Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel's Rookie Season

The Cleveland Browns have acknowledged that Sunday did not go well for Johnny Manziel, but their public plan for addressing Manziel questions this week seems to be a strategic one.

Opt for a confidence boost over tough love.

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This week's company line has been the entire offense must improve; that Manziel, despite struggling, didn't get the necessary help. This is coming from coach Mike Pettine, players and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who on Thursday said Manziel's a "real dude" who has the mental makeup to respond.

They've acknowledged Manziel looked indecisive at times, but that usually comes with the follow-up that the offense had similar problems.

Perhaps the tough love comes behind the scenes, but the Browns seem to recognize that now is the time for building Manziel up, not tearing him down.

This feels like a sound strategy -- the Browns had better hope it works.

Either Shanahan is an eternal optimist or he saw enough encouragement from Manziel through the nuances of studying the 38 offensive plays Sunday to suggest Manziel's problems are fixable.

Stepping into throws with conviction was Manziel's biggest issue, and Manziel has been earnest about improving in that area this week.

I said this three weeks ago and I'll say it again: It doesn't matter whether Manziel or Brian Hoyer are the quarterback if the Browns can't run the ball. Cleveland has hit its second run-game dry spell of the year, averaging 3.2 yards per carry in the last three weeks (242 yards on 75 tries).

That number is survivable if your offense is built on the pass. The Browns' offense is not.

The missed details in the running game are all around left guard Joel Bitonio. He sees guard-center double teams when it should be tackle-guard. He sees failure to account for a safety creeping up or "not quite making it to the linebacker" up the middle, he says.

This has been life for the Browns' offensive line, which Bitonio said actually graded out well Sunday. But when they missed assignments, they missed big.

"One play, one guy gets beat and it's a tackle for a loss, Then he does his job great and another guy gets beat and then it just looks terrible," Bitonio said. "We need to be on the same page every day...That’s the whole goal so Johnny has more time to be back there to throw the ball. We don’t want defenses teeing off."

For the factors Bitonio described, Pettine is right when he says it's "unfair" to judge Manziel on one game. But considering all the circumstances -- the timing, the Browns' chances at a winning season unraveling, the critics quick to bash -- now is the perfect time for the blocks to be tight, the tailbacks to be instinctive and Manziel's decisions to be crisp.
BEREA, Ohio -- Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan explained one of the more intriguing Cleveland Browns offensive plays in Johnny Manziel's first start on Sunday, that 30-0 loss to Cincinnati.

The play symbolized the approach from the coaching staff, and the way the day went for the players, as the Bengals clearly came prepared for what the Browns wanted to do.

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On the team’s first third down, it faced third-and-2 at the Cleveland 25, down 7-0.

The Browns brought a formation out of mothballs, lining up four receivers to the far right in a diamond arrangement and one split left.

Shanahan said the play was a triple-option.

"Depending on how they lined up -- I can’t give you all the secrets -- there were a bunch of different things he could do with (the ball) spreading them out,” Shanahan said. "It ended up being a draw."

The options were not hard to see on the tape of the game, given the play was third-and-2. If the Bengals don't have enough with the bunch, the Browns have an advantage. If the defense puts four people with the diamond, then the quarterback looks left. The Bengals did put four, so Manziel looked left.

That receiver was Josh Gordon, who ran a slant. But safety Reggie Nelson read the slant and jumped the route. That, plus the up-the-field action from the defensive end, meant Manziel had no throw.

So he ran. And Nelson recovered to make the tackle. The Bengals basically abandoned the middle of the field -- one safety was with the bunch, Nelson jumped the slant -- to take away what the Browns wanted to do.

What does all this say?

It says that teams have a decent idea what to expect with Manziel at quarterback, and they have the ability to match his movements.

It says that the Browns weren’t exactly trying a lot on offense with Manziel in the game -- Shanahan also said he called just two roll-outs because he didn’t want to put Manziel in a "knockout" play.

It probably says that Carolina will watch the film and take the same approach as the Bengals -- muddle the middle, keep ends wide and pressure the throw.

Carolina has the advantage that it’s used to defending the read-option and bootleg. They see it all the time with Cam Newton in practice.

Manziel has another opportunity to prove himself.

