Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ben Roethlisberger knows that Brian Hoyer can beat the Steelers: 'This is not going to be easy for us'
on October 11, 2014 at 7:17 PM, updated October 11, 2014 at 7:24 PM

Sep 7, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won the game, 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Browns finally have a quarterback in Brian Hoyer who can vanquish the Big Ben bogeyman -- and the Steelers know it.

"Hoyer is playing great, just like I and coach (Mike) Tomlin told you guys he was a good player,'' Roethlisberger told reporters this week. "He's showing it. This is not going to be easy for us.''

Hoyer, now 5-2 as a Browns starter, will try to finish the job he started against the Steelers in the opener. In that game, a 30-27 Browns loss, Hoyer brought the Browns back from the dead -- a  27-3 halftime deficit -- with 24 straight points to tie it at 27 with 11:15 left in the game.

Ben Roethlisberger got the best of them again on the final drive, putting up a field goal as time expired to run his astonishing record to 18-1 against them. But Hoyer served notice that he's a forced to be reckoned with in the division, and he reminded everyone last week by erasing a 25-point deficit in his 29-28 victory over the Titans.

"On offense I think the first thing you have to acknowledge and identify is the play of Brian Hoyer,'' Tomlin told Steelers reporters this week. "He's smart. He plays within himself. He's going to be efficient. He's going to move the offense and take care of the football. His play over the last month has verified that. He is making really good decisions.

"He's completing the ball at a high percentage (62.1%). He doesn't have a lot of negative plays. He's been sacked five times in four games. He has one interception. They've turned the ball over one time in four games. That's a recipe for some really good football. I think it starts with Hoyer. He distributes the ball around to a variety of people, tight ends, wide receivers and running backs. He is doing a great job for them.''

Hoyer, who spent three weeks with the Steelers at the end of 2012, is on pace for more than 4,000 yards this season with 24 TDs and only four interceptions. He's thrown only one pick so far this season -- last week in Tennessee --  and it snapped a streak of a 189 passes without one, third-longest in Browns history.

"We really got kind of excited about Brian while he was here,'' said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "He is a really smart guy. He was well prepared. He brought a lot to the meetings and out on the field. He has real good football intellect as far as the feel and what was going on. I'm not real surprised by what he's done. He was driven and he wanted to prove that he was pretty good. I'm happy to see that, but hopefully not Sunday.''

Hoyer even caught great Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau off guard in the first meeting with his masterful operation of the no-huddle offense in the second half of the game. Between that and almost 130 yards rushing in the second half, the Browns almost pulled off the huge upset in Heinz Field.

"He's very good at avoiding pressure,'' said LeBeau. "He's very good at keeping the play alive. He's a guy that looks to throw it when he gets one but if he's got room to run, he's smart. He knows how much he needs and he'll get it. He's a good, smart player. You can't put the numbers up that they've been putting up without a good line and a good quarterback.''

Hoyer knows he won't be able to spring the no-huddle on LeBeau this week, but will use it strategically.

"Once you put it on tape, especially a team you played very recently, they know what we're going to try to do to attack them,'' said Hoyer. "But I think there are some things we can do and use the tempo to our advantage."

Hoyer completed a 47-yard strike to Jordan Cameron in the first meeting and has completed passes of 70 and 49 yards to Taylor Gabriel, but knows he'll have to pick his spots against LeBeau's defense.

"He's going to force you to throw the ball underneath,'' said Hoyer. "They're going to be great in their zone drops and their man coverage. Their blitzes are going to be, they're going to hit the gaps the right way, and you just have to be able to willing to take a little here, take a little there.

"Then when they give you an opportunity, take advantage of it. They're so well-coached that they're rarely out of position. It can be frustrating for a quarterback. As a quarterback – in my mind at least – I want to get the ball down the field. You've just really got to be patient."

The game marks the first time in Hoyer's young career that he'll be playing an opponent for the second time -  and it's only been a little over a month since the first time.

"That game plan, I still have it in my book bag,'' said Hoyer. "It's still pretty fresh. (But) in the season opener, you come in and you're not really sure what to expect, not just with them but with ourselves with a new system, new coaching staff, new players. I think we've come a long way, and we still have a long way to go.''
Hoyer already has three fourth-quarter comeback victories in his first eight starts, second only  to Andrew Luck and Geno Smith, who each had four. What's more, all three of Hoyer's gamewinning drives came on the final possession -- in true Kardiac Kid fashion.

 "I just think that when you look at our offense — the guy that's running the show, Brian Hoyer — he's got a calm confidence about him and a steady hand," coach Mike Pettine said. "I think he kind of allows that personality to seep through the rest of the offense.

"No matter what the scoreboard says, I think guys on offense, we're really good at just focusing on the job that we have to do and the task at hand. I think that helps us kind of come from behind because we never press."

Hoyer, the 22nd-ranked quarterback in the NFL with a 97.6 rating will have the added burden Sunday of trying to match the production of Roethlisberger, who will be playing against a patchwork Browns defense. Roethlisberger, who passed for 365 yards on the Browns in the first meeting, is No. 7 in the NFL with a 100.7 rating. He picked on Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert -- and Haden might have to sit this one out with a hip injury. The Browns are also without Phil Taylor (knee), Billy Winn (quad) and possibly Paul Kruger (back) and Ahtyba Rubin (ankle).

"(Haden's) one of the best in the league so yeah (it makes a difference if he's out),'' said Roethlisberger. "I anticipate him playing though (because) it's a rivalry game.''
Cameron doesn't sense that Hoyer feels pressured to score a ton of points with the defense banged up.

"No, I think we've got guys that will step up and play and do well for our defense,'' he said. "That's what the NFL is. The backups have to come in and make plays and the offense is going to play their game and we've been having a good year offensively and we just have to keep it going.

Besides, he knows the Browns have a fearless leader now in Hoyer who has them believing they can beat anyone.

"We have a whole different mindset,'' said Cameron. "We prepared great this week and I think it's going to be a good game.''

If Hoyer continues on his upward trend, the Steelers should be concerned.

"Brian's gotten better each week,'' said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "He did some good things in the Pittsburgh game, did some better things in New Orleans, had his best game at that time versus Baltimore. Then, I thought he played his best this week versus Tennessee. 
Brian's gotten more comfortable in the offense each week. It goes underrated, any player, especially a quarterback, but any position coming off an ACL takes time. The farther he gets away from that, the more confident he gets.''

Shanahan has maintained that the Browns won't know exacty what they have in Hoyer until the end of the year.

"It's a mystery to everybody because he hasn't played a lot of games,'' he said. "If he continues to get better each week, we're going to have a pretty good quarterback when it's all said and done."

That's exactly what the Steelers are afraid of.

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