Browns coach Mike Pettine can’t pause life like it’s an episode of his favorite TV show recorded on a DVR, so he realizes quarterback Brian Hoyer and the rest of the starting offense must get their act together in a hurry.
After all, the regular-season opener at Pittsburgh is less than two weeks away.
“We have a very true sense of urgency,” Pettine said Sunday during a conference call. “If we feel we’re not ready, nobody’s going to change Sept. 7 and push that back for us. We have to be ready for the opener.”
The first-team offense scored its only touchdown of the preseason Saturday night in the Browns’ third exhibition game, a 33-14 loss at home to the St. Louis Rams. But Hoyer’s 5-yard scoring strike to receiver Andrew Hawkins came against the Rams’ backups after the Browns started the drive at St. Louis’ 37-yard line because undrafted rookie receiver Taylor Gabriel returned a kickoff 68 yards.
Overall, the offense was dreadful.
“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Pettine said. “We didn’t play well.”
For example, Hoyer’s other six series produced no points and two turnovers — he threw an interception and surrendered a fumble on a strip-sack. He finished 10-of-16 passing for 84 yards with a passer rating of 70.8.
Last week, Pettine named Hoyer the starting quarterback for Week 1 over rookie Johnny Manziel and the coach reiterated Sunday he won’t backtrack on that decision before the opener.
“[Hoyer] knows what he needs to work on,” Pettine said. “We need to play better around him. I think that’s important. Sometimes the quarterback gets held accountable. He’s out there with 10 other guys and they need to be functioning as a unit, fully functional. You can have one guy break down that can ruin a play. But Brian knows he needs to get better, needs more live-game reps.”
In Hoyer’s 14 series this preseason, the Browns have scored just the one touchdown and converted only 3-of-14 third downs. He has completed 18-of-36 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a rating of 63.7. He has lost one fumble and taken three sacks.
Still, Pettine insists he’s confident the offense can get on track because he believes in his players, coaches and the system employed by new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. So far, the challenge of adjusting to Shanahan’s scheme has proved to be daunting. The Browns will get one more trial run Thursday night in their preseason finale against the visiting Chicago Bears, and Pettine plans to play the starters.
“You don’t get in midseason form implementing something new overnight, but it’s certainly no time for us to panic, and I think when we get into true game-plan situations that we’re going to take advantage of what our guys do well and avoid some situations where it might not be advantageous for us to be doing things like that,” Pettine said. “I’m confident that by the time we get to Pittsburgh that we’ll have a good game plan.”
Designing a package of plays for Manziel and unleashing it against the Steelers might create a spark. But Pettine said one reason that strategy could be on hold for a while is because it’s difficult to find time to practice it.
“I think that’s part of it,” Pettine said. “You only have so much time to practice, whether it’s real practice time or walk-through time. Because we went to the third week [of the preseason before naming a starting quarterback], we do feel that we were behind with Brian getting work with the ones exclusively. But [a Manziel package is] something that is an option for us. The timing of it will be the question, when we feel comfortable with it or if it’s even necessary.”
Pettine declined to opine on whether Manziel — who completed 10-of-15 passes for 85 yards (passer rating of 81.2) and rushed for a 7-yard touchdown — outplayed Hoyer on Saturday. Instead, Pettine shifted the focus to the lack of support Hoyer had from an inconsistent supporting cast.
“I think we’ve had some good plays, but then we just find ways [to hurt ourselves],” Pettine said. “A lot of times, it’s self-inflicted, whether it’s a drop at a key time or a missed block at a key time or a missed read.”
The offensive line seems to have regressed since the exhibition opener Aug. 9.
“I thought they did play well against Detroit, maybe took a step back against Washington; [Saturday] night, there were some issues,” Pettine said. “But I thought overall they are getting more cohesive playing together.”
Hoyer’s chemistry issues with a weak receiving corps are glaring. The Browns signed veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson in the offseason, but the team withheld Austin from spring practices to ensure his hamstrings were healthy and Burleson has yet to play an exhibition game with his new team because of a strained hamstring.
“They need to play,” Pettine said, adding the team hopes Burleson will be able to return to practice Monday.
Those types of problems have limited the offense, even preventing the Browns from throwing downfield with regularity.
“We definitely had some shots called in games and haven’t been able to get the ball downfield,” Pettine said. “But I think that’s been a trademark of Kyle’s offense in the past, and it’s something I’m confident won’t be an issue for us once we get going.”
The bottom line is the Browns are approaching the end of the preseason, and they still need to improve a ton.
“I don’t think it’s concerning enough to panic,” Pettine said.
He might be right. But if he’s wrong, it’s going to be another long season.
By Nate Ulrich - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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