But it doesn’t figure to be a whole lot easier.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns might be trying to answer a question that has no good answer.

That would be: Can a team get a rookie quarterback ready who needs as much real practice time as he can get while taking care of the rest of the team by going half-speed in practice?

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This would seem like the proverbial square peg and round hole, which is a tough fit.

Mike Pettine showed the balance he is trying to find between taking care of his team’s physical needs and getting it ready to play a game within the context of giving Johnny Manziel his second start.

For the past two weeks, Pettine has scaled back on the speed and intensity of practice to take care of his players. The grind of a season wears on players, and by this point physically they need a break.

So Pettine said the practices the past two weeks have largely been jogging and walk-throughs. Nothing full-speed, no pads.

"It’s that time of year where we’ve logged a good amount of repetitions, so we can look to trim a little bit here and there just to get them out of here a little bit sooner and get them off their feet," Pettine said.

That’s a good idea for taking care of players.

But it becomes challenging when trying to prepare a player like Manziel who has one very tough NFL game on his resume.

"It’s all about getting as many reps as possible, getting in there with the No. 1s and getting even more and more comfortable with them,” Manziel said.

Manziel also said this when asked if Bengals were faster than he anticipated:

"No, obviously the NFL it seems like it is a higher speed, but once you go through reps in practice, you went through preseason it’s not a shock anymore. It is what it is, and this game is faster and these guys are better and that’s just the facts. That’s just what it is. No, I don’t think it caught me off guard if that’s what you’re asking."

Which pretty much clears that up.

As Manziel saw against Cincinnati, game speed in the NFL is far, far different from game speed in college.

And regular-season game speed is different from preseason game speed.

And late-season game speed when the opposition has the playoffs at stake is different from early season game speed.

So Manziel is going from preseason game speed to late-season game speed while practicing and processing all the new information at half-speed.

It just further illustrates the complications and challenges he faces in trying to start this late in the season.

And it illustrates a factor that might have contributed to his first-start struggles.
CLEVELAND -- Random thoughts following the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-0 drubbing of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday:

  • Coach Mike Pettine said he chose Johnny Manziel because it gave the Browns the best chance to win. He added that Manziel had been getting better in practice, which is not open to the media. The last time anyone other than the team saw Manziel was late in preseason. What the coaching staff saw that led them to believe the Browns' best chance to win was Manziel will remain a great mystery of 2014.
  • [+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
    Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsDespite not facing many Bengals blitzes, Johnny Manziel was on the run for much of Sunday's game.
    Manziel, in the words of his coach, looked and played like a rookie. No argument on that one. He looked like every other Browns rookie who had struggled since 1999. Worse than some, better than a few, but like a rookie.
  • Read the words without the name and Manziel in his postgame news conference sounded a lot like Brian Hoyer after losses. “It’s going to take time. It’s a process for sure.” … “I never felt overwhelmed or that it was too much for me.” … “It’s an all-around team thing.” … “It’s tough for a young guy to come in and get accustomed to this league.” … “Even the guys who play their best every week come out and struggle at times.”
  • This was not a struggle, though. It was a diplodocus egg in the middle of FirstEnergy Stadium. Manziel said he never felt the game was too difficult for him. Hate to see a game that is truly difficult.
  • The Browns' run defense was as disappointing as Manziel. Cincinnati ran through and over the Browns' defense, totaling 244 yards. Nine teams since 1999 have run for more on the Browns. Only 29 teams have topped that mark since the Browns joined the NFL in 1950.
  • Would the Browns have been better off had Pettine simply stated after the Atlanta game that Hoyer was the quarterback the rest of the season? The benefit: It would have removed doubt and allowed the team to concentrate on winning and the playoffs. With the situation lingering, doubt crept in, which affected Hoyer. The negative: Hoyer had to play better. Still, it’s hard to imagine a 30-0 loss with Hoyer playing.
  • ESPN Stats & Information produced a wealth of insight into Manziel’s game. Among the analytics: Manziel left the pocket on 10 of his 24 dropbacks (41.6 percent). The NFL average is 10 percent. He was 2-of-7 with an interception out of the pocket, and is 3-for-11 for the season.
  • The Stats folks also pointed out that the Bengals blitzed twice on 24 passes. Only eight times did teams have a lower blitz percentage this season. So … it’s not as if the Bengals were throwing the house at Manziel.
  • They also got one one-handed sack, which came from observation, not analysis.
  • The Browns had five first downs, two by penalty. Which means the offense generated three. Any time a quarterback is used in the same sentence with Spergon Wynn on a comparison level, it’s not good.
  • Manziel’s 27.3 rating was the 23rd lowest by a Browns quarterback since the team returned in 1999. That’s in 254 games. It’s also the lowest since Ken Dorsey posted a 27.2 rating in a shutout loss to the Bengals in 2008.
  • The Browns have been shut out 13 times since 1999. This was the first since a November 2009 loss to the Ravens.
  • If nothing else, Manziel’s experience in his first start shows how difficult it is to win games in the NFL. Talent and hype and hope amount to nothing when there’s a bunch of professional defenders on the other side of the ball.
  • The Browns had been playing to win games. Judgments were made on what would give the team the best chance to win. With the playoff chances now miniscule, the judgment no longer is about winning. It’s about evaluating the quarterback position.
  • Wake me if you’ve heard this story before.
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CLEVELAND -- The day was supposed to be about hope and playmaking and Cleveland Browns fans thinking their 21st starting quarterback since 1999 might be the last change the team will need to make for a while.

