EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In the secrecy-infatuated NFL, teams will go to any length to gain advantage over opponents. Cleveland Browns first-year coach Rob Chudzinski wasn’t worried about placing any smokescreen over this week’s visit to Minnesota.
Call Chudzinski new to the ways of head coaches for the lack of gamesmanship. Or maybe just call him confident with going with what he feels gives his 0-2 Cleveland team the best chance to win against the 0-2 Vikings on Sunday. Chudzinksi wasted no time this week, announcing Wednesday morning third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer would start Sunday’s game.
First-string quarterback Brandon Weeden is out with a thumb injury, and Hoyer is leaping over backup Jason Campbell to start against Minnesota.
“Just felt like where we’re at currently, offensively, and then what we need to do from a game plan standpoint and getting into that a little bit this week that Brian’s the best fit and gives us the best chance to win,” Chudzinksi told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “He gave us a spark in the fourth preseason game we played against Chicago. He’s a smart guy, an efficient guy and finds a way to make plays.”
Hoyer, who made his only career start last year in Week 17 for Arizona, owns a career 59.4 completion percentage and 72.2 quarterback rating in his fifth NFL season. He was a little-used backup in three seasons with New England before playing in six games last year for the Cardinals.
Cleveland signed Hoyer in the offseason after he was released by Arizona to add depth behind Weeden, the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 draft who suffered a sprained right thumb in Sunday’s 14-6 loss to Baltimore. In his lone start last season, Hoyer was 19 of 34 for 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a loss at San Francisco.
Minnesota certainly will be looking at the film from that game last year, and doing so in somewhat hurried fashion. Campbell replaced Weeden in last week’s game with Hoyer listed as an inactive. When the Vikings went to begin preparing for the Browns this week, Campbell was the focus.
“We’ll have to go back and look at some tape of his time in Arizona and even in the preseason there with Cleveland,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “Going into it, their No. 2 is Jason Campbell and that’s kind of the guy we were looking at yesterday and the day before. We’ll have to do our homework on Brian and learn a little bit about him.”
The change will lead to some extra work this week, but the secret is out and Frazier is thankful.
“A lot better than finding out Sunday at noon, promise you that,” Frazier said.
Before meeting with the media on Wednesday, Frazier and his coaches had already begun watching film on Hoyer, including the game at San Francisco last year.
“You just try to get as much data as you can on the guy that’s going to start and start doing your preparation from there,” Frazier said. “We have pro scouts, advance scouts, look at guys in the preseason and write up reports on them. We’ll look at those reports, see what his strengths and weaknesses are and try to put a plan around it.”
The Browns get receiver Josh Gordon back from his NFL suspension this week and are hoping he can add a different element to an offense that ranks 28th in the league this season. The tall, speedy Gordon was second on the team with 50 receptions last year and first with 805 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.
Gordon adds a deep threat, but Chudzinski warned of Gordon becoming the answer to all of the team’s offensive woes.
“I think he’ll help,” Chudzkinski said. “I mentioned it the other day, he’s not going to be the savior. We have to improve in a lot of areas, but it will help getting a guy that’s been able to make plays on the field.”
Gordon is dependent on Hoyer, who is the 19th starting quarterback for the Browns since the team returned in Cleveland in 1999, though. While Minnesota is scrambling to find out about Hoyer, the Browns weren’t worried about their new starter.
“You know, I’m glad people have been sleeping on Hoyer,” running back Trent Richardson said Wednesday. “So when he comes out to surprise people, it’d be a bigger shock to the world.”
The biggest surprise came later Wednesday after Richardson had talked to Minnesota reporters on a conference call and likely sent the Vikings back to the film room. Cleveland surprisingly traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick.
Now the Browns quarterback and running back are relative unknowns, for the most part, for Minnesota.
Despite that, Cleveland’s offensive line has been one of the biggest offensive shortcomings. The Browns have allowed 11 sacks this season, tied with Jacksonville for the most in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Cleveland quarterbacks have been pressured on 51 of their 103 dropbacks, the highest percentage in the NFL.
The move to Hoyer probably highlights a need for quick decisions and getting the ball out quickly, even though the Browns haven’t tried to utilize a short, quick passing game this season.
“They haven’t, but I would not be surprised if that changes,” Frazier said. “They’ve taken a lot of sacks. Would not be surprised if that changes coming into this ballgame.”
The Vikings are studying to make sure there’s as little surprise as possible.