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Stanford in the NFL: Kevin Hogan struggles as starter for the Cleveland Browns

Struggles on downfield passes caused all sorts of problems

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Stanford Cardinal alum Kevin Hogan started at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and struggled. Hogan went 20 for 37 for only 113 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a 33-17 defeat to the Houston Texans. The Browns had 10 offensive points while the Browns offense gave 9 points to the Houston defense on a pick six and a safety that resulted from an intentional grounding penalty in their own end zone.

Hogan had been coming into the game off the bench in spots as a serviceable replacement for rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer who had been the starter all year. The last time Stanford fans saw Kizer, Quenton Meeks was intercepting the ball and returning it for a touchdown during the Cardinal’s 17-10 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2016.

Hogan is only in his second season in the NFL and has seen action in four of the Browns’s six games this season and played in a handful of games last year as well. Last Sunday the Browns were trailing the Jets 3-0 at halftime and things were just not working with Kizer so they pulled him and switched to Kevin Hogan at QB. Hogan went 5-5 for 52 yards on his first and capping it off with a 21-yard pass to rookie tight end David Njuko. Hogan’s touchdown pass gave the Cleveland Browns their first lead of the season.

In one half against the Jets Hogan went 16 for 19 for 194 yards two touchdowns one interception and another 30 yards of rushing in the loss. utilized an effective running game mixed with high percentage throws and the occasional QB run to force defenders up to the line then take a shot downfield when things opened up. It is a similar offensive strategy Hogan used at Stanford. The problem for Hogan is that he struggled on the deeper passes and frequently the Browns running game was neither effective nor efficient.

Kevin Hogan Postgame Press Conference 10/08

Hogan Struggled on downfield passes:

From ESPN Stats and Info:

“In 13 attempts that traveled more than 10 yards downfield on Sunday, Hogan completed as many to Texans defenders as he did to his own teammates: two. His completion percentage on such plays (16.7) was the second-worst by any QB in a game this season.”

Most of Hogan’s longer throws have been off target in the last two weeks. This problem was masked a bit last week against the Jets because of impressive efforts by the pass catchers to make the completion. With Hogan coming on in relief work at halftime against the Jets it is unlikely the defense watched much tape or prepared for Hogan to play. As a result the Jets probably were not aware or recognize Hogan’s struggles on downfield throws. The Texans, however, had time to prepare and watch film allowing them to be ready for Hogan.

Here is a quote on Hogan’s performance from Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation’s dedicated Cleveland Browns site:

“Kevin Hogan did not perform well, especially in the first half, during his first start in a Browns’ uniform.

Hogan orchestrated a pair of lengthy drives for the Browns in the first half, starting off well. Smart, short throws combined with a solid ground game helped the Browns drive down the field.

Hogan’s debut soon soured. Hogan failed to get the Browns into the end zone on the team’s first trip to the red zone. A Zane Gonzalez field goal did tie it at 3, offering some solace.

The next trip to the danger zone proved disastrous for Hogan and the offense. Hogan first took a delay of game penalty, pushing the Browns back on 1st down. The signalcaller then promptly sailed a pass to Duke Johnson, directly into the hands of Johnathan Joseph. The 12-year veteran high-stepped all the way to the end zone, placing the Browns behind by two scores.

Hogan continued to airmail his passes, on both short and long passes. Hogan’s high throws resulted in several incompletions on plays that should have resulted in completions, particularly in the short to mid-range game.

Besides his high throws, Hogan showed another fatal flaw – throwing the deep ball too often and in the wrong scenarios. On a 3rd and 1, Hogan tried to force a long throw down the sideline to Duke Johnson. The throw resulted in an interception, stopping a decent Browns drive.

Hogan’s third interception of the first half occurred late in the second quarter. Joseph picked Hogan for the second time on an ill-advised toss to Sammie Coates. The new Browns wideout did not run a good curl route, not coming back to the ball enough. Hogan should not have thrown it, as Coates was not open.

Hogan decided to scramble out of the pocket several times, leading to mixed results. Hogan did gain a first down on a 3rd and 6 scramble, and notched 11 yards on another run. But Hogan also took some big hits.

Hogan will get more chances to run the offense, without a doubt. Jackson wants to see Hogan’s potential. But if today is a representation of Hogan’s abilities as “the guy,” the Browns might go back to Kizer sooner rather than later.”

Other Possible Causes for Hogan’s Regression:

Far too often fans and media alike tend to start and end all football discussions with the QB as if it is the only position that matters. The quarterback might be the most important individual position on the field, but it is far from the only one. While the Browns history is filled with poor QB play, it is not the only area this team is deficient:

“And while many fans agreed with the decision to start Hogan, it was not necessarily the right move. No quarterback, save maybe Tom Brady, could succeed in this offense with limited options at wideout and an ineffective defense forcing the passing game to work in overdrive in the second half.

Not to mention the frequent, avoidable, drive-killing penalties.”

One has to wonder just how well Hogan would have done at Stanford with a porous defense, the ability to run taken away, and no reliable receivers. Hogan had Stepfan Taylor, Zach Ertz, Ty Montgomery, and Christian McCaffrey who were all amazing weapons on the Farm. It seems the Browns do not have any sort of NFL equivalent to what these guys provided at Stanford.

Browns receivers struggling:

Cleveland receivers have underwhelmed according to our friends at Dawgs By Nature. In fact, they may be the worst wide receiving unit in the entire NFL. Browns’ receivers were dropping over a quarter of all catchable throws according to John Kosko of Pro Football Focus. It is possible that the Cleveland receivers may have had their best day in a very long time last week against the Jets and regressed back to the norm against Houston. Once that happened they could no longer make up for Hogan’s inaccuracy on the deep ball.

Offensive line and running game struggles:

DBN also points out that the struggling Cleveland offensive line also had a much better day against the Jets which allowed more time to throw and opened up the rushing attack. The line allowed 0 sacks against the Jets, but 4 against Houston. Cleveland ran for 140 yards against the Jets, and a meager 45 yards the week prior. Cleveland was able to rush for 134 yards on Sunday on 22 attempts for 6.1 yards per run. Cleveland opted to throw the ball 37 times despite its lack of success which suggests either poor play calling or desperation from playing from behind, possibly both.

Kevin Hogan Postgame Press Conference 10/15

What’s next for Hogan:

The Browns’ head coach has said his QB decision is week to week as the team looks for answers at QB and pretty much everywhere else. The thinking was it would be good for Kizer to stay on the bench and watch the offense and how it should be run.

The general feeling seems to be that Kizer has the better arm, has more athletic talent and a higher ceiling. On the other hand he has a limited grasp of the offense, makes incredibly slow decisions (frequently poor ones at that) and cannot get the ball out fast enough. Kizer’s physical abilities, great as they may be, do not mean much if he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Hogan on the other hand seems to be the opposite of Kizer. He’s less athletic and does not have as good of an arm but he has an excellent command of the offense and usually makes solid decisions quickly. Hogan’s mastery of the scheme and playbook, and quick decision making are great but it can only take him so far if his accuracy is off and he cannot connect downfield and opposing defenses know this. You can be as smart as you want but when you only have a small portion of the field to work with it is much easier to defend and not a viable long term solution.

As of now, the coaching staff will decide which QB gives the team the best chance to win that week. That may mean that either Hogan will need to show that he can connect on passes downfield or that Kizer shows some level of competency in understanding the offense. It is unlikely that either of those options happen quickly. Unfortunately for Browns fans, and the careers of both QBs, it also appears that even if they do fix the flaws in their respective games it still may not translate into actual wins with the deficiencies everywhere else.