The fans left FirstEnergy Stadium with their heads down -- just like Johnny Manziel after every stalled drive -- and with more questions than when they arrived.

After this Cincinnati Bengals mugging of money Manziel -- and the Bengals flashed dollar signs to prove it -- the Browns are left scrounging for loose change on the floor of the AFC North.

Nobody expected this. Rookie mistakes, sure. But not this. Not 30-0 in the home finale, the Browns' first shutout since 2009 and the last shutout for a first-time starter since Tennessee's Rusty Smith in 2010.

Not the head coach talking about sample sizes after the game, suggesting Manziel is now on a two-game audition to remain in the 2015 plans. Not a noticeably deflated locker room. Not bad footwork, missed zone-read chances and indecisiveness leading to poor throws.

Manziel got no help from teammates, minimal chances to play like LeBron James’ favorite free-wheeling quarterback.

But the Johnny letdown was a reminder of how harsh the NFL can be. The Bengals didn’t just strip the Browns of already-slim postseason hopes. They taunted Manziel, reduced him, tried to disrespect him just like their head coach days earlier. Three different Bengals flashed Manziel’s signature money signs in his face or his vicinity, either after a sack or a big play, because “he kind of brought that on himself,” defensive end Wallace Gilberry said.

“Just to show him this ain’t college,” said Cincinnati defensive tackle Domata Peko, whose Bengals saw the money signs from fans while driving in on the bus. “This is the NFL. You have grown men that are going to be chasing after you, not college kids. ... We’ve got some grown men who have kids that are out here trying to feed their families.”

It would be wrong to make a whole determination about Manziel’s future based on his 10-of-18 passing performance for 80 yards, two interceptions and a 27.3 rating. But there was little on this day to suggest Manziel was ready.

Pettine says Manziel’s limited 2014 performance – Sunday's game, the final two games and his relief work in Buffalo -- is a “decent sample.” That doesn't seem like enough time to evaluate a quarterback, but the statement turns games at Carolina and Baltimore into raw auditions.

“It’s going to take time and reps,” Manziel said. “The best quarterbacks to ever play this game have struggled early.”

A cringe-worthy rookie performance doesn't pair well with the reasons Browns players gave for struggling. Wide receiver Josh Gordon admitted the Browns were getting beaten off the ball. Left tackle Joe Thomas said plays were not run correctly. Penalties stalled drives. How do you “get whupped,” as right guard John Greco said, when the division crown is still possible?

“The kid can make plays,” said Greco when asked about whether Manziel showed him enough encouragement for the future. “We didn’t do enough to help him.”

Perhaps the two-week quarterback haze -- Brian Hoyer’s benching in Buffalo that led to Manziel’s eventual first start -- affected team momentum, though players say no. Hoyer was struggling, but he was the trusted veteran. Pettine had two bad options: Stick with Hoyer and perpetuate the struggles, or play the rookie and risk sending the locker room message, fair or not, that the Browns are playing for next year.

