, I’ll say that if I was in Hoyer’s situation that I’d lean on those two guys a ton obviously. They’re the two best offensive weapons the Browns have by far so to go to them a lot makes sense. However, if Hoyer wants to stick with the Browns and in the NFL he’s going to need to do a better job of reading defenses both pre-snap and post-snap. And while the Browns offensive line hasn’t done a great job in pass protection this year, at some point you have to trust that they’ll give you some time and allow plays to develop instead of whipping throws out quick all the time.
Let’s take a look at our first play. Here you’ll see the play is already developing and Hoyer is zoned in on the left side of the field with both Cameron and Devone Bess.
It looks like we’ve got man-to-man coverage with safety help over top on Cameron. Hoyer is trying to hit Bess on the out-route which is there well and good. Bess doesn’t make the catch on this play which is on him but this isn’t the best option. If Hoyer is reading the defense he’ll see man coverage and know that the routes by Gordon and Greg Little are going to open up the right side of the field. The Vikings MLB you’ll see is stuck in no-mans land in the middle of the field while Chris Ogbonnaya is breaking out wide open to the top of the shot.
It’s not a great throw by Hoyer as you can see but still one that you expect Bess to make. So there’s that. But for me this is all about reading defense and knowing what play you’re running and what will be there. If he reads man coverage and sees the MLB sitting there doing nothing he should know that Ogbonnaya is going to be wide open in the flat. Fans hate the check-down but sometimes that’s the best option and that happened multiple times on Sunday with Hoyer. He was so in a hurry to get throws out quick that he zeroed in on one guy (usually either Gordon or Cameron) and didn’t see better options open.
On this next play we’ll see Minnesota in a zone coverage look.
Again this is about reading the defense and knowing the play. The Vike’s nickle corner on Bess has flat responsibility down on lower part of the shot. Bess is going to press him off his spot while Gordon is running deep on the same side. Meanwhile you can see Cameron running a drag route and is initially covered by an LB who actually has flat zone responsibilities on the left side of the defense.
In the next shot you’ll see that happening as Cameron comes wide open underneath…
Unfortunately Hoyer is already keyed in on Gordon and ends up forcing the throwing down field that isn’t really there…
The pass goes incomplete in the end while Cameron is wide open underneath. And if you notice the Minnesota SS sees the throw that Hoyer should have made and is breaking in on Cameron. Even the defense saw was the right throw but Hoyer was so locked on Gordon and seemingly already had his mind made up that’s where he was going that he didn’t see what the defense gave him.
The next play we’re going to look at is the first of Hoyer’s three interceptions. He’s got man coverage with two-deep safeties over top to smartly take away the deep threat from Gordon.
Gordon is running an a skinny post/inside fly route/whatever you want to call it, he’s trying to beat his guy deep. However, against man, two deep coverage this route isn’t there unless the throw goes over top of the safety.
As Hoyer is beginning to make his throw in the shot above Gordon is just getting into his break which is when you want to make the throw. But he’s not reading the safety that is basically baiting him.
This is an easy interception for the safety. Hoyer doesn’t have the arm strength to gun that ball in there against two deep safeties. He should be reading man-two deep right away as we could see from the first shot and know that Gordon isn’t an option. Instead he tried to look off and make the throw anyway, only the safety wasn’t fooled. This play was well defended by Minnesota so Hoyer probably should have either gone short to Little at the top or just thrown it away. The pass to Gordon was about the worst possible choice he could have made on this play against this defense.
This next play is the second Hoyer pick. This one results not so much from a lack of a pre-snap read but more so him deciding right away where he’s going with the ball.
He rightly sees man coverage with two deep safeties like on the previous play we showed. Cameron is going to run a hitch and should be open against this defense.
Cameron is being covered by an LB while the other LB (Chad Greenway) is supposed to be picking up Ogbonnaya out of the backfield. However, Hoyer is S-T-A-R-I-N-G down Cameron and Greenway, being the savvy player that he is, sees this all the way.
By the time Hoyer has released the ball it’s too late…
…and Greenway is off with the ball going the other way while Ogbonnaya is again sitting wide open uncovered in the flat.
Hoyer has gotten a lot of praise this week for how decisive he was on Sunday which is true. He often knew where he was going with the ball before the snap. This was to his detriment a lot though and was so on the plays we showed here. I could have shown several more but wanted to focus on these few. Hoyer didn’t do a good job of reading defenses and stared down his target far too often. He was greatly benefited by the fact that if Minnesota didn’t double-cover Gordon or Cameron on any given play they were going to be open. And that should be the case for most of the season. Those two guys are very good offensive weapons and defenses are going to have to tilt their coverages to account for them. This should open up other guys like Bess, Little, and Ogbonnaya out of the backfield.
On the final drive of the game, while he missed several throws, Hoyer did a better job of taking what the defense gave him and got the ball out in the flat to Ogbonnaya once who made a play and a couple other times to Gordon on some quick slants.
If Hoyer is going to be the starter going forward he is going to need to do a MUCH better job of reading defenses and diagnosing his options on each play. I don’t want to take too much away from Hoyer who did get the win after all, but the Vikings are a bad team. If Hoyer plays this Sunday against the Bengals like he did against the Vikings you can expect a much different result. Again, I don’t want to be a downer, but I’m a realist. And I really wasn’t that impressed by Hoyer at all. He won a game against a bad team. Nice.
On a less important or vital note, did anyone notice that the Browns ran two zone read plays with Hoyer? He made the wrong read both times but it was still interesting.
Here’s the pre-snap look…
After the snap Cameron is going to leave the end No. 97 and act as a lead blocker for Hoyer to the right. 97 is Hoyer’s read…
At the mesh point you see 97 crashing down on the play which is the indicator that Hoyer should keep the ball and follow Cameron. However…
Hoyer gave to Ogbonnaya anyways and the play only goes for one yard.
Here’s the pre-snap look on the second one, this time with Rainey in the backfield and No. 96 playing DE on the Browns right side…
Here’s the mesh point again…
Hoyer pulls this one but does it too soon and doesn’t sell the dive to Rainey long enough to get 96 to commit.
As you can see 96 is able to read the play and Hoyer just isn’t fast enough to get to the edge and this one goes for -2 yards.
I won’t be too critical of Hoyer on these two plays because I have no idea if he’s ever run zone read before. It’s a pretty difficult read to make and when you’re doing it for the first time in a game and it moves a lot quicker than it does in practice. This will be interesting to monitor going forward if they try more of this with Hoyer. Or, if the Browns add a more mobile QB in the off season this could be something we see a lot of.Follow @ClevelandFlack