Cleveland Browns Film Room Week 5: The Differences in Play-Calling between Hoyer and Weeden

It’s always fun when you can watch a football game in live time and feel like something looks a certain way and your thoughts are summarily confirmed.

Watching the Browns this season I had a hard time figuring out why Brian Hoyer was having so much success when Brandon Weeden seemingly was not. It seemed to me that Hoyer was getting a lot more short passing routes and that he only had one read and was supposed to get the ball out quick. That’s what I found when I analyzed the film. He obviously had some deed routes with Josh Gordon but most of it was all underneath, and he had to do very little post-snap reads of the defense.

Let’s look first at Hoyer’s first pass on Thursday night that should have gone for a 90-yard TD to Gordon.

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I was critical of Hoyer’s pre-snap reads of the defense in his first game against the Vikings which led to three interceptions. However, I think since then that’s he did a better job in that area, this play being case-in-point. Hoyer has three shorter options to throw to but he accurately sees that Gordon (bottom of the shot) has single coverage on a skinny post with no safety help. That’s an automatic throw. We all know that Gordon drops this ball but that was a good read by Hoyer.

Again, Gordon usually is the receiver that is pressing the defense deep while the rest of the receivers run the shorter, quick-read routes. On this next play we’ll see Hoyer with all shorter routes…

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Hoyer has deep and short hitches by four of the receivers with the running back as the check-down. Hoyer is locked on Devone Bess the whole time and hits him for the first down. Again, this is a single read and throw.

This next play is a play-action, quick throw to Bess.

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Hoyer basically makes this throw blind, trusting that Bess will be open. This is another example of the Browns coaching staff giving Hoyer one option on the play so he doesn’t even have to think and can just gun the throw out there.

This next shot appears to be a similar play that Hoyer hit Bess for the first down with the deep hitches.

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This is one of the very rare times we’ve seen where Hoyer doesn’t get the ball out quick. When you watch the play from the end zone view Hoyer doesn’t even look to the right side of the field. He looks left, doesn’t see what he likes, then scrambles to pick up the first down and unfortunately forgot how to slide properly.

So as you see, when Hoyer was in at QB, The Norv simplified the offense to a quick-read, short passing game, tailored to Hoyer’s skill set. When Weeden came into the game we saw an immediate change in the way the plays were called. Here’s Weeden’s first play upon relieving Hoyer…

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You see the difference right off the bat. Weeden has both Gordon and Benjamin running deep, vertical, combo routes with the QB sitting back reading the defense as the play develops. This is a stark difference from what Hoyer was doing. Here’s another example…

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This time we see three receiving options pressing down the field.

Here are two more plays that are examples of multiple receivers pressing the defense deep down the field…

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Weeden obviously struggled early on in the game against the Bills but he eventually found his rhythm and made a couple really nice throws like these next two.

This first one is the deep pass to Little…

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Gordon and Little at the top of the screen are running combo routes with Gordon having the deep cross and Little with the inside fly. Weeden read the safety biting on Gordon and knew that he had Little open over the top and made a great throw.

After a 15-yard facemask penalty on Grecco the Browns are in First and 25 when Weeden hits Gordon for that beautiful TD pass…

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But again you can see the difference in the play-calls for Weeden. He has three deep options on this play and has to read how the safeties react. He sees both safeties pinch in to take away Cameron deep in the middle and therefore knows that there’s no help over top on Gordon down the sideline. The play is well defended but Weeden simply makes a perfect throw to where only Gordon can get it. Those two plays aren’t made by Hoyer because he gets the throws out too quick…Yes, it is possible to throw the ball TOO quick. These plays take time to develop and require the QB to read the defense post-snap and make a decision off of how the defense reacts. We didn’t see Hoyer do that when he was in at QB.

There was so much clamor on Twitter and comment sections and over the airwaves of Browns fans yelling for Weeden to get rid of the ball quicker like Hoyer did. And I will admit that many times Weeden does hold onto the ball too long. He realizes this and has mentioned as such. But the fact is that when you look at the plays that he’s being given, they take some time to develop and require him to read the defense post-snap and make a decision off of how the defense reacts the multiple deep routes.

I believe it was Aaron Goldhammer on KNR who made the observation after the Bills Thursday Nighter that it looks like Hoyer and Weeden are playing different sports. Now while I think Hammer was being a bit of a hater/blow-hard with that comment he actually has a point and is, in fact, kind of correct. Both Hoyer and Weeden are austinsibly playing the same sport in that they both play football quarterbacks. But the offenses that they are running, while with the same personnel, are quite different.

In his 2+ games as the Browns starter we seldom saw The Norv run any plays for Hoyer that had multiple deep patterns that required him to read how the defense reacted. We saw a little bit of it in the first game against the Vikings and Hoyer did not perform well in those situations. So The Norv adeptly switched to a quicker, pre-snap read offense that allowed Hoyer just snap and throw every play. That kind of an offense has its positives in that it reduces sacks and should increase completion percentages. But what it doesn’t do is open up the big plays. In Hoyer’s second start against the Bengals we didn’t see many big plays and that’s the reason. When he did have multiple deep options and combo routes he didn’t even look at them, choosing instead to focus on Cameron underneath or his check-down, both of which he used a ton in that game.

When Weeden is running the offense The Norv tries to use his big arm to press down the field and make plays. We saw that happen a couple times against the Bills. That kind of an offense obviously has the draw-back that it takes more time for the plays to develop and can lead to more sacks…especially when your left guard doesn’t know how to defend a simple stunt.

I expect to see The Norv do a little more with Weeden going forward what he did for Hoyer, giving him some simple reads and easy completions. But you can also expect to see more of those deeper, slower developing route patterns that can lead to big plays. The offense will look different from what it did with Hoyer. Different isn’t necessarily bad. While everyone loved Hoyer he didn’t do a ton to win those two games. Most of the praise for those wins goes to the defense, and that shouldn’t change going forward either.

While I’ve been a proponent of the “Brandon Weeden will be a good QB under The Norv” bandwagon, I also believe that he shouldn’t try to do too much because he simply doesn’t have to. Most of the time the defense is going to play well enough so that only minimal offensive production should be enough to get the win. The first two games without Gordon the offense didn’t do much of anything. However, since we’ve seen Gordon back in the lineup we’ve seen the difference he can make, even when he isn’t getting a ton of deep targets. The defense still has to respect that play-making potential and stretch deep to compensate. Weeden will do more to proactively take advantage of Gordon deep than Hoyer did, but he’ll do so at the expense of leaning on Cameron underneath. Again, it’s not to say necessarily that one is better than the other…they’re just different.

And as long as “different” still leads to wins, that should be something we can all get behind.

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