When the Browns benched Brian Hoyer for Johnny Manziel on Sunday, there was one number driving the decision. It wasn’t five. That’s how many interceptions Hoyer has thrown over the past two weeks. It wasn’t 22, Manziel’s draft position.
It was 2002.
That’s the last time the Browns made the playoffs. In the age of salary caps and the 2014 NFC South, a 12-year playoff drought is simply inexcusable. Not even cartoon-cutout Daniel Snyder has gone as long without a drink from the postseason goblet. Snyder’s Redskins have made the playoffs three times since 2002 despite having the patience of a dog at the dinner table and the sense of a junebug at the bug zapper.
Something has to give in Cleveland, and on Sunday it was Hoyer. Hoyer hasn’t always gotten the most credit in these quarters, but a good deal of it is due. A 29-year-old journeyman with four career starts coming into 2014, Hoyer has managed his team to a 7-5 record despite spending the majority of the year without a No. 1 receiver or settled running game. He’s done nearly everything that’s been asked of him whilst simultaneously fending off the league’s most popular rookie since Tim Tebow.
But as so often happens when a career backup gets the chance to start, Hoyer’s talent limitations have become more glaring the more he’s played. He’ll close the book on November with three touchdowns in five games. He’s accounted for just 11 scores all season, and committed 11 turnovers. Most concerning is the fact that Hoyer’s going off the rails has coincided with Josh Gordon’s return as opposed to his absence. Attempting to force the issue with his No. 1 wideout, Hoyer has instead forced the ball, either seeming to have no idea what route Gordon is running, or trying to thread a needle only Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers could muster.
Gordon and the coaching staff are not without blame in Hoyer’s recent struggles, but he simply hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt to keep playing through a streak where he’s completed 50.8 percent of his passes while the Browns have gone 1-2. It’s time for Manziel to be unleashed in Cuyahoga County. Manziel, of course, could just as easily flame out as catch fire. But he’ll return a big-play threat to the Browns’ offense, and open up lanes for a ground attack that would ideally bang out 35-40 rushes per game.
Answers are elusive in Cleveland, but the challenge is clear. End the 12-year drought. That requires mixing things up instead of staying the course, and few players have a better curveball than Manziel. Now let’s see if he can throw it for strikes.
Five Things That Went According To Plan In Week 13
Dan Herron out-producing Trent Richardson. Herron touched the ball 10 times. He produced 98 yards and a touchdown. Richardson touched the ball eight times. He produced 12 yards and infinite sadness. Herron’s 88 yards rushing — again, on eight carries — were more than Richardson has ever managed in 26 games as a Colt. Yes, Herron lost a fumble, but he proved for the second time in as many weeks that he’s the Colts’ best healthy back. T-Rich is now averaging a mind-numbing 3.29 yards per carry, and has one touchdown over his past six games. Just how staggeringly ineffective has Richardson been? Let ESPN’s Field Yates lay it out for you. Richardson now has 292 carries as a Colt. He’s turned them into 903 yards (3.09 YPC) and six touchdowns. Every other Colts runner in the same time period? 392 carries for 1,924 yards (4.91 YPC). Richardson is out of excuses, and should be out of a job. He would have been released by now if not for the first-round pick the Colts invested in him.
C.J. Anderson's continued seizure of the Broncos’ backfield. Anderson was unstoppable against the Chiefs, rushing 32 times for 168 yards while adding a 2/17/1 line as a receiver. Anderson now has 59 carries for 335 yards (5.67 YPC) over his past two games, adding 6/45/1 through the air. For the year, he’s sporting a 5.46 YPC. Both Anderson’s 440 yards rushing and 644 yards from scrimmage lead the NFL over the past month. It remains a mystery why it took so long for the Broncos to identify Anderson as their best back, but this is definitely a case of “better late than never” for the defending AFC champions. Regardless of matchups or who’s behind him on the depth chart, Anderson will remain an every-week RB1 down the stretch.
Donte Moncrief’s passing of Hakeem Nicks on the Colts’ depth chart. Moncrief only caught three passes, but produced a 3/134/2 line, with his scores going for 48 and 79 yards. Moncrief out-snapped Nicks 28-17, and has now outgained him 407-243 on the year. That’s despite the fact that Nicks has drawn 16 more targets, and played 241 more snaps. Moncrief remains a boom-or-bust WR4 for fantasy purposes, but must be owned in all 12-team leagues. He’ll have plenty of upside in next week’s matchup with the Browns as T.Y. Hilton draws shadow coverage from Joe Haden.
Tre Mason’s continued emergence. Mason dropped 164 total yards and three touchdowns on the Raiders, needing only 17 touches to do so. He became just the fourth player in NFL history to run for an 85-plus yard touchdown and catch a 35-plus yard touchdown in the same game. Now averaging 4.60 yards per carry, Mason has become the engine of the Rams’ offense, and an every-week RB2 just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Aside from the Cardinals in Week 16, Mason’s stretch-run schedule is appetizing.
