We’re officially entering opening week of the 2014 NFL regular season. For many fans, excitement is reaching its peak as we near the first meaningful Sunday of the year. Supporters around the league are wondering things such as whether or not they’ll be rooting for a playoff contender, or who’ll be the breakout star this time around.
However, for Cleveland Browns fans, the main question is one which comes up seemingly every season: “who’s starting at QB this year?”
Sadly, one of the great autumn traditions of Northeast Ohio is seeing a new face taking the field to lead the Browns offense. The list of past Cleveland quarterbacks is long and, frankly, incredibly upsetting to look at.
This year, fans are adding yet another new name to the record, as Brian Hoyer gets his turn to try and lead the team to the foreign territory that is postseason football. He’ll be taking the reins this week as the Browns take on the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, and if history is any indication of how things will go, he’s got a lot going against him.
So, as game day approaches, Cleveland fans are forced to wonder if Hoyer can finally end the bad karma brought on by the ghosts of quarterbacks past, or if he’ll be just another name on a long list of ineptitude.
At surface level, when you’re joining the long and storied company of players like Tim Couch, Ty Detmer and Charlie Frye, it certainly appears as though the bar Hoyer has to deal with is below surface level. However, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s taking snaps in Week 1 for the Browns, something almost always goes wrong.
Let’s start with the most unfortunate fact of all when it comes to Cleveland opening day starters: since 1999, only one quarterback has lead the Browns to an opening-day win. One. In 15 tries, Cleveland has lost 14 season openers. The lucky man who gave the Browns their only 1-0 record? Jeff Garcia in 2004.
Yikes. Of course, since it appears Browns fans can never have nice things, Garcia followed up his historic (?) win with a game in which he posted a quarterback rating of 0. His Cleveland debut was one of four wins the team tallied that season. For reasons obvious, Browns fans aren’t tripping over themselves to thank him for opening the ’04 season with a rare victory.
However, not only is winning on opening day apparently a tall mountain for Hoyer to climb, he also has to do so against Pittsburgh.
The Browns have opened their season against Pittsburgh twice since ’99. Combined, the Steelers outscored Cleveland 77-7 in those two games. So, you know, just a little one-sided. Heck, looking at this stat, all Hoyer has to do is score ten points to be deemed a success this Sunday.
Of course, coach Mike Pettine isn’t telling his starting quarterback, “can you just try and make it a close loss?” Cleveland obviously wants to come home a winner this Sunday. And, believe it or not, the team has actually been close to achieving the rare Week 1 win the past few years.
Surprisingly, the Browns have held a lead in each of their season openers dating back to 2009. Not surprisingly, the team figured out a way to lose said lead in every single one of those games. Whether it was ill-timed pick-sixes, a complete offensive stall or the classic “defense hasn’t even left the huddle yet when the ball is snapped” routine, each opening day quarterbacks for the past five seasons has watched Cleveland snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Again, it certainly appears as though Hoyer doesn’t have to do much to make Browns fans forget how ugly seasons have started in the past. Looking at the aforementioned memories, it would appear all he has to do is show up, be remotely competent and not screw up. Simple, right?
Well, not only is the terrible history of Browns quarterbacks stacked against Hoyer, there are a few additional elements he has to deal with to make this monumental task even tougher.
Like Couch or Colt McCoy, he doesn’t have a ton of weapons to work with in his debut. With wideout Josh Gordon currently suspended for the year, Hoyer’s primary targets are Miles Austin, who could potentially pull a hamstring while sneezing, and Andrew Hawkins, who’s undersized and out of position if he’s playing anywhere besides the slot. Tight end Jordan Cameron can help, but other than this, it’s slim pickings.
Even worse, like Detmer and Derek Anderson, Hoyer has a popular rookie breathing down his neck and making his seat particularly hot. Detmer watched Couch take over for him midway through the first game of the ’99 season, while Anderson spent most of his Cleveland career trying to fend off Brady Quinn from taking his job. Meanwhile, Hoyer has to try and lead the Browns while hearing the entire football world beg and plead for rookie Johnny Manziel to replace him. Every incomplete pass will be over-analyzed, every interception will be proof he’s not the man for the job.
If Hoyer has an opening day start like McCoy in 2011, who was moderately decent — 213 yards, two TDs and a pick – but still lost, there probably won’t be a ton of pressure coming down on him right away. But, what happens if Hoyer’s debut breaches Brandon Weeden territory? We’re talking four interceptions and a 5.1 quarterback rating (you have to try to be that bad). Will Hoyer’s confidence take a hit? Will Cleveland shorten his leash, or even throw Manziel out there right away?
It’s all part of the supremely unenviable job Hoyer has on his hands come Sunday. History says he’ll struggle, and the national opinion seems to hope he does. Such is life for a quarterback in Cleveland.
Gone are the days of Otto Graham and Bernie Kosar. For the Browns, it’s been a revolving door behind center for over a decade, and now a new candidate is hopping in with hopes of ending the slump. Only once since ’99 has a Browns quarterback started all 16 games in a season. Can Hoyer accomplish this seemingly unreachable goal? Can he join the “legendary” company of Garcia and pull off an opening day win? Will he still be leading the offense come December or, by the grace of the football gods, January?
We’re about to find out.