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NFL Preseason: Brian Hoyer holds his own but it may not be enough

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

Brian Hoyer started Saturday but Johnny Manziel could get the nod on Aug. 18. (USATSI)
Brian Hoyer started Saturday but Johnny Manziel could get the nod on Aug. 18. (USATSI)

More NFL: Photos | Videos & GIFs | Training Camp updates | Manziel watch

The usual caveat applies: Namely, yes, it's Week 1 of the preseason and we shouldn't put much stock into in how players, units and teams look based on a handful of plays, sometimes against opponents who won't even be in the league a month from now. With that, let's get to the knee-jerk reactions from Saturday's night's action!

1) Brian Hoyer may have started his last meaningful game. Just know: This isn't about Brian Hoyer. That became clear back in May when the Browns traded into the first round to take Johnny Manziel. In June, first-year coach Mike Pettine said that Hoyer is "securely ahead" for the No. 1 job, but now that we're in August, several weeks into training camp and with the first preseason game behind us, everything changes.

Yes, Hoyer has the benefit of experience (which includes holding a clipboard behind Tom Brady in New England for three seasons), as well as the respect of his teammates and the owner. And his performance Saturday against the Lions did nothing to suggest that he shouldn't be the starter. He left early in the second quarter having completed 6 of 14 for 92 yards (including three drops).

Not surprisingly, Hoyer was efficient on short passes and less so on longer ones. All in all, he looked a lot like the guy who started three games last season before suffering a knee injury. But a steady-as-she-goes effort won't be enough to win the job. Even though Manziel went three-and-out in his first series, in subsequent series he showed glimpses of what made him such a dynamo at Texas A&M.

And that potential is what has everybody wondering what if?

What if Pettine starts Manziel in Week 1? What's the worst that can happen, the team goes 4-12 again? What if he's successful? Then what?

Put another way: We know what we're getting in Hoyer. Sure, he has room for improvement, but there's a reason he was undrafted out of Michigan St. in 2009 and has been on four NFL rosters since. For Manziel, the upside is limitless. At least that's the feeling you get watching him, when something special can happen on seemingly every play.

So, yes, Hoyer was the starter coming into training camp, and Pettine gave him the ball Saturday. But Manziel could be under center on Aug. 18 against the Redskins, and if he shows improvement from his solid outing against the Lions -- no matter how well Hoyer plays -- we'd be hard-pressed to come up with a scenario in which Pettine doesn't give him the job heading into the regular season.

And here's where we remind everyone (us included) that we're talking about the preseason.

Carry on.

2) One more thing on Manziel... During his second series, Manziel appeared to hurt his ribs after taking a big hit. On Friday's Eye on Football podcast, we called him a Ben Roethlisberger Mini-Me because their in-the-pocket playing styles are similar in that Manziel likes to extend plays with his feet.

The difference: Big Ben is 6-5, 240-ish. Manziel is five inches shorter and some 40 pounds lighter. There's no way his body can absorb a season's worth of hits. Hell, Roethlisberger can't; he's started 16 games just twice in his career, most recently in 2013 and that's mostly due to Todd Haley's offense stressing the quick passing game.

Just something to keep in mind as the Manziel hysteria builds in the coming days and weeks.

3) Don't sleep on that Browns' defense. Lost amid Manziel's debut is the fact that the Browns' first-team defense looked good. To continue the Roethlisberger-Manziel theme, when Big Ben was ushered into the starting lineup in Week 2 of his rookie season, he relied heavily on a good running game and a great defense.

As for that running game, rookie Terrance West and offseason acquisition Ben Tate could make the quarterback's life imminently easier.

And all this is contingent on the offensive line, which also looked sharp. Hoyer left the game without ever getting touched, and guard John Greco did this to Darryl Tapp:

4) We had a Dan Orlovsky sighting! Quick refresher: Orlovsky began his career in Detroit and is best known for unwittingly running out of the back of the end zone for a safety during a 2008 game. He's now back with the Lions and replaced starter Matthew Stafford early in the first quarter.

Orlovsky finished the night 12 for 23 for 89 yards.

5) How can the Texans be worse than we thought? Good news: It's the preseason and Houston's abysmal effort against Arizona will be soon forgotten with a good showing next week. Bad news: Last season, this outfit never had a "good showing next week." They went 2-14 and easily could have been 0-16.

But first-year coach Bill O'Brien was brought in, quarterback Matt Schaub was shipped out, and the Texans passed on a quarterback with the first-overall pick and took defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Everyone thought Clowney was the right decision and most folks probably still feel that way, even though Houston's quarterback situation remains a huge problem.

The team replaced Schaub with Ryan Fitzpatrick. If he upgrades the position it's just barely, and even that's debatable. On Saturday, Fitzpatrick was 6 of 14 for 55 yards and two interceptions while playing the entire first half. Either O'Brien wanted to see something positive from the guy he named the starter months ago, or he was trying to talk himself out of that decision in 30 minutes of dreadful football.

We bring this up because a reader tweeted us this in response to Manziel's first series ending in a three-and-out:

Look, Fitzpatrick stunk. There's no disputing that, but there's no way the Texans were taking Manziel first overall. It's reminiscent of 2006, when some Texans fans wanted Vince Young and the Texans' front office took Mario Williams. It was the right decision then. We'll have to wait to see if Clowney has a better NFL career than Manziel, but he got off to a pretty good start...

6) Jadeveon Clowney had one tackle. This is it.

7) Here's the only other Texans highlight.

Not to be outdone, second-year safety D.J. Swearinger plasters this poor Cardinals punt returner. He probably envisioned he was running through Fitzpatrick.

8) Packers-Titans was a slopfest.

But a soggy field was no match for Titans backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

9) Steelers' offense could be explosive. Dri Archer is somehow faster than his 4.26-40 speed would suggest. The Giants found that out on the Steelers' first series, when Archer took a screen pass, cut back across the defense, and blazed his way to a 46-yard gain.

Any concerns that he was the next Chris Rainey were erased in that one play.

But it's more than Archer. There's Antonio Brown, one of the league's best young wideouts, second-year running back Le'Veon Bell, who is poised for a big season, up-and-comers Markus Wheaton, Justin Brown and Martavis Bryant, as well as veterans Lance Moore and Heath Miller. And then there's the Steelers' biggest offseason acquisition: offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The first-team O-line looked solid in limited work, and if it all comes together in Todd Haley's offense, this group could put points on the board in bunches.

The defense remains a question, but not for the reasons we're used to hearing. The old-timers have been replaced by younger, faster players and how soon this group can come together will determine how good they can be. Two rookies could start -- first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier and second-round defensive end Stephon Tuitt -- but questions about depth at cornerback remain. Then again, if the front seven can consistently generate pressure, the secondary might not be the concern it was a season ago.

10) Technology will (in theory, anyway) improve the officiating. New NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent sent this series of tweets before Saturday's slate of games.

(Pay no attention to some teams having trouble getting their tablets to work on the sidelines, including the Patriots.)

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