Last Saturday the football watching public got to see the next chapter in the unfolding Cleveland Browns starting quarterback battle between calm veteran Brian Hoyer and the shoot from the hip, brash first round draft pick, Johnny Manziel.
This chapter was of course the Browns annual pre-season game against the Detriot Lions, the result of which was a narrow 13-12 Lions win. Both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel took a significant number of snaps in the game.
Consequently, we now have our first concrete data about how the battle is going to shake out. To lead with the conclusion, I am now even more confident then ever that Johnny Manziel is going to be the starting QB week one. Here's why.
Brian Hoyer's performance
Brian Hoyer had 14 passing attempts of which he completed six for a 42.9% completion rate. Those six completed throws went for 92 yards at an average of 6.6 yards per attempt. Now it's the first game of the season but those figures are the sort of unspectacular numbers that define Brian Hoyers talent.
He will probably improve as the pre-season continues but his figures are at most going to rise to average.
Now of course stats can lie so it is important to have a look at actual game tape. What did Hoyer do well and what did he do badly?
Four or five of Hoyer's passes showed everyone that he is a QB that has won NFL games. Having Hoyer start for the Browns is not a cause for panic. Hoyer succeeded in finding the likes of tight end Dray and wide receiver Hawkins with regulation passes. Hoyer also had a couple of standout moments. Firstly, when he found Marqueis Gray in the flats in masses of space with a tight throw that the tight end/full back took for 28 yards. Secondly when he found Josh Gordon through the middle for 22 yards.
Unfortunately, for Hoyer though there were also things he did really badly, and even more troublingly for the QB the things he did well are the sort of things Manziel excels at. When Hoyer is pressured and asked to either extend the play or make an accurate throw into tight coverage he just cannot do it.
The two times Hoyer tried to hit a receiver in coverage the ball went so far over Josh Gordon's and then Hawkins' head that they would have needed a step ladder to stand a chance. Hoyer cannot pull of game changing plays.
Johnny Manziel's performance
After Hoyer had his snaps it was Manziel's turn to have a go. In the end Manziel made 11 throws completing 7 for 63 yards for a completion percentage of 63.6%. Unlike Hoyer though, Manziel also rushed for 27 yards off 6 attempts at an average of 4.5 yards.
The statistics then, would say that Hoyer threw for more yards off more attempts but less accurately than Manziel. The rookie also far outstripped his opponent in rushing terms by offering a dual threat with his feet.
Let's not rely on the stats though, let's take a look at the tape and the big takeaway from this is that Manziel's good far outweighs his bad. Let's deal with the rushing first.
When the pocket collapsed and/or pressure was brought by the defense, Manziel's ability to hustle and extend plays came into its own. This ability allowed him to rush for crucial yards including on 4th and 1 when he moved the chains with his feet.
Perhaps most crucially though, is the fact that Manziel has already started to slide in order to protect himself from hits. One of the biggest question marks over Manziel was the idea that in the NFL stepping out of the pocket and rushing like Manziel did at Texas A&M is a quick way to book yourself a visit to the local hospital. If Manziel continues to slide to avoid hits though this shouldn't be such a problem.
As for the throwing it wasn't perfect, but it wasn't much different to Hoyer. Manziel threw one really poor pass. It was 2nd and 8 on the Browns 46 yard line and with the pocket collapsing Manziel threw the ball high over the head of the open Taylor Gabriel.
The rest of the throws were solid enough though, including a stand out moment on the Browns 12 yard line when Manziel avoided the rush to step into the pocket and find
Terrence West for an eight yard gain.
Right now then off the tape against the Lions there might not be much to seperate the pair but in terms of potential and ceiling, Manziel is the clear winner. Hoyer is not going to get much better than he was against the Lions.
Starting in his first ever game, Manziel showed a cool enough head and enough
of the X-factor to suggest that he is only going to get better as the preseason continues. Look to see Manziel start in the second pre-season game against Washington and look to the rookie to make further improvements to his game.
Already the attitudes and media coverage is beginning to change. When a week ago many were reporting that Hoyer was a lock to start Week one attitudes are now clearly changing.
Reports now suggest that Browns locker room is split 50-50 between Hoyer and Manziel. Whilst a Browns source has now put Manziel ahead of Hoyer precisely because he has demonstrated the playmaking ability that got the Browns to draft him in the first round.
Whatever happens we haven't heard the last of this QB battle.