Stedman Bailey’s continued emergence. Mason wasn’t the only Ram justifying his hype, as Bailey ripped the hapless Raiders for five catches and 100 yards in the first quarter. The downside is that the Rams had no reason to throw after Bailey helped stake them to a 38-0 halftime lead, but Bailey is now firmly on the WR3/4 map heading into a mouth-watering matchup with the Redskins’ pathetic pass defense.
Five Things That Didn’t Go According To Plan In Week 13
Jimmy Graham’s day in Pittsburgh. On a day where Drew Brees threw five touchdowns, Graham drew zero targets. Graham’s health was not an issue, as the Saints saw fit to put him on their hands team when the Steelers attempted an onside kick in the fourth quarter. Graham credited the Steelers’ coverage. Whatever it was, we doubt Brees and Sean Payton were happy leaving Pittsburgh with zero looks thrown their All-Pro tight end’s way. Expect a corrective against the Panthers next Sunday.
Tennessee’s jettisoning of Ryan Fitzpatrick. New Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt chose Charlie Whitehurst over Fitzpatrick in the offseason. Sunday, Fitz threw for six touchdowns, or just 12 fewer than Whiz’s offense has produced through the air all season. This is not a comment on Fitz’s viability — he’s a backup through and through — but Whisenhunt’s instincts as a decisionmaker. Outside of lucking into Kurt Warner and Mike McCoy’s revival of Philip Rivers, Whiz’s career is appearing less distinguished by the day.
Justin Hunter’s 2014. Hunter entered Week 13 with 27 catches for 480 yards and three touchdowns. He exited it with a lacerated spleen, and likely trip to injured reserve. It’s a brutal capper to a dismal year, one that saw Hunter make almost no strides on his uneven rookie season. Hunter is as physically gifted as any wideout in the NFL, but his professionalism and football IQ leave much to be desired. Perhaps Hunter will become the next Roddy White, flipping the switch before it’s too late. Right now, however, there’s little reason for optimism with the Titans lacking a quarterback or offensive identity.
Patrick Peterson’s showdown with Julio Jones. Instead, Peterson got thrown down, getting destroyed for 10/189/1 by Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver, including 8/132/1 before halftime. Peterson had made strides in recent weeks after getting off to a slow start this season, but is now back to square one for a Cardinals team in free-fall without Carson Palmer. Jones, meanwhile, reminded everyone that, no matter the circumstances, he’s capable of winning fantasy matchups all by himself.
The Raiders’ follow up of their Week 12 victory. Coming off the most triumphant moment of the Reggie McKenzie era, the Raiders turned in the most-embarrassing performance of the year. Every last thing went wrong, but at the concerning center was Derek Carr, a quarterback who hasn’t averaged more than 5.06 yards per attempt in any of his past five starts. Carr has nothing resembling talent around him, but it’s become fair to wonder if letting him play out the string for McKenzie’s doomed squad is what’s best for his future. Carr has become skittish, indecisive and utterly ineffective. It’s hard to see the final four weeks of the season improving that.
2. Are the Bucs out of ways to lose games yet?
3. Is Colt McCoy really the answer to your problems, Washington?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
TE: Jordan Reed
Stats of the Week
3. That’s how many snaps Cordarrelle Patterson played against the Panthers. The dream is over.
Evan Silva on the struggles of Sammy Watkins. Watkins has been held under 40 yards receiving in four straight games, and has the same number of targets (31) as Robert Woods since the Bills’ Week 9 bye. Watkins has gone off a cliff along with Kyle Orton’s play. Things won’t get much easier against the Broncos in Week 14.
29. That’s how many targets Josh Gordon has drawn in two games this season. It’s hard to believe Johnny Manziel’s insertion under center wouldn’t be a positive. Manziel made beautiful music with Mike Evans at Texas A&M.
Matt Schaub has thrown 10 passes this season. 20 percent of them have been interceptions. The Raiders gave up a sixth-round pick for Schaub’s services, and are paying him $8 million guaranteed.
Kenny Stills has 13 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown over the Saints’ past two games. He’s going to eat against the Panthers’ “defense” in Week 14.
The Seriously, It’s Not Going To Pay Off Reward: Stashing Ray Rice.
Quote of the Week, from Rodger Saffold on why he was wearing all black following the Rams’ demolition of Oakland: "Going to a funeral for the Raiders. R.I.P. I wish we scored 76." For a refresher on Saffold’s history with the Silver and Black, click here.
Tweet of the Week, from @JoeBuscaglia: If anyone ever tweets to me that the Bills should sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, you’re getting an auto-block.
Challenge of the Week, from Marcus Vick: 919-448-7534 call or text me if y'all chumps got something to say to me personally!!
The This Is Your Life Award: Oregon State.