With the lift Manziel could have provided inside and outside the stadium, Sunday was the wrong day for Manziel and the Browns' game plan to be figured out so early. The blueprint was clear-cut: Stop the run, set the edge and force Manziel to play from the pocket.

The Bengals blitzed on two of Manziel’s 24 dropbacks, or 8.3 percent. Eight NFL games had a lower blitz percentage this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Browns didn’t try a bootleg until the third quarter. The Browns ran a few zone-read plays. But on a first-quarter attempt, Manziel kept the ball for a sack instead of handing off to Isaiah Crowell for what appeared to be a sizable gain.

The offensive game plan looked like the Browns couldn’t decide whether to tailor it around Manziel’s skill set or keep it the same as if Hoyer were still running it.

Manziel admits getting the game plan right for him and the offense will be a “growing process.” Manziel was 0-for-4 with two interceptions on passes longer than 15 yards, including an across-the-body pass that was intercepted at the goal line, a pass that Manziel admitted a Pop Warner quarterback shouldn’t attempt.

“I never felt overwhelmed out there,” Manziel said. “Things happen fast and you see certain things that all flash around really fast, but when it came down to it, we just didn’t make enough plays.”

This performance resembled the preseason Manziel. The Browns said he has improved. Manziel said he has improved. They all said he was ready.

Maybe he will be. Manziel and the offense were “on point” in practice this week, Gordon said.

You know Allen Iverson’s words well. We’re talking about making game-day throws, which Manziel looked ready to do when firing the ball around the field before the game. But on a pass to Andrew Hawkins toward the sideline, the arm strength wasn’t there and Dre Kirkpatrick undercut the route for an interception. Maybe indecisiveness, which Pettine said he noticed a few times Sunday, was a factor on that throw.

A less conservative game plan might help Manziel, who needs to find a way to get open space on the perimeter.

For now, with the "Johnny Football" mystique replaced by tough NFL love, Manziel won’t have any more time to learn how to become an NFL quarterback.

He has to be one now.

“You wish the circumstances were better for him, but it’s good for him to learn how rough this league really is,” Gordon said. “It’s really tough and you really have to earn your wins.”
BEREA, Ohio — Marvin Lewis’ apology for a very poor choice of words when talking about Johnny Manziel does not change this reality: Lewis is a veteran coach who seemed to show the feelings of many in the NFL toward a celebrated rookie who has yet to accomplish anything in the pros.

Though he apologized for using the word “midget,” when Lewis referred to Manziel’s height, it was not stated as a compliment.

It was almost dismissive, as if to say: You think we’re going to re-do our entire defensive approach for a guy who can’t see over the tackle?

Lewis has had his verbal gaffes this season, but he’s not exactly a coach known for stirring controversy.

Browns coach Mike Pettine admitted that taunts and barbs are something Manziel should expect. It comes from being the guy whose nickname is the sport he plays. And it comes from a guy giving his signature celebration on the stage after he was the 22nd pick in the draft.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel has a lot to prove in the NFL, and he'll have to develop a think skin because of the hype surrounding him.
Not the first, not the second … the 22nd.

The Washington Redskins gave Manziel a face-full of money-sign in preseason and an earful of verbal abuse. He responded with an obscene gesture caught on national TV that drew the ire of his coach.

Two things seem to be taking place. First is the hype and hoopla that Manziel takes wherever he goes. He is somewhat responsible for that — he doesn’t exactly hide from Instagram — but so is a culture that is obsessed with celebrity.

Pettine admits that Manziel has to deal with what he’s created, and what has been created around him. Other players and other teams are well aware he’s in headline after headline and that he was the only backup quarterback to hold a weekly gathering with the media.

It can breed resentment.

That is reality for Manziel.

Another reality is the NFL culture that does not exactly look favorably on those who garner publicity before achievement. The league will respect Manziel if he does well, but until he does, he’s another rookie quarterback who has to prove himself.

That is true for all rookies — but especially true for rookies who are hyped the way Manziel is.

The knock on Manziel when he was drafted was that he was a college quarterback whose style would not translate to the pros. The NFL’s best passers are largely tall, stand-in-the-pocket guys; those are not Manziel’s perceived strengths.

He could be the one to break the mold, but until he does, he’s just another hyped rookie trying to make a living.

