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Quarterback competition still not solved
**When head coach Mike Pettine was asked if he thought Brian Hoyer was pressing to play because of the competition, the coach responded, "It's hard to tell."
What isn't hard to tell is that something is up with Hoyer. The veteran was unable to convert a single first down in four possessions. He looks more comfortable in the pocket than Manziel, but in Washington, not much was working.
To begin training camp, Hoyer had all the cards in his hands. The Cleveland brass seemed confident his poise and smarts would beat out the newcomer from Texas A&M, at least to begin the season. But on August 19th, Browns fans are wondering: Where is the Brian Hoyer we saw last season against the Vikings and Bengals? He's shown flashes of that in practice, and a couple of darts he threw against the Lions. But the steadiness that was supposed to be Hoyer's bread and butter is nowhere to be found.
A few days after saying he wouldn't be ready for Pittsburgh on Week One right this moment, did Manziel's game against the Redskins validate that statement? It's hard to tell.
Manziel received 39 snaps in the game, partly because he was moving the chains. On a drive that began on his own one yard line, Manziel marched the Browns 11-plays and 60 yards down the field and he later gave Cleveland its first touchdown of the preseason on a 16-play, 68-yard drive – albeit against reserve players. It should be noted that penalties helped aid some first-down conversions while Manziel was at quarterback.
He had more success against the Redskins than Hoyer, but there was too much leaving the pocket from Manziel. Every time he began rolling right, the Redskins defense collapsed and attacked, and Manziel would either make an errant throw or rush for a minimal gain, often absorbing hard hits. Kyle Shanahan is a stickler on footwork from his quarterback and upon further review of the tape, Manziel seemed skittish in that department.
The stipulation about the quarterback inconsistencies is this: the Browns' wide receiving corps is doing them no favors. At half time against the Redskins, fullback MarQueis Gray was the leading pass catcher (two receptions for 29 yards). Most of the receivers have been unable to get separation down the field, making throwing windows extremely tight. Or their flat out dropping passes to kill momentum. A standout performance from a receiver in the preseason is a crutch both Hoyer and Manziel need.
With all of that being said, Cleveland's quarterback competition has removed the microscope on what this offense said they were going to be all about: running the football. Ben Tate, Terrance West and company will need more help from the quarterback play to open up running lanes, but the Browns mustn't forget that this team is built to pound the rock.
*A theme on the Browns' four turnovers against the Redskins? Pressure and confusion.
When Craig Robertson recovered a fumble from Redskins running back Alfred Morris, Phil Taylor helped blow up the play in the backfield, distracting Morris from catching a toss.
On Joe Haden's interception of Griffin, both Barkevious Mingo and Armonty Bryant were milliseconds away from a sack.
There wasn't much of a blitz on Tashaun Gipson's interception of Kirk Cousins, but the Browns stacked the left side of the line with Billy Winn, John Hughes and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen likely causing the inexperienced Cousins to be confused pre-snap.
And on Jim Leonhard's pick-six, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil called for the safety not to have a responsibility on the play; simply roam the middle of the field and try and make a play. Leonhard did just that, giving the Browns the lead in the fourth quarter.
"Overall, talent wise, it's there," said Leonhard about Cleveland's defense. "You get guys getting after the ball like you did tonight, you're going to be in a lot of football games."
Offensive line issues?
A week after manhandling the massive Detroit Lions' front four, the Browns' offensive line was on the other end of the spectrum in Washington.
The most telling statistic was the 10 plays rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel saw against pressure: 2-for-7 and three sacks. Granted, some of that wasn't from the first unit, but having to worry about extra defenders in his face clearly flustered Manziel – at least more so than he was in Detroit.
It effected Brian Hoyer, too. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was a culprit on one sack and another busted play to begin the game. Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was a menace for the Browns to deal with on the right side. While he was solid in run blocking, nights like the one Schwartz had in Washington could and likely will cost Cleveland in the regular season.
There's no reason to panic after one shaky preseason game from this unit. But it's worth mentioning they'll need a strong performance against the Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium to erase some doubts.