by Eric Szczepinski @eszczepinski2
HERES JOHNNY! With playoff hopes in the balance the Cleveland Browns turned to Manziel to ignite the Browns sluggish offense. In making his 1st start in a meaningful game, Manziel became the first player to make his opening start for a team with a winning record in December due to effectiveness since 2006. This was not your typical game for a rookie signal caller. Manziel showed his inexperience in the Bengals 30-0 rout over the Browns. Manziel under performed the Browns expectations and the fans. Lets take a closer look at the rookie’s rough start.
Manziel’s biggest flaws came in his footwork and pocket presence. However when Manziel had opportunities to make plays his teammates didn’t elevate their game around him. Manziel finished his debut 10-18 for just 80 yards and 2 interceptions.
On the second series of the game the Browns faced a third down and thirteen . Working from the shotgun Manziel uses a 5-step drop, receives immediate pressure from both sides of the line, steps up and has a clean line of scrimmage. It appears Manziel has daylight and will take off running, however he keeps his eyes downfield and finds Andrew Hawkins that would have been a first down. The ball is jarred out on the hit and the Browns punt. Manziel recognized the down and distance and kept his eyes down field and found an open receiver.
When the Browns take the field for their 3rd series of the game they are trailing 17-0 and have been out-snapped 27-6. Before Manziel can gain any confidence or presence in his first game he already faces an enormous hole to climb out of. On this next series Manziel makes a costly rookie mistake.
Working from pistol formation, Josh Gordon is lined up left and Andrew Hawkins is right. The Browns fake read option and Manziel 3 step drops. The Bengals defense is in a cover 1 using one single high safety. Gordon runs a clear out route occupying the corner and the lone safety. Hawkins runs a 15-yard crossing route back to the left. Bengals corner is Dre Kirkpatrick is trialing Hawkins and is running open. This should have been a big gain for the Browns; however, Manziel hangs on to the ball, hop steps and throws late and behind the open Hawkins. With the delayed throw Manziel doesn’t have a strong throw and it is picked off. Manziel read the Bengals coverage correctly and located the open receiver. But Manziel’s footwork leads to a late throw behind Hawkins. Manziel’s first interception should be a valuable lesson to not throw late to wide-open receivers or else defenses will take advantage. A true rookie mistake.
Manziel also learned throwing across your body does not work in the NFL. Manziel made a costly red zone mistake when launching up a prayer across his body. Hawkins appears open for a spilt second but he’s not. Another lesson to Manziel to take care of the ball in the red zone and throwing across your body usually leads to bad results.
Manziel’s best throw of the day came late in the third quarter. The browns faced a third and twelve. Working from the shotgun Manziel 5 step dropped, had a clean pocket and had good footwork and threw a strike to Josh Gordon on a deep comeback. Gordon had room to run and it was an explosive play of 32 yards. Manziel showed his velocity on the ball and accuracy when he displays good footwork. This was one of the few 3rd down conversions of the day.
Manziel played poorly and showed fundamental flaws in his pro debut. Manziel wasn’t helped by the defense surrendering a big lead early in the game, dropped passes, his line did him no favors on protection. Manziel needs to take strides over the next two weeks and prove he is the signal caller of the future for the Cleveland Browns. I want to see a more confident player Sunday in Carolina in decision-making and more consistent footwork and pocket presence. Manziel was an extremely accurate passer from the pocket at Texas A&M. Critics and “experts” say Manziel is incapable of becoming a successful pocket passer. However, Manziel led the nation with a 74% completion percantage from the pocket in 2013. I expect Manziel’s accuracy to improve as he adapts to the speed of the game and uses consistent footwork. I fully expect Manziel to rebound and pass with accuracy and decisiveness in the coming weeks.