Should the Cleveland Browns Bench Brian Hoyer for Johnny Manziel?
One of the biggest preseason storylines in the NFL was when and where Johnny Manziel got drafted.
I don't need to rehash it all for you, so I won't.
Since then, one of the biggest in-season stories has been the surprising play of the Cleveland Browns despite a running back carousel and starting Brian Hoyer at quarterback.
On Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Manziel completed his first NFL pass and ran for his first NFL touchdown in a relief role for the struggling Hoyer.
Is it really time, though, for the Browns to send Hoyer to the sideline and let the Manziel show begin?
Let's look at the numbers and see what we find out.
At numberFire, we rely a lot on Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP tells us the extent to which a player or team is performing above or below expectation. Hoyer, entering Week 13, was playing above expectation - but that doesn't tell the whole story.
Hoyer's relevant metrics and ranks in those metrics among the 24 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 300 drop backs this year don't quite evidence that the Browns should continue sticking with Hoyer.
Hoyer's Passing NEP of 35.76 ranked 15th out of those 24 quarterbacks. On a per-drop back basis, Hoyer added 0.09 points for the Browns, 14th out of 24.
Okay, so those aren't atrocious. They aren't great, but they aren't abysmal. What is more concerning is Hoyer's Success Rate, which measures how many of his passes actually add to his team's point total. Hoyer's passes prior to Week 13 resulted in positive NEP gains for the Browns just 45.69% of the time, 19th out of those 24 quarterbacks.
After five games, Hoyer's Passing NEP was 40.00, meaning that he has basically done nothing but lose the Browns four points since then - prior to the game against the Bills.
This is why the Browns, as a team, despite some moderately average production from Hoyer, entered Week 13 ranked just 22nd in the league in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, which factors in schedule strength and helps even the field for high-volume and low-volume passers. Racing for a division crown, the Browns need more than a 22nd-ranked passing attack. After all, of all the teams with a winning record entering the week, only the Seattle Seahawks had a worse passing offense, ranking 23rd in the league.
The low schedule-adjusted ranking suggests that Hoyer just isn't getting it done against all types of opponents -- especially good defenses. So when the Browns squared off against the Buffalo Bills, who ranked fifth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP entering Week 13, a poor game could have been reasonably anticipated.
Trouble in Buffalo
Cleveland mustered only 10 points against Buffalo, and Hoyer surely didn't help matters. Hoyer, who went 18-of-30 for 192 yards and 2 interceptions, essentially took four points off of the scoreboard for the Browns, according to our NEP data. More directly, Hoyer's passing was below expectation yet again.
Manziel took over and completed 5-of-8 passes for 63 yards. Manziel knows all about bills, but against Buffalo, he was roughly at the zero mark in terms of NEP, meaning he played at a level that any given quarterback should have been able to achieve. It was only eight passes, of course, but Manziel's drop backs weren't game-changing.
His rushing was pretty helpful. Manziel did add a touchdown, which secured him a Rushing NEP of around 2.5 points. If you're wondering why he doesn't get six points for a rushing touchdown, it's because his rushing alone didn't create the opportunity for his relatively short touchdown scamper.
Without that rushing touchdown, Manziel's first real foray into the NFL could have been forgettable in terms of NEP.
Who Is the Right Choice?
At 7-5, the Browns are still right in the thick of the AFC North hunt but actually find themselves at the bottom of the division standings. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are 7-5, but the Cincinnati Bengals at 8-3-1 have a modest advantage.
It's a very difficult choice despite Hoyer's dwindling metrics. Hoyer hasn't exactly been dreadful enough to lose his job outright, but his metrics are far from promising, and they are trending the wrong way. Manziel, in a small sample which features a touchdown run, didn't exactly click in the passing game, finishing just barely on the wrong side of expectation in Passing NEP.
Hoyer doesn't seem to have anything left in terms of reaching his ceiling, so sticking with him could be the proverbial "playing not to lose" decision. Rolling out Manziel next week against the Indianapolis Colts, who entered Week 13 as the ninth-best pass defense according to our metrics, could spell disaster, too.
The bottom line is that Hoyer started the season very well, but has been about eight points below expectation in his last seven games, which won't help the Browns secure a playoff spot. Considering this, Manziel, even without much promise in his passing metrics in the small sample, very well may be the spark the Browns need to make up enough ground in the final weeks of the season.
Even if he isn't, it's becoming obvious that Hoyer just isn't getting it done anymore.