Don’t Sleep on Hoyer’s 49ers

Don’t Sleep on Hoyer’s 49ers

The beauty of the NFL is its unpredictability. The promise of a new season. The annual tradition of an utterly unsuspecting team rising from a top-ten draft pick one season, to the NFL playoffs the next, gives hope to all 32 franchises.

In 2016, the Dolphins went from the NFL’s eighth worst team, to a double-digit win club before being extinguished from the playoffs. Trumping the Cinderella moniker, the Cowboys improved by nine-wins after recording just four victories in 2015.

The 49ers went wire-to-wire, along with the Cleveland Browns, as the two worst teams in 2016. With a combined three wins, each team finished last in its respective conference.

A popular pick to bring up the rear of the NFC again, San Francisco made an organizational overhaul. Changes occurred in both personnel structure and within the front-office. Making the most of favorable salary cap position, first time General Manager, John Lynch, set forth a vision and has the most critical piece to the puzzle resolved – the head coach.

Kyle Shanahan coached Matt Ryan to the single-season NFL passer rating record

Kyle Shanahan was the hot-name coordinator this winter coming from the Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta Falcons. Shanahan altered the Falcons offense from a super-star driven attack, to a balanced, complimentary team that spread the wealth, leaning on the experience of veteran quarterback Matt Ryan.

So while some pity the 49ers for entrusting Brian Hoyer with the keys to the car, the eight-year veteran could earn the last laugh.

A major reason for these “surprise” teams popping up each year is the lack of context application. Scouring the rosters for talent is smart in theory but talent doesn’t always win. There’s a reason Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh and Andy Reid have complete job-security while the waffling Joe Philbin, the ill-prepared Jeff Fisher, or the incompetent Jim Tomsula flame-out rather unceremoniously.

The best coaches put players in position to succeed and Shanahan is rivaled by few in this department. The product of reverse-nepotism, Kyle was forced to prove his worth to his perfectionist father and Super Bowl champion head coach, Mike Shanahan.

Working on a six-year contract, Shanahan knows that 2017 will provide little weight in his overall performance-evaluation. This season is more about establishing a culture and building a program that is seamless.

While grooming a rookie-quarterback has its advantages, the evaluation of the other 52 players on the roster is a far simpler-task when the mental mistakes of the signal caller are reduced. Brian Hoyer will break the huddle with confidence, get players lined up correctly and get the football out on time. These reps will be invaluable for the 2017 49ers as they build towards the reclamation of the NFC West.

Joining Hoyer in San Francisco are veterans Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Vance McDonald, Carlos Hyde and Kyle Juszczy. Each offers a complimentary skill-set to execute Shanahan’s offense. With a number of formations, shifts and plenty of window-dressing, the Niners could expose substitution packages of opposing defenses. Essential to the process was acquiring a player with past-work experience with Shanahan.

Enter Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer and Shanahan with the Browns in 2014

Hoyer’s picture is prominently displayed next to the term ‘Journeyman’ in the NFL dictionary. Beginning his career in New England, Hoyer made a brief stop in Arizona in 2012 before finding his way to Shanahan and the Cleveland Browns.

The statistics and win total didn’t exactly endear Hoyer to management in Cleveland, but it would become the bridge that would lead to his first undisputed starting gig since entering the league nine years ago.

After winning the Houston Texans starting job in training camp, Hoyer navigated his was to an AFC South title. Still, Hoyer was shown the door and signed as a backup in Chicago. A Jay Cutler injury meant Hoyer’s number was up again and, all he did, was outperform the starter – again.

Hoyer’s career has essentially been that of the Titanic quartet. Signing up with a sinking-ship organization, his duty has been to provide a peaceful soundtrack as the boat plunges to the bottom of the ocean.

On the surface, San Francisco is much of the same – but not with Shanahan steering the vessel. Given walking papers time and time again for what he can’t do, Hoyer’s strengths will be emphasized in the Bay Area.

Strengths like pre-snap coverage recognition. Ball security and minimizing turn-overs, negative plays and mixing in an occasional down-field strike in with consistency in the short-game.

From 2014 when Shanahan and Hoyer worked together, there was some synchronicity from the jump.

On this play, the Steelers are in man-free cover-1. – The play motions the back weak-side to displace the LB and create a match-up. He doesn’t win the route, Hoyer comes off it, finds another mismatch with the TE on a LB and drops a dime on a seam route from the area vacated by perimeter hitch. Cameron on Timmons

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This play is a staple of Shannon’s offense. Play-action rollout get the linebackers flowing one way  and the throw back goes the other. Hoyer misses the throw, but he has come a long way since 2014.

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Here is another peel back where Hoyer recognizes coverage and sits his receiver down in the hole in the zone.

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More play-action freezing the linebackers and expect the receiver to win 1v1 inside. Garcon is more than capable and Hoyer can sell it with the quality ball fake. This is manufacturing based on ONE player winning a match-up. No one else did anything spectacular.

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Here, double verticals push the defensive backs up the field in man. Hoyer checks it down to the back in the vacated area. This is simple, SIMPLE basic man beater principal but Shanahan has a penchant for dialing it up exactly when he needs to. Any QB can make this throw.

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Most of Shanahan’s scheme capitalizes on tipping the defenses hand pre-snap and taking advantage of the best match-up available for the offense. To execute this scheme, the pass-protection and running-game need to be at least viable.

The play-action misdirection game is a staple of Shanahan’s offense and while Hoyer struggled with it at times in 2014, he has improved over the last three seasons. With Carlos Hyde running behind an elite lead-blocker and a pair of veteran additions along the offensive line (Brandon Fusco and Tim Barnes) the 49ers offense should stay on schedule with more consistency.

The quarterback of a Kyle Shanahan offense needs to play within the confines of what is available, hit 95% of the throws the defense makes available, and take advantage of miscommunications and breakdowns in the secondary.

There is nothing a nine-year veteran quarterback hasn’t seen in the NFL. Lasting that long is typically an endorsement of the player’s ability to process information more so than his physical prowess.

Hoyer is not without limitations. Polished, physically-gifted quarterbacks don’t bounce around the league like a relief pitcher in Major League Baseball. The traits Hoyer does possess afford him the staying-power to last a decade in the NFL. Shanahan identified these traits in Hoyer and made his acquisition a priority the minute he took his first head coaching job.

The first of many excellent decisions to come from the new brain-trust in San Francisco.

 

 

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