When Manziel has been around the team, he acts like any other teammate. He laughs, jokes and interacts like a normal player, which makes all the “what is he like with the team” questions kind of silly.

But on the periphery, Manziel was caught laughing on the sidelines with the Browns way down against Tennessee, was involved in a brouhaha in the lobby of his condominium in the wee hours the day the team flew to an away game, was seated courtside at a Cavs game when the Browns were deciding on a quarterback starter and gave the money sign after his first NFL touchdown, with the Browns losing.

None is a big deal. Taken together, though, other teams and players could look and use it as fodder to remind Manziel he’s a rookie making his first start.

He has the chance to answer all the criticism on Sunday.

But it seems pretty clear that within the league, there is a healthy amount of cynicism about Mr. Football.

BEREA, Ohio -- From questions about his 5-foot-11, frame (thanks, Marvin) to his relationship with Brian Hoyer (more fruitful than you think), Johnny Manziel covered several topics in his first interview as an NFL starter.

Some things Manziel has said before -- learning how to be a pro the last three months, putting in the time in the facility, trying to earn the trust of the coaches and players.

But one issue he addressed in particular will serve as a crucial barometer for success over the next three games and long term -- how he blends the Johnny Football persona with the sound football the Cleveland Browns need behind a playoff-caliber defense.

His identity in Cleveland must lie somewhere in between.

Here’s what Manziel said on that topic:

“There are going to be times when I try to make a play that you guys have been accustomed to seeing over the last couple of years,” Manziel said. “It’s not going to be exactly the same, it may not look exactly the same, but at the same time when we need to make plays as an offense I’ll try to provide a spark and be smart while doing it.”

It’s not just on Manziel to find that sweet spot. The onus falls on the Browns' offense and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to straddle the fence between game-manager and game-breaker.

The Browns are playing Manziel because the offense needs a lift. Stripping him of his playmaking ability, his improv -- what makes him him -- would contradict the point of having him on the field.

But the defense is playing too well to get too risky. As several Browns offensive linemen have said, it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is if Cleveland can’t run the ball. The offense is built around pounding the ball 30 to 40 times a game. Or maybe it was built that way for Hoyer and needs to be tweaked because of Manziel's threat to run.

Either way, expect the run to set up the pass for Manziel, who must look pass-first from the pocket.

“On every dropback pass, he can’t look to turn it into a punt return,” coach Mike Pettine said.

None of this seems too big for Manziel, who must validate that feeling when on the field Sunday. He’ll run a pro-style offense with some wrinkles to utilize his athleticism. The Browns would be smart to give Manziel at least a few deep-ball chances. My guess is he’ll connect on one. Go deep early. First down, maybe. Rollout and boom.

“Go out, execute offense and move the ball down the field and don’t get caught up in all the clutter and try to go out there with a free mind," Manziel said.
Well ... this didn't take long.

That infamous jersey that lists all the Cleveland Browns starting quarterbacks since the team returned to play in 1999 has been updated to include Johnny Manziel's name -- and is hanging in a window in downtown Cleveland. It has a Santa hat, too.

Several folks tweeted a photo of the jersey. Here is one:



For the record, when Manziel takes the Browns' first snap this Sunday, he will become their 21st different starter since Art Modell took his team to Baltimore -- the most in the NFL in that time, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It is also the 13th consecutive season the Browns will use at least two different starting quarterbacks in a season.

Finally, it is the seventh time in 16 seasons they will have started a rookie: Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Charlie Frye, Luke McCown, Spergon Wynn and Tim Couch.

None of the previous six rookies who started won their start.

Things also have come full circle, as the first Browns rookie to start was Couch, who wore No. 2. The most recent is Manziel, also No. 2. In addition, Manziel was the 22nd pick in the draft, and he just turned ... 22.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine made the safe play, the measured play, sticking with Brian Hoyer. Playing Hoyer is like eating oatmeal -- good for you, sensible, not outrageously tasty but a fulfilling meal.

But make no mistake: The Browns give up something by not starting Johnny Manziel, something the offense needs.

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Playmaking. Instincts. Athleticism.

Manziel is a threat to take off and run off play-action.

He is a threat to turn a dead play into something positive.

