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Film breakdown: The Hoyer effect

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We take a look at Brian Hoyer’s best and worst performances statistically from 2014 under then OC Kyle Shanahan

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Chicago Bears Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve seen over the past couple weeks, Kyle Shanahan is getting the band back together. Several of this year’s free agent signings played for the 49ers new head coach at some point in the past few years.

Enter Brian Hoyer, who last played for Shanahan in 2014. His numbers that year were quite pedestrian in the 14 games he played. He completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 3,326 yards 7.6 yards per pass attempt, 12 Touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. He ended the 2014 season with a passer rating of 76.5 and being replaced by Johnny “Money” Manziel.

Nothing about those numbers scream starter to me. Just for comparison’s sake lets look at last year’s QB performance by Colin Kaepernick. In 11 starts, he compiled the following stats: Completed 59.2 percent of passes for 2,241 yards, 6.8 yards per attempt, 16 Touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 90.7. The biggest stat of course is wins and losses. Hoyer went 7-7, while Kap won just one single solitary game.

Both quarterbacks had limited success with even more limited talent around them. I think the difference, however, is Hoyer allowed the system to work for him. A lot of his success in Cleveland came from playing within the offense. He’s a safe bet. Kap on the other hand made magic off sheer talent and ability. He earned every statistic listed above. He had to, the team was in shambles.

Giving Hoyer the same treatment, his team in Cleveland included such non-blue chip talent as Miles “Hamstring” Austin, Andrew Hawkins, and Travis Benjamin. I still feel like they were better than the practice squad guys we had playing last year, but I digress.

All in all, Hoyer will drive the Shanahan-mobile to success. He’s a great play action QB. I’ve seen him make a multitude of throws, quickly diagnose the defense, and make the best, sometimes safest decision. I can equate him to Blaine Gabbert when it comes to quickness of release, except Hoyer throws for first downs and is consistently more accurate; like 100 times more. When Hoyer’s back foot hits, he’s letting the ball go. He doesn’t exhibit some of the hesitation that plagued Kap over the years.

In today’s film review, I’ll post some clips from his best performances of 2014 as well as his worst performances of 2014. I anticipate this year he will land somewhere in the middle.

Let’s start with Bad Hoyer vs the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15. Hoyer completed 13 of 30 passes (43.3 percent) for 136 yards and 2 interceptions. He finished the game with a passer rating of 29.3. Versus the no name Colts defense, Hoyer seemed jittery and lacked confidence in his throws. This game included some background stories around Johnny Manziel supplanting Hoyer as the starter, and maybe he was feeling the heat. The Colts did come to play with a solid pressure-laced game plan. They blitzed often and caused Hoyer to become inaccurate. Early in the game his teammates also let him down with several drops which led to Hoyer forcing balls to try and make a play. Hoyer isn’t going to be successful if he has to “win” the game. He can play within the game fairly well. It takes the rest of the offense to be in sync as well.

Our first clip comes late in the first quarter. Two things on this play, as I mentioned above, we need all 11 players in sync and rolling. On this play, two players run their routes into the same area on the field. Space is already tight in the red zone, and adding extra bodies in the same area is always playing with fire. Even with that said, the player Hoyer is attempting to hit is covered pretty well by the linebacker. Also check his footwork from the end zone angle, he’s throwing off the back foot with no drive on the ball, leaning outside on an inside throw. A touch pass towards the back of the end zone might've given the TE a chance to post up for a jump ball, but overall a bad choice.

The next few clips are from quarter number 2. We have another missed throw due to poor footwork. At this point in the game he’s playing rattled. Remember that Gabbert comparison above? How many times have we seen a play like this where the WR is open for a possible catch and run, but the throw is off target. Here, Hoyer opens his stance too wide to the outside. This causes his throw to go, yes too far outside. He’s attempting to escape the blitz before releasing the ball. Once the ball is gone he instantly hops out of the pocket.

Next clip we have a WR wide open. I mean at least five yards behind any defender. Hoyer’s eyes get as big as grapefruits. Finally he has a chance at redemption, Hoyer can instantly cement his place in destiny as the starter for the Browns of Cleveland. He plants his foot, steps into the throw and ... launches a missile half way across the stadium. I mean I’ve seen overthrows (paging Colin Kaepernick, line one) but this one is far.

Didn’t get enough overthrow on the last clip? Here’s one more. Josh Gordon put the blunt down long enough to beat his man in one on one coverage, but the throw’s just a nugget too far. If you check the end zone angle, Hoyer’s got happy feet. He steps into the throw, but not really. His still leaning back as his back foot swings around to the side. In his defense, this was Gordon’s first game back after suspension and the timing just wasn’t there.

In watching this game, it became eerily similar to the Superbowl. The Browns were up big in the first three quarters. Andrew Luck struggled, he was assaulted, and threw several picks. Cleveland had several chances to run out the clock, but kept going three and out due to incomplete passes. Sound familiar? Luck eventually brought the Colts back only to leave Hoyer one drive to get back in the game. Which he can’t, won’t, and is unable to do. In attempting to come from behind you need a few short passes just to get the momentum going. Hoyer goes for broke on the first play and almost throws a pick into double coverage. The receiver also wasn’t looking for the ball.

The Very. Next. Play. Hoyer refuses to give up and finally throws the pick he intended too. This time into triple coverage. Game’s over. Colts Win.

