CLEVELAND - There are big issues circling the Browns after a putrid performance Saturday against the St. Louis Rams.
The offense looks terrible, to be kind. More specifically, quarterback Brian Hoyer, who was named the starter earlier this week by coach Mike Pettine, doesn't look ready to lead the way into the season opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Want more to chew on with your breakfast? The defense, which has been praised throughout training camp, was abused by the Rams, who won the preseason game, 33-14, at First Energy Stadium. They did it primarily without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who injured a knee on the first possession of the game.
It might be time for Pettine to ask for a do-over on training camp. Then again, another six weeks of repetitive practices might not be enough time to cure what ills the offense.
Hoyer looked sharp in completing 3-of-4 passes on the opening drive. He was then plagued by poor throws and poor pass protection, finishing his work in the third quarter having completed 10-of-16 passes for 84 yards. He threw one interception and one touchdown pass a 5-yard throw to Andrew Hawkins.
The numbers tell the story of an awful first half for the Browns. The Rams had a 279-100 edge in total yards.
"I don't want people to hit the panic button," Hoyer said. "We did some really good things. We just have to keep doing those and eliminate the mistakes."
Pettine admitted that Hoyer didn't play well. He was clearly upset with the play of the defense, which allowed 472 yards.
"Third-and-long should be something where a good defense will dominate and where we took a step backward tonight," Pettine said. "In other games we've been better on third down. We just couldn't make a play on third down and get off the field. We weren't very smart. There were a couple of things where we didn't play the situation very well."
There's no way Pettine can change his decision of last week and switch to Johnny Manziel, but that won't stop fans from clamoring for a change. Given the warm reception Manziel received when he entered in the third quarter, the fan base will be calling for him after every failed possession in the regular season with Hoyer at the helm.
It didn't help Hoyer's cause for support when Manziel came off the bench working with great field position after linebacker's Chris Kirksey's interception gave the Browns possession at the Rams' 14. A pass interference call put the ball at the Rams' 1. The Browns scored five plays later on a 7-yard run up the middle by Manziel, who gave the money sign.
It was one of the few bright spots on the evening for fans who booed the offense in the first half. Manziel, who finished 10-of-15 for 85 yards, said he was more comfortable than he was in the first two games.
"Absolutely. No doubt about it," Manziel said. "It's go out and play ball now. Just go out and get better and have fun."
The defense failed to slow down the Rams offense with second-team quarterback Shaun Hill and third-string quarterback Austin Davis sharing calls for most of the first half. Hill connected with Brian Quick on a 6-yard touchdown pass, and Davis connected with Chris Givens on a short crossing route that he turned into a 75-yard touchdown.
Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert was beaten on both touchdowns throws. Equally as telling was the lack of a pass rush, which is quickly becoming the defense's Achilles' heel.
"Not his best night," Pettine said of Gilbert. "He has to know that that's what the NFL is all about for him, especially early."
Greg Zuerlein kicked two field goals of 30 yards each to give the Rams a 6-0 lead. The touchdown passes to Quick and Givens extended the lead to 20-0. Hoyer's touchdown pass came late in the second quarter to cut the Rams' advantage to 20-7 at halftime.
Zuerlein pushed the Rams' lead to 23-7 in the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal. Manziel's 7-yard touchdown run made it 23-14. Zuerlein added a 26-yard field goal, and running back Trey Watts bounced off defenders on a 12-yard touchdown run to close the scoring.
Asked if there were any bright spots, Pettine said, "Returning kickoffs, which if we play defense like that we're going to be doing that often."
The Browns finish the preseason Thursday at home against the Chicago Bears.