Backyard ball? Maybe. But backyard ball can thrive for four to six games, until defenses adjust.

Playing Manziel would have its complications, which Pettine outlined and justified during his news conference Wednesday. Manziel, no matter how he's progressed in the past three months, hasn't grasped all the nuances of the offense because he doesn't have Hoyer's experience.

But what if Hoyer's struggles stretch to a fourth game? What if the Browns' run-heavy offense can't run the ball, which lately is about 70 percent of the time (less than 75 yards in five of the past seven games)? Even when the Browns ran well at Atlanta, Hoyer struggled.

Manziel might not run the offense perfectly, but he'd make a few plays to keep things interesting, possibly enough plays to win.

Pettine waited 12 weeks to play Manziel, and once he did against the Bills, it seemed there was no turning back. But that's exactly what Pettine did Wednesday.

Part of Pettine's job is to show a united front as the Browns try to secure their first playoff berth since 2002. Playing Manziel wouldn't have been a surrender of that notion.

Football is about momentum. Winning is infectious. Look at the 49ers when Colin Kaepernick replaced an injured Alex Smith. Kaepernick is struggling now, but he came out hot because defenses hadn't adjusted. Manziel could have a similar effect.

Play Manziel because he can help you win now. Play him because he can deliver some crucial third-down throws for a defense that didn't expect his style of play on the field Sunday.

This isn't all about Hoyer. (Actually, expect him to respond Sunday with some good throws. He has a lot of pride.) This should be about how the Browns' struggles on offense the past few weeks have jeopardized their playoff chances.

Kyle Shanahan and Manziel together? Might not be perfect, but they could cook up a few recipes to suit Pettine's palate.
As the rest of the world weighs in on whether Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer should start Sunday for the Cleveland Browns against the Indianapolis Colts, Mike Pettine and his coaching staff ponder the decision.

One factor to keep in mind is that NFL teams are not playing to develop, assess or evaluate players. They are playing to win games and reach the playoffs. Guys don't practice all week for anything less.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Bill WippertWhether the Browns end up with Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer the rest of the way, coach Mike Pettine insists the decision will be about who most helps the team win.
In the playoff picture, the Browns are in an AFC logjam with four other teams at 7-5 (and 6-5 Miami playing Monday night). But the Browns' 4-5 conference record and 2-2 division record puts them at a tiebreaker disadvantage. Their best hope to reach the playoffs is to win the division, a tough task but one that becomes impossible only if they don't win games the rest of the season.

Thus, the idea in the final four games is to win the game.

Period.

There are two ways to look at what happened Sunday.

The first is that Brian Hoyer was struggling so Pettine took a shot to see if he could get a spark from Manziel. He compared his move to pulling a goalie in hockey who has been giving up a lot of goals and said sometimes change is needed for the sake of it. In this view, there is no bigger picture than simply Pettine didn't like what he was seeing from Hoyer and wanted to give Manziel a shot.

Manziel answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive but then had a stumbling, bumbling play that should have been a turnover and touchdown for Buffalo. Up, then down -- typical rookie. And the No. 1 goalie stays the No. 1 goalie.

This clearly is Hoyer's view. He is 10-5 as a Browns starter, and he said he still believes the Browns are his team and the job is still his and he is the guy to make a playoff push. His statements were defiant, but perhaps defiant in a good way. Would anyone want Hoyer (or Manziel for that matter) to say he's satisfied being the backup?

If the call to the bullpen was only a one-game shot to provide life, then Hoyer will start against the Colts -- and he will get another chance to prove he deserves a contract after the season to continue playing for his hometown team.

However, if the move to Manziel was the result of growing dissatisfaction with Hoyer's recent play and if the Browns feel they've maxed out with Hoyer, then the move to Manziel becomes something more than a relief effort.

Hoyer has struggled recently, with one touchdown pass in four games and a quarterback rating that has dropped by the week. No touchdowns and five interceptions the past two games don't stack up well either.

Though nobody has stated anything publicly, there has been a growing undercurrent around the team that the front office does not see Hoyer as a long-term solution, but Pettine does. Again, nothing has been stated, but the feeling is that after the season there will be intense discussions between the coach and front office.

If Pettine loses faith in Hoyer, the quarterback loses his greatest source of support in the building.