Now let’s take a look at Good Hoyer. In Week 3 versus a stout Baltimore Ravens defense Hoyer completed 19 of 25 passes (76 percent) for 290 yards and one touchdown. His passer rating was an outstanding 127.1. In this game, Hoyer threw the pigskin with accuracy and his footwork was solid. Two facets to this successful game were Cleveland's ability to run well on first and second downs, and exceptionally poor play by Ravens safety Matt Elam. Hoyer did a great job of taking what the defense gave him, and played well within Shanahan’s offense.

Hoyer starts early in the first quarter dropping bombs; this one goes for 23 yards. The play-action causes shallow drops by the linebackers. The WR on the same side attracts the secondary’s attention on a deep route allowing Jordan Cameron to run wide open on the corner route underneath them.

The next clip shows another great play action pass. Hoyer fakes the outside zone rolls opposite and then throws across the field to a wide open Travis Benjamin. Like I mentioned above Matt Elam gets caught peeking in the backfield and doesn’t notice Benjamin streaking towards him until it’s too late. I can see Marquise Goodwin, and Aldrick Robinson running by safeties the same way. The pass is a little under-thrown, but this is still a long pass from the opposite hash, and if Benjamin had short hair, Elam wouldn't have been able to tackle him by his locks.

This next clip shows some of pocket presence that we haven’t had in San Francisco the last few seasons. Kap did show a lot more presence last season but it was inconsistent, and Gabbert, well, he’s Gabbert. Hoyer stands in makes his reads and delivers a pass in the in between the zones. Unlike some of the Bad Hoyer clips above, he steps into the throw and doesn’t lean away from pressure.

This next play is more about Shanahan’s ingenuity than Hoyer, but it came up in the film review and I thought it was pretty cool. The play before this clip Manziel was inserted at QB, it seemed exceptionally random because Hoyer was rolling. Once the play was over, Manziel jogged back towards the sideline, but never actually left the field (Highlighted at the top of the screen). At the last minute Terrance West runs on the field to make it seem as if the Browns made a substitution mistake. When Hoyer snaps the ball Manziel is still active in the field of play runs a go route uncovered up the sideline for a deep pass. I thought it was creative play-calling. The play was called back however as the RB wasn’t set prior to the snap. I believe also there were some other illegal formation issues mentioned during the broadcast, but I appreciate Shanahan’s desire to push the envelope.

One thing I did see consistently from Hoyer in watching film is his ability to go through progressions. Obviously that phrase became the centerpiece of all arguments surrounding Kap’s QB play, so I added this clip in here to stir that pot even more.

The Browns employ three receivers to the bottom of the field. The TE motions almost directly behind the slot WR. Fault here lies in execution. You can see from the wide angle the TE and the WR almost collide leaving only one option to that side of the field who is covered well. The Ravens had the right zone coverage called to defeat this route concept. If they were in Man there would’ve been more of a pick effect on the defenders. From the end zone angle you can almost count Hoyer’s looks, from far outside, and then progressing to option two and three until he reaches the middle of the field where Austin is open. He drops an accurate pass and lives to fight another down. I saw the same play run in this year’s Super Bowl by the Atlanta Falcons when I did some review on Shanahan’s offense.

Next clip continues to build on some of the staples of Shanahan’s offense. The Browns employ a stacked WR set to the top of the field, with the off ball receiver breaking out to the sideline. Initially Hoyer reads to the opposite side of the field, with the primary receiver probably being the hitch at the sticks. That route is covered. His progressions lead him back to the top of the field where he delivers a dime to the receiver. First down!

Let’s put a nice bow on this game by ending with a touchdown clip. Red zone play, another stacked WR set to the bottom of the field. You can see the Ravens secondary already beginning to look around and try to communicate coverage. The stacked set allows the receivers to get off the ball with no jams. The primary read appears to be No. 16 Andrew Hawkins on the quick slant. He pops open early, and a draws two defenders, one playing catch up off the line and the other an LB attempting to cover as he notices Hawkins streaking across the middle. The linebacker stepping up allows for Austin to uncover in the back of the end zone and Hoyer drops the pass over the traffic up front for a TD. Good ball placement.

Summary

Initially, I dreaded the Hoyer signing, I thought back to the four interception-fest in the 2015 playoffs when he was a member of the Houston Texans. He finished the game with a passer rating of 15.9. Bad, bad Hoyer. The problem was that he, himself had to win that game. Outside of DeAndre Hopkins, the options at WR were limited. The running game consisted of Arian “Pat McGroin” Foster, and Lamar Miller who’s a great third down threat but never seemed to pick up on the ground as I’m sure the Texans imagined. The Kansas City Chiefs defensive scheme was smart and forced Hoyer to beat them through the air. The only team he beat that day was the Texans.

That being said, his 2015 regular season numbers with Houston (60.7 percent, 19 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 91.4 passer rating) weren’t all that bad. I know a few teams that could use that type of performance in their locker room currently. In 2016, he got off to a great start before getting injured. In six games he completed 67 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and zero interceptions, for a passer rating of 98.

If we consider the last three years, Hoyer is trending upward. He’s now back in a system he knows, and so far the talent, while not top-caliber, is consistent. I’m not quite sold on him, but I’m far from writing him off. Our schedule next year includes several winnable games, and I can see us going 4-2 in the division, with the only two losses coming against Seattle considering the Rams and Cardinals are tumbling.

Is it time for OTAs yet? Go Niners!