The Cleveland Browns are sticking with Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel after a few days of deliberation.
They’ll likely need Hoyer to play much better in order to stay alive in the playoff race and keep up with the Indianapolis Colts’ explosive offense on Sunday.
Cleveland (7-5) announced Wednesday that Hoyer would remain the starter, keeping Manziel on the bench. Hoyer has started each game but was pulled in favor of Manziel with 12 minutes left Sunday against Buffalo after completing 18 of 30 passes for 192 yards with two interceptions.
Hoyer was solid if unspectacular in Cleveland’s 6-3 start, posting a 90.4 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 58.5 percent of his passes. He owns a 55.7 rating with one TD and six picks and a 50.8 completion percentage as Cleveland has dropped two of three, however.
"It wasn’t perfect and he’s made his share of mistakes, but he’s gotten the lion’s share of reps in practice and virtually all of them in games and has us in the thick of a playoff hunt," coach Mike Pettine said. "That, to me, was probably the biggest determining factor."
Manziel seemed to provide the Browns with a spark, going 5 for 8 for 63 yards and capping a 80-yard drive with a 10-yard TD run. The No. 22 overall pick has only attempted one other pass this season.
"Obviously, that’s a decision that’s made by Coach Pettine," Manziel said. "And this week his answer was, `No’ so moving forward whatever transpires, maybe next time the answer will be, ‘Yes.’"
The promise shown wasn’t enough to convince Pettine, who added that Hoyer won’t be on a "short leash" – but one has to wonder if he’ll stand by those words if Hoyer can’t turn things around.
Hoyer is 10-5 as Cleveland’s starter, though the team’s upcoming games hold more significance with the franchise seeking its first playoff appearance since 2002. The Browns are tied with Baltimore and Pittsburgh for second in the AFC North, while Cincinnati leads the pack at 8-3-1.
Cleveland has responded with victories following each of its losses, and perhaps playing at home can help Hoyer get back on track. He has a 90.1 passer rating at home compared to 70.1 on the road.
"I always have a fire lit," Hoyer said. "Anytime someone questions you, you want to prove them wrong. I’m sure there are people questioning me all along, not just this week, throughout the entire season."
Indianapolis (8-4) comes off an impressive offensive performance, scoring six touchdowns of 30-plus yards in Sunday’s 49-27 win over Washington – the first team to do so since the 1966 Redskins. Andrew Luck, who leads the league with 4,011 yards, threw for a career-high five TDs. He’s 81 yards shy of passing Peyton Manning (12,287) for the most in a player’s first three seasons.
The Colts, who own a two-game edge over Houston in the AFC South, lead the league with 6.2 yards per play and 69 plays of 20-plus yards.
"They’re so hard (to get), you don’t see it. Teams are too good and guys always seem to be in the right spot, but obviously fans love it, we love it, everybody loves it," coach Chuck Pagano said of the long scoring plays. "I think going into the game we were No. 1 in the National Football League in explosive plays, plays over 20 yards, and I’m sure we’ll end up staying there after yesterday."
New weapons are emerging in the offense with Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Daniel Herron accounting for five of those plays.
Moncrief finished with a season-high 134 receiving yards after previously averaging 23.3 on the season. Fleener is averaging 94.0 receiving yards over his last four games and has played a more prominent role with fellow tight end Dwayne Allen missing the last two games with a right ankle injury. Herron has 20 carries for 153 yards over the last two weeks after previously running for 74 yards on the season.
Allen could be back in the mix, too, after returning to practice Wednesday – and opponents still have to worry about T.Y. Hilton, who ranks fifth in the league with 1,145 receiving yards.
"Once you throw the ball up for a big play, you want to be that guy," said Reggie Wayne, who has 54 catches for 636 yards and two TDs. "We had a lot of guys that were able to capitalize on that (Sunday). Moncrief today showed what he is capable of. We got a lot of guys. We are pretty loaded."
Trent Richardson is set to face his former club for the first time since being traded to the Colts on Sept. 18, 2013, but has only 54 yards on 27 carries over his last three games.
The status of Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell – who is tied for fourth in the NFL with seven rushing TDs – could be in jeopardy after he didn’t practice Wednesday due to a hip injury.
Indianapolis has won six of the last seven meetings, most recently taking a 17-13 home victory on Oct. 21, 2012.