Manziel could be viewed as a guy who could provide a spark, a different look. He also would be on a four-game showcase so the Browns would have an idea of what they have in the rookie first-round pick. But because the Browns don't really know what Manziel can do, there are unknowns involved.

Are the Browns better off trying Manziel to see what he can do, to see if his ability to maneuver can help? Or do they stick with the guy who has started 12 games, won seven and had the team in first place after nine?

Pettine said the decision is about who helps the team win.

But the ripple effect from the decision will be large.

Because if Pettine believes Manziel helps the team win in the short-term, it might say something about Hoyer's long-term in Cleveland.

Is the Johnny Package dead?

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
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If the Cleveland Browns were ever going to revisit the Johnny Manziel package -- which produced one incompletion, two handoffs and one 39-yard reception that got called back back in September -- this week might make some sense. The Browns have 11 days between games and face Houston, which is a de facto hometown team for Manziel.

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But the package has lost its steam the past two months, and there are no signs of reviving it. After asking around, I'm told the Johnny package has not been a priority in practices in recent weeks. It's sort of classified as dead -- at least for now. The plays are always available but they aren't being refined.

Manziel still gets his normal scout-team work and off-to-the-side sessions with quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

With the Browns offense in a rhythm, they probably don't feel the need to take the chance.
A marketable athlete like Johnny Manziel will produce a few off-field surprises now and then.

Manziel's appearance on the latest Golf Digest cover, with a Cleveland Browns golf bag and orange-striped socks? Yeah, mild surprise.

Maybe these photos were shot over the summer and are just appearing now. Hard to tell. Either way, here's Manziel in November, talking golf as part of Golf Digest's Golfers Who Give Back issue.

.

Manziel is a 7 or 8 handicap and wants to play Augusta National with his dad.

"Golf was a big part of our family," Manziel told the magazine. "Golf Channel was on the TV a lot, we watched the tournaments on TV during the weekend, and more than anything, these were the Tiger years."

The 5-3 Browns play Cincinnati on Thursday night, so Cleveland fans aren't exactly thinking about golf, but the concept is innocuous, and this plan was probably mapped out months ago.
CLEVELAND -- There was a lot of Twitter noise during Sunday’s 22-17 victory over Tampa Bay about replacing Brian Hoyer at quarterback with Johnny Manziel.

It’s difficult to say that Twitter is an accurate reflection of the feelings of the masses, but there was enough negative commentary to think the Browns lost by 20.

At the stadium, two fans in front of the press box kept pointing to their watch and raising two fingers to say "time for 2?"

That leads to a simple question: Why?

Why ask that question about going to the backup when Hoyer was in the middle of a 300-yard, two-touchdown game? Because things weren’t perfect on every play? Because the Browns, a team that is growing, had to work to beat winless Oakland and one-win Tampa Bay?

Hoyer is not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but he has played very effectively for the Browns. And he had a 300-yard game against Tampa Bay despite missing three Pro Bowl players: Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon and Alex Mack.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/David RichardBrian Hoyer, shown going over the game plan with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and backup Johnny Manziel on Sunday, is still regarded as a caretaker by many Browns fans.
In a 5-3 start, Hoyer has:

  • Won four of the last five, including a record-setting comeback in Tennessee and a thumping of Pittsburgh;
  • Won five-of-eight in the first half, setting the Browns up for an exciting second half that will include games that (gasp) matter;
  • Won 7 of 10 games he’s started and finished for the Browns;
  • Thrown for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, with a 90.3 rating and 2,013 yards, putting him on pace for 4,000 in 16 games this season;
  • Guided three fourth-quarter comeback wins in 2014 (over Tennessee, New Orleans and Tampa Bay), and one other in 2013 (over Minnesota);
  • Come back from a 27-3 deficit in Pittsburgh to tie, and a 28-3 deficit in Tennessee to win.

The negatives: He has a completion percentage of 57.9 percent, which is low but pales compared to the won-lost record. The offense also has inconsistency during games that tackle Joe Thomas said is in part caused by Hoyer’s willingness to throw the ball away or take a sack rather than force a bad play.

Hoyer had one clunker of a game this season, in Jacksonville. That clunker seems to have affected the thinking of many, but not the coaching staff, which has never made a call to the bullpen to have Manziel warm up, much less for him to take a snap.

