Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP

Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP



As the final gun echoed from the glassy suite tower at Levi's Stadium, speculation on the 2017 quarterback roster for the San Francisco 49ers shifted into hyperdrive. We knew it was possible that the position would have all new faces, but it became a question of whom.

The rumor mill spilled over with theories, though many leaned toward Kirk Cousins as the 49ers heir apparent.

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"He knows Kyle Shanahan's system," they said.

"Cousins is an excellent fit," they continued.

Washington and Cousins agreed on a franchise tag on February 28, removing him from consideration. On March 9, the 49ers signed quarterback Brian Hoyer, a former Shanahan pupil during their stint together with the Cleveland Browns during the 2014 season.

Hoyer has more experience with Shanahan's offense than Cousins, with 14 games, seven wins, 438 passing attempts, 242 completions and 12 touchdowns. However, knowing an offense isn't the same as mastering a system.

For the next two articles, let's look at Hoyer's best and worst games under Shanahan.

The Worst Time: Week 14 vs. Indianapolis

Hoyer started the first ten weeks of 2014 playing excellent football, in particular for a Browns' quarterback. He led the team to an unheard of 6-3 record, including a comeback win against Tennessee in Week 5.

Despite the team's struggles after Week 11, the barren hope still remained for Browns fans, not yet having turned to pure wretchedness. A win or two in the last quarter of the season might push them into the playoffs, making the Week 14 battle against Indianapolis a must-win for Hoyer.

Hoyer put together a dismal performance, going 13-for-30 for 136 yards and two interceptions. The Browns had 14 first downs, including a pitiful 4-for-15 third-down conversion rate. Hoyer played poorly, ultimately losing his job to Johnny Manziel, but the film tells a slightly different story than the stat line.

Drive Three: First Quarter at 7:06

Hoyer and the Browns started at the Indianapolis 46-yard line. The first play was a run off right guard that went for no gain, leaving a 2nd-and-10 for the offense.

The Browns went to a no-huddle offense, with Hoyer bringing the team to the line and barking signals. He motioned Jordan Cameron from the right wing into an off-set I formation. At the snap, Hoyer faked a handoff to his tailback, dropped into a clean pocket, spotted Cameron on a corner route and politely dropped a 20-yard pass over Cameron's shoulder.

Another run brought the Browns to the Colts' 13-yard line. Hoyer had twin receivers to his left, with tight end Jim Dray and Josh Gordon to his right. Hoyer motioned Dray across the formation and snapped the ball once he was past the left tackle.

Cameron and Dray ran quick slants, with the slot receiver crossing under them on a shallow corner route. Both Cameron and Dray were less than a yard apart, allowing the cornerback and Will linebacker to sandwich both targets, leading to an easy interception. While Hoyer did glance right at the snap, he went left and never looked at Gordon running the drag route or Isaiah Crowell on a swing.

Hoyer had the hateful finger pointed his way and bathed in a shower of boos for Cameron's and Dray's mental errors.

Drive Seven: Second Quarter at 5:57

Cleveland scored its only offensive touchdown in the second quarter, with Hoyer opening the drive with a three-yard completion. On the second play, Hoyer audibled to his team, calling for receiver Andrew Hawkins to fake a reverse, and Travis Benjamin to run a deep post.

The call worked, giving Hoyer a beautiful, open pocket to scan the field. He found Benjamin running free downfield, but overthrew him by eight yards likely due a massive shot of adrenaline that hit Hoyer's bloodstream once saw Benjamin that wide-open.

The next play, however, Hoyer connected with Benjamin on a skinny post for a 27-yard gain. The Browns scored a few plays later on a nine-yard run by Crowell.

Drive Twelve: Fourth Quarter at 10:08

Cleveland was up 21-19 going into the fourth quarter. The Colts started a drive with 12:27 left on the clock, but the Browns defense intercepted Andrew Luck and returned the ball to the Colts' 23-yard line.

The Browns captured the momentum; now they needed a good series of plays from Shanahan and perfect execution from Hoyer.

In typical Browns fashion, the fans saw a run for a one-yard loss, two pass plays that yielded three yards and a drive ending with three meager points.

Both teams traded punts until Luck drove the Colts 90 yards down the field late in the quarter, resulting in a Colts victory and a dejected Dog Pound.

Result: The Offense Failed, Not Hoyer

We know success has many fathers, but one poor soul wears the loss like a scarlet letter. Hoyer had his faults this game: he locked onto one side of the field immediately after the snap, and he failed to look the safety off on most pass plays. He did not show up when the Browns needed him, but this loss does not all fall entirely on his shoulders.

Football teams do not win games from pass routes of three yards, or quick in routes that do not allow a receiver to run after the catch. In fact, not a single Browns receiver broke 50 receiving yards.

On Cleveland's opening possession of the second half, Shanahan called a play-action that sent Hoyer and Crowell to the right. After the fake, Hoyer had to make a long throw across his body to Gordon – isolated on the left and 15 yards from Hoyer – running a two-yard quick in. Gordon dropped the pass. It's unclear whether these were intentional calls from Shanahan or Hoyer's fear to push the ball downfield.

Hoyer had success under Shanahan in 2014, but it's a matter if Hoyer can take his victories under Shanahan, along with wins in Houston and great games with Chicago, to set the 49ers back on a winning path.