For the second straight game, Brian Hoyer has been given the nod to start. However, coach Mike Pettine has continually said there’s nothing to take away from who starts the game, as both Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel are supposedly getting equal reps with the first-team offense. Pettine has stated on multiple occasions he’d like to have an official starting quarterback named by as early as tomorrow, so tonight’s game will be a big one for Hoyer and Manziel.
If you ask me, though, there’s not a ton of drama left in this competition. Barring any sort of major setbacks –injury, severe underperformance – this is Hoyer’s job to lose.
First of all, let me ensure this prediction has nothing to do with Manziel’s recent comments saying he wasn’t ready for opening week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course he isn’t ready. He’s played one and a half quarters of actual NFL football, so why would it be surprising for him to say he’s not prepared yet. Even if the Browns named him as their starter, he still wouldn’t technically be ready until the preseason was at least almost complete.
That said, if things go tonight as they did during the first preseason game, I’d expect Hoyer to be named as Cleveland’s guy. This is mainly due to the fact neither QB has really leapt out as a clear leader of the competition. Hoyer has looked decent, and so has Manziel. The race really appears to be a dead heat between the two.
Nonetheless, it’s Hoyer’s experience — however limited it may be—that gives him the edge. At the end of the day, he’s started a regular season NFL game before. Hoyer knows the difference between half-speed, vanilla preseason games and the intensity of the real thing. Sure, he only has four actual starts to his name, but it’s four more than Manziel. It may sound trivial, but at the end of the day Pettine and his staff are going to choose the player who gives the Browns the best chance to win, and experience is an important factor.
Time also appears to be on Hoyer’s side as well. If Pettine indeed wants to have a QB picked by tomorrow, and things are looking as even then as they are now, it certainly increases the odds he’ll pick a veteran over a rookie. While it’s great Manziel has made up a ton of ground since the start of camp, he still has less experience going up against a starting defense, and this won’t change regardless of how much he plays tonight.
Now, there’s definitely a chance for a game-changer to take place tonight in Washington. If Hoyer throws a couple picks while Manziel leads the team on some scoring drives, things definitely get interesting. Despite the aforementioned experience Hoyer brings, Pettine would still receive ample criticism if he picked the vet even if he put forth a severely underwhelming performance tonight.
At the same time, Manziel would have to absolutely blow everyone away in Washington in order to become the odds-on favorite to start for the Browns. He may very well do it, too, as he didn’t display many signs of inexperience in his preseason debut.
However, if tonight’s game ends as the last one did, with no clear leader in the QB battle, expect Hoyer’s name to be called when Pettine makes his final selection.