BOSTON (CBS) — The backup quarterback position is a rather unique job. A team always wants to employ a competent backup, but in an ideal world, that team absolutely never wants to see that player have to take meaningful snaps.
Some players embrace the unique role better than others. And a new story from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated shows how much of an impact a backup quarterback can have on a championship win without ever touching the football.
As is commonly the case, Brian Hoyer had to serve as a Jared Goff imitator in the practices leading up to Super Bowl LIII. The goal in such a situation is obvious: to the best of one’s ability, the backup QB must transform and reshape his own game to match that of the opposing quarterback for the week.
To study for his role, Hoyer drew on his own experience playing in a similar offensive system, and he also watched any and all footage and read as many interviews as possible to properly understand Goff’s process as the Rams’ quarterback.
Hoyer quickly learned that Sean McVay’s offense was strikingly similar to Kyle Shanahan’s offense that Hoyer led in San Francisco and Cleveland.
Before the Super Bowl, he watched an episode of Peyton Manning’s “Detail” series on ESPN-Plus on Goff, and it hit him right away — the offense is the same. Looking at the Rams tape confirmed it. Then, he saw an NFL Network interview where Goff and McVay discussed the coach being in the quarterback’s ear up until the 15-second play-clock cutoff, which was something Shanahan did with Hoyer. Then, Hoyer went back to Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series on the Rams; it was about the 2016 season but had footage of OTAs from McVay’s first spring there. Hoyer recognized the language.
All of that footage might help explain why Bill Belichick tends to be as secretive as possible when it comes to revealing even the tiniest morsel of information related to strategies or game plans.
“I guess that’s the risk in putting yourself out there like that,” Hoyer said to Breer about the behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews from Goff.
Lo and behold, over the course of simulating Goff in practice, Hoyer came to realize that the Rams would not be able to handle a zero blitz — the same blitz which prompted Goff to throw the interception that essentially sunk the Rams’ chances in the fourth quarter.
“Having played in that offense, they don’t have an answer for all-out pressure,” Hoyer told Breer. “Their answer is for the quarterback to make a play.”
As the results showed, Goff clearly was not able to make a play.
Hoyer, an NFL veteran of 10 seasons, threw just two passes for the Patriots this season. But his work on the practice field simulating opposing QBs is something that drew praise from teammates even before the Super Bowl.
“Hoyer does a good job every week of giving us a good look,” cornerback Jonathan Jones told The Boston Globe, after Hoyer had just imitated Patrick Mahomes and Phillip Rivers in consecutive playoff weeks. “He studies their quarterback to be able to give us that look and mimic it to the best of his abilities, so I definitely think he helps us tremendously.”
As for the defensive game plan, Hoyer’s generally able to use his veteran experience to show the defense on the practice field what some vulnerabilities might be come Sunday. But in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII, Hoyer couldn’t find any holes.
“Once we got into Atlanta, into the preparation, it was frustrating for me,” Hoyer told Breer. “They had everything covered. I was like, ‘Either these guys know what all our plays are, or they’re gonna ball out in the game.’ You could see it. They were playing so fast, they were so on top of it. And you get to the game, and they go and have the best defensive performance I’ve ever witnessed.”
Goff ended up completing just 19 of 38 passes (50 percent) for 229 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, and even those numbers were inflated a bit from 55 passing yards against essentially a prevent defense on L.A.’s final drive.
The Rams overall gained just 260 yards of offense and scored just three points, after averaging 421 yards and 32.9 points per game in the regular season. The Rams stayed consistent in the postseason, averaging 419 yards and 28 points per game in their two playoff contests prior to the major offensive collapse in the Super Bowl.
That’s something that Hoyer — and not the Rams, or McVay, or Goff — saw coming.