What Happened to the Browns' Offense in Johnny Manziel's Debut?
Well, Johnny Manziel Week came and went with a thud. Most were expecting Johnny and the Browns offense to at least be fun, not necessarily good. Instead, it was a downright dismal debut for the rookie.
We all know the story. Mike Pettine leaned on Brian Hoyer for the first 12 weeks of the season, which may have been a bit too long. But, instead of the offense showing some life and excitement in Week 15, Johnny Manziel failed to find a rhythm early, missed throws, and looked lost at times in the face of the Bengals' pass rush.
Manziel’s first game hardly spells out what he will do over the course of his career, but it sure did leave a lot to be desired. Just how bad was he in his Browns’ debut and was it all his fault?
Before we delve into Manziel’s performance, it’s important to note how poor the game script was for the young quarterback.
A lot of things worked against Manziel, and it showed. Before the Browns ran their seventh offensive play, the Bengals were up 17-0. The Browns' run game with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West lacked explosion, something that is vital for a rookie’s success. Josh Gordon is a fantastic receiver and Cleveland has to find a way to get him going, but he ran lazy routes against the Bengals. Andrew Hawkins had a drop on what would have been a big third down conversion late in the first quarter, too.
Cleveland’s offense was a complete debacle against Cincinnati, but Johnny Manziel’s poor performance was the lynchpin. His performance, per Net Expected Points (NEP), was the worst single-game quarterback performance this year by any passer. Manziel completed only 10 passes on 18 attempts for 80 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The numbers look horrible, but watching the eccentric young quarterback struggle was honestly worse. He had nearly zero pocket presence and completely faltered against the Bengals pass rush, completing only one of his seven attempts for 19 yards while under duress. He looked moderately poised in the first quarter and half of the second quarter, only to slip into some of his habits that he had at Texas A&M, like escaping the pocket much too early while he needs to hang in and deliver a throw.
Once the Browns were down considerably, Manziel just looked genuinely lost. Passes were consistently high, poorly timed or just downright bad. His first interception was on a pass attempt to Andrew Hawkins on a crossing route outside the numbers, Manziel was way too late with the throw, allowing the cornerback to come up under the route and intercept it.
Manziel's second interception was something out of a horror quarterbacking movie. The Browns had the ball at the Bengals 18 yard-line on 3rd-and-4. Manziel threw the ball off of his back foot while rolling right, and was late over the middle. That always spells the disaster. The ball floated into triple coverage and was picked off in the end zone, killing the Browns lone solid drive of the day. To be frank: it was the worst mistake a rookie quarterback can make.
What’s Next for Johnny Football and the Browns' Offense?
Even though it may have been a game or two late, Mike Pettine’s decision to start Johnny Manziel was the right one. Brian Hoyer’s play had completely fallen apart, despite still being technically alive in the AFC playoff race at 7-6 entering Sunday.
Fortunately, it can’t get much worse for the Browns than it did against the Bengals. The Browns tailspinned into just five first downs and 107 total yards on only 38 plays. Johnny and company made only one third down conversion on 10 attempts, and Manziel failed to live up to playing like a true Konami Code for fantasy football purposes, rushing for 13 yards on 5 attempts.
On a more positive note, the Browns offense will get two more games to rectify their abysmal outing against the Panthers and Ravens in Week 16 and Week 17. Both teams are ranked in the bottom-half of Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP -- Baltimore's 21st and Carolina's 19th overall, respectively.
There weren’t many signs of glimmering hope for Johnny Football in his debut, but hopefully he can put his meager introduction to the NFL out of sight and become the fun, exciting quarterback we all saw in college. Manziel won’t be able to run around and make heroic plays with his legs like he did in the SEC, and he must become a more refined pocket passer.
Becoming a better passer in the pocket takes time, and game experience should help exponentially. Fortunately for Manziel, this is his team now. It’s up to him to improve.