Then there is this tidbit: The team reported that Hoyer is the first Browns quarterback to throw for 200 yards in each of the first eight games of the season since Brian Sipe in 1983.

There is little reason at this point not to believe that the Browns belong to Hoyer for the rest of the season, and that Manziel won’t play -- until Hoyer is hurt or the Browns are out of playoff contention.

In other matters related to the win over the Bucs:

  • Haden on what he’d say to folks criticizing the Browns for wins that aren’t perfect: “There’s nothing to really say to them. If we would have lost the games, it would be worse than winning ugly.“
  • The Browns have played the league’s easiest schedule to this point, and starting Thursday in Cincinnati, things get tougher in a hurry. “We’ll be all in on this one,” coach Mike Pettine said. “Whatever it takes to find a way to go down there and get the ‘W,’ then get that long weekend off.”
  • Hoyer admitted the offense’s inconsistency is a concern that must be addressed. Averaging 53 yards per game running the ball after the injury to Alex Mack is also a major concern.
  • Special teams made major contributions as Billy Winn blocked a field goal and Craig Robertson got his hand on a punt. Winn’s play to block the field goal was most impressive as he hurdled two blockers immediately after the snap.
Manziel
Evans
CLEVELAND -- Johnny Manziel might not be playing Sunday, but Bucs wideout Mike Evans is making sure Manziel's presence is felt.

Evans has scored dueling 24-yard touchdowns against the Browns defense, and each time he looked toward the Browns bench and flashed the money sign that Manziel made famous in college -- rubbing the index finger and thumb together like he's counting money.

Evans was Manziel's top target at A&M and the two remain friends.

Considering Evans’ big day and the Browns’ fans booing the once-stagnant offense — Brian Hoyer threw two picks before a touchdown to Taylor Gabriel with 8:59 left gave Cleveland a 22-17 lead — there were plenty of reminders of Manziel’s play in FirstEnergy Field.
No position in sports has evolved more than quarterback, a notion veteran college football reporter Bruce Feldman deftly chronicles in his new book, "The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks."

Manziel
Part of the book focuses on how Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel navigated the height of his mushrooming fame, around the time he appeared at SEC Media Days in July 2013 as Texas A&M's reigning Heisman winner. I figured this would be a good chance to take Browns fans into what exactly Manziel was dealing with in college.

Here's an excerpt from the scene in Birmingham, Alabama, when his role in an autograph scandal was in the news:
By this point of the offseason, the hype around Manziel had surpassed the hype around Tim Tebow at the peak of his media frenzy. Before Manziel was ushered around to a dozen different media platforms and interview sessions, he was brought to the main ESPN stage, where he was grilled by host Joe Tessitore for 10 minutes. Manziel, after having spent much of the previous 48 hours with PR coaches, did his best to downplay the story. His answers were measured. His smile was ready. He repeatedly pointed out that he was still a twenty-year-old kid who could make mistakes and who still wanted to live his life. At one point, he told Tessitore that he sometimes felt like Justin Bieber — a comment that, no doubt, made NFL personnel men wince.

“I’m not going to change who I am because of the spotlight,” he said, but he added that he would “adapt.”

Later, he told reporters at the print-media session, “At the end of the day, I’m not going for a Miss America pageant. I’m playing football.”

Feldman also recounts a moment with Manziel away from the spotlight.
Weeks earlier, when he is told he is like a guy who is fifty pounds overweight and trying to diet, only he keeps breaking down and gorging on ice cream and sweets, reasoning to himself, “I don’t need abs. I already got the hot girl,” Manziel smiled and nodded. He was neither embarrassed nor proud of it. He seemed simply resigned to it. As if that was just how he’d been wired. Manziel knew he didn’t have it all figured out, he said. Many times he got angry at himself for how he responded to things, but it always seemed to work out. Somehow.

Nothing punctuated Manziel's impact like the ESPYs after-party, where Manziel and LeBron James were the athletes whose images were displayed in the background.

Feldman writes about an exchange with A&M coach Kevin Sumlin: Asked, how does all this not mess with the head of a twenty-year-old, Sumlin laughed. “It messed with my head.”

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