Johnny Manziel didn’t start in week one, but he ended up playing the most snaps under center for the Cleveland Browns. Due to a Josh McCown concussion early against the New York Jets, Manziel entered the game and immediately fired a beautiful touchdown strike to wide receiver Travis Benjamin.
From there, things unraveled.
New York’s aggressive defense was largely too much for Manziel and the Browns to handle, as Manziel was pressured routinely, forced some bad throws, took some unnecessary risks and also was quick to leave the pocket. The video below doesn’t tell the whole story, but you can make out the jist: that Manziel definitely flashed some ability, but overall in this specific setting it just wasn’t sustainable:
Two huge questions stem from week one: is Manziel’s game sustainable long-term, and is now the time to find out for sure? First let’s take a breather and look at the good and the bad in this game.
For one, the Jets defense is pretty good. They went after Manziel with blitzes and while Manziel certainly didn’t always handle the blitz the best, neither did his offensive line. Manziel ended up taking three sacks and lost two fumbles. That’s arguably a 50/50 blame share there, as Manziel needs to obviously take better care of the football, have better awareness and also understand when to run and when not to run. One fumble was absolutely all on him, as he evaded pressure but then tried juking a defensive lineman that was too close to him and was able to reach him and force a fumble. In that specific situation, Manziel had the guy beat and should have just turned up the right of the field for 5-10 more yards. He saw more yardage up the middle of the field on a 3rd and 18 and obviously was seeking the first down.
But a lot of that is panic. Manziel is still a young quarterback and faced with heavy pressure, inconsistent pass protection and a large deficit, none of that is too shocking. It’s also worth noting that Manziel wasn’t fully prepared to come in and get the job done. Not because he didn’t know what he was doing, but because he didn’t have the reps and wasn’t the initial starter.
Those are ultimately excuses, however. You can’t turn the ball over three times and expect to win or really even compete. The interception I can stomach. Manziel is young and he needs time and actual reps on the field to figure mistakes like this out. Staring down a pedestrian talent like Brian Hartline was mistake number one, and then he fired in a pass on the outside that was late. It was a pass Hartline could have fought better for, but it was a dangerous throw that probably 50% of the time (if not more) gets picked off, just like it did.
We definitely need to factor in two HUGE parts of the equation here. Cleveland could not run the ball AT ALL on Sunday and Cleveland’s absence of real talent at wide receiver was more evident than ever. Isaiah Crowell ran 12 time for just 20 yards, while Duke Johnson had 22 yards off of seven carries. Not good.
That lack of balance obviously didn’t help Manziel, who came in looking confident and quickly made an impact. Manziel wasn’t perfect in the first half, but he looked more than competent and helped the Browns to a 14-10 deficit at the break. It all went to hell from there, but it certainly was far from all Manziel’s fault.
In a nutshell, Manziel provided a spark, definitely displayed his natural running ability in a good way at least three times, several times did a solid job extending plays or avoiding pressure and didn’t look completely lost all that often. He’s clearly made visible strides since being an epic failure as a rookie. He also committed three turnovers, all of which were results of being a young player and just being careless with his decision-making. Manziel can’t stare down his receivers and he certainly needs to do a better job protecting the ball when it’s in his hands.
Another quick note is that starter Josh McCown looked plenty good on his first drive of the game. He even had a touchdown run before getting helicoptered into oblivion:
That being said, McCown led the team in rushing for much of the game, as sad as that is, and looked decisive and efficient on that first drive. It ended badly and with him getting concussed, but he looked fine and may have had a great game. He also could have caved into a fiery death just like Manziel did, too. But if the Browns opted to stay with McCown, assuming he’s healthy enough to start in week two, I would understand it.
So, what did we learn? Not that much, actually. We knew McCown was a serviceable game-manager when his head wasn’t being lopped off with sky high touchdown dives. We also knew the Browns had no wide receivers and a shaky at best ground game. We also knew Manziel was an athletic quarterback who carried the ability to spring the big play, whether by his arm or legs. We also knew he was a young, inexperienced passer that still had some work to do.
That work he needs to do needs to come on the field during real, live games. We have seen tangible progress from Manziel all summer and there is momentum growing. It was rocky in week one and there might be more rocky outings in the future, but does anyone really believing this Browns team is going anywhere this year? The AFC North is loaded again and the problems outside of the quarterback position are going to be there, no matter who is the starter. Manziel gives the offense an extra spark, a sliver of upside that McCown just doesn’t. The downside is quite similar if you look back at McCown’s career, but only one of these two quarterbacks might be the future of the franchise.
If Manziel isn’t the guy, we’ll find out over the next 15 weeks. Cleveland will drown in a sea of turnovers and finish 3-13 and the cries for Cardale Jones will only get louder. If Manziel is ready, he’ll get better each week and his athleticism and improvisation will make him a steadily rising star. It’s probably safe to say you have a pretty good idea who you think Manziel already is. I just think it’s high time he gets a real shot at proving his doubters wrong.
Should Manziel start or stay on the bench? Let me know in the comments below!