Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP

Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP



If I'm going to watch the Cleveland Browns, then it might as well be a history-making comeback victory, complete with the ingredients of a Shakespearian drama. The Browns win against the Tennessee Titans during Week 5 of the 2014 season was, according to the Associated Press, the largest comeback by a road team in the history of the NFL.

The Browns live in a world nearly covered in an icy darkness, with sporadic wins cracking the sky from the rays of a dying red star. The victory over Tennessee must have given fans a sense that Brian Hoyer was finally going to drag the franchise from its woeful depths.

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Despite an encouraging box score – 27 first downs, one sack allowed and Hoyer going 21 for 27 for 291 yards and three touchdowns – the game was a tale of two halves for Hoyer, who had to overcome his flaws to eke out a win for Cleveland.

Drives One & Two: First Quarter

Cleveland's dark cloud hung like thick fog for its first two possessions. The offense ran a grand total of eight plays for a whopping 21 yards. Hoyer completed two passes: one for -2 yards and another for four yards. Tennessee, on the other hand, scored twice and racked up 164 yards of offense.

Drive Three: Second Quarter at 14:32

All was not lost on Hoyer. He rebounded from a dismal first quarter to lead a critical 12 play, 66-yard drive at the start of the second quarter. Hoyer's first pass of the drive was a 19-yard throw to tight end Jordan Cameron, who lined up left and ran a post route. It was a balanced drive: 36 yards on the ground and 30 yards in the air, chewing up 4:36 of the clock and three points.

Drive Five: Second Quarter at 2:38

Shanahan called a play-action to start the Browns' last drive of the half. Hoyer found Travis Benjamin, who lined up on the right, on a deep corner for 21-yards. Hoyer had a clean pocket and delivered a perfect pass. Keep note: when Shanahan's quarterback needs a confidence boost, he'll often run a play-action pass.

A few plays later, Hoyer found Miles Austin on a deep corner route for 31 yards, bringing the Browns to the Tennessee 25-yard line. Hoyer finished the drive with a play-action pass to Jim Dray, who faked a down block and snuck out into the wide open left flat.

The nine play, 90-yard drive, was a big turning point for Hoyer; he had to respond to throwing errors, drops and an 18-point deficit. Our flawed hero was emerging to bring the Browns hope.

Drive Six: Third Quarter at 15:00

Shanahan's trick to build confidence in a struggling quarterback is a play-action bootleg. In fact, Shanahan used the same strategy with Washington to help Kirk Cousins earn his first NFL victory. With Hoyer struggling, Shanahan called a play-action bootleg to open the second half. Hoyer connected with Taylor Gabriel for a 49-yard gain.

Hoyer drove the team 56 yards in five plays but had to settle for another field goal. But, the drive was the first of many body blows that Hoyer would deliver to Tennessee in the second half.

Drive Ten: Fourth Quarter at 5:14

The Browns, down by six points, opened the drive with – again – another play-action pass. The play started well, but Hoyer had the pass knocked down by Sammie Lee Hill.

On the third play of the drive, Shanahan called an excellent three receiver combination route on the right of the formation: the inside receiver ran to the flat, the slot ran a curl and Andrew Hawkins, the flanker, ran a deep out-and-up. Hoyer brought the team to the line and saw Tennessee set up in a cover 2, exactly what he wanted for the play. The strong safety would have to choose between the curl and out-and-up, with both choices being wrong.

Hoyer could not execute this play. He made a very poor throw to Hawkins, which safety Michael Griffin intercepted.

Drive Eleven – The Game Winner: Fourth Quarter at 3:03

Like any good drama, the game was set up for Hoyer to become the hero Cleveland needed him to be.

The first pass had Miles Austin isolated on the right, with three receivers on the left. At the snap, Hoyer scanned the field – a rare thing to see from him – and came back to hit Austin in stride on a dig route.

With a first-and-ten from the Tennessee 12-yard line, Hoyer found his receiver running a long drag route from the right. Normally, the drag route is the right throw. However, he missed his running back, who had an open field of green grass leading to victory in front of him, on a swing route. In this case, Hoyer's inability to scan the field nearly cost him a touchdown and a win.

For the game-winning touchdown, Hoyer motioned his running back to the left, and he set just past Benjamin. To his right, Hoyer had his tight end and two receivers in a slot formation.

At the snap, Hoyer had a clean pocket to scan the field. Benjamin ran a sharp post pattern, getting the defender to turn his hips. Immediately, Benjamin planted his inside foot and broke to the corner, creating instant separation. Hoyer anticipated the break and threw a perfect pass to the Benjamin to tie the game.

Hoyer: Seeing the Offense from a Different Angle

In any sport, you want an athlete to grow and change. A 22-year-old quarterback sees a professional defense much differently than a 32-year-old seasoned veteran. Hoyer admitted that during a press conference this week.

"Sure, and I knew that from when I played with [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] before, but now this time around I'm trying to see it through Kyle's eyes whereas last time I was just trying to keep my head above water. I just tried to know the play and run the play whereas now, with a little bit of background, I want to see it how he sees it. I can definitely see where that is kind of starting to take place, but it's also there are so many different plays to see which ones he is trying to tie together, which is great."

Hoyer may now grasp the finer nuances of Shanahan's offense, but an unsuccessful path as a starting NFL quarterback still hangs heavy upon his shoulders. His flashes of brilliance are not a formula for long-term success under Shanahan or any professional system.

But it's a new era. There's a good vibration coming from Santa Clara, one that awakens those old memories we once thought lost to pool cabana-sized egos and Nixon-style smear campaigns.

He can battle through his flaws and imperfections, and he can succeed in this offense. And maybe, just maybe, this second time through Shanahan's system is what makes it click for Hoyer.