Browns plan to stick with Hoyer as long as team is in playoff race

A week after being pulled in favor of rookie Johnny Manziel in an ugly loss to the Bills, Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback for the Browns today against the Colts. It took a few tense days, but coach Mike Pettine decided that for this week nothing would change.

Now what for Cleveland?

According to sources with knowledge of the Browns thinking, the plan is to have Hoyer under center as long as the Browns are in the thick of the playoff race. That leash might just be long enough for today, though.

If the Browns, at 7-5, lose to Indianapolis, expect Pettine to be in the same exact spot this week -- making a decision on a starting quarterback. And don't be surprised if he goes the other way. The likely scenario at that point would be for Manziel to start for the rest of the season.

But today, Hoyer is expected to be given every chance to win the game. The Browns don't want him looking over his shoulder if it's a three-and-out in the first series. The plan is to play Manziel only if the team goes down big or is badly in need of a spark deep into the game.

What Browns people don't anticipate is a "Manziel package," where he goes in for a series with plays designed specifically for him. He will run the same plays as Hoyer.

As sources explained, Hoyer is the one who put the Browns in this position. And they believe the recent offensive struggles aren't all his fault, though he does have to play better.

But if the Browns are no longer playing for this year, as might be the case with a loss, there are still key voices in the organization who want to see what Manziel has to offer. A Browns source compared Manziel to a present they received months ago but haven't been able to open. At some point, they will. But not yet.

To help key a victory, coaches have called on the entire offense to perform. And that includes electric receiver Josh Gordon, who thrived in his first start back from a suspension, but struggled last week. He made the wrong route adjustment on Hoyer's first interception, sources say, and his lack of sharpness hurt the offense against Buffalo. The hope is for increased cohesiveness this week.

If none materializes, Hoyer might head to the bench and Manziel could start for the rest of the season.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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