10 Orbservations is a regular Saturday piece at Everybody Hates Cleveland where EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek offers 10 quick sports takes, both on Cleveland topics and national ones.
1. Johnny Man Sells. At least television producers seem to believe that to be the case. If you have not yet seen Waiting For Next Year’s piece detailing how FOX has decided to flex its first game and carry the Browns vs. Bengals game, be sure to check it out. The long story short is that more than half of the country will now be seeing the Browns game on Sunday, and that was not the case until the team decided that Johnny Manziel would start the contest. It’s easy to understand why FOX would want to make this type of move, but still, more than half of the country? We knew that Manziel would bring the bright lights with him to Cleveland, and he’s already proving that right before he prepares to make his first start.
2. So enough talk about television schedules, what can we actually expect from Manziel on the football field? He looked good in limited action two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills, but it was just that — limited action. For the first time since he left Texas A&M, Manziel will once again be tabbed as the leader of an offense. I’m cautiously optimistic about this. Manziel’s skillset is impressive; he is not Tim Tebow or anything close to that. While his throwing motion is a tad unconventional, he’s always been a very accurate passer, and he even showed that in spurts against the Bills. The problem is that Manziel is going to have to find a way to have some success in the pocket, which is tough for quarterbacks who do not eclipse six feet. Granted, it’s inevitable that he will move around and create some plays on his feet, but today’s best young quarterbacks are pocket passers who can run (ex. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson) and not quarterbacks who rely on the run (ex. Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick).
3. One positive thing is that it does appear as if Manziel has matured somewhat during his first NFL season. Perhaps serving as Brian Hoyer’s backup provided him with a nice piece of humble pie, but take a look at what Manziel said when he was asked about Bengals coach Marvin Lewis referring to him as a midget: “My height, I’m not going to sprout five inches over the course of the week, so it is what it is. My height is my height, and I need to overcome it through other pieces of my game. I think that’s it.” There’s something to be said for taking the high road, and that’s exactly what Manziel did here. Remember that covering Manziel is every reporter’s dream. His bravado and personality makes him such an intriguing athlete. He could have easily given in to the reporters and spouted out an arrogant response, but he instead took the high road and still provided them with a pretty decent sound byte.
4. The struggles of Josh Gordon have been worrisome since the star wide receiver returned from his suspension. Last week, he was targeted seven times yet caught just two balls for 15 yards. It was painful to watch. In fact, everything about that game was painful to watch. Can you remember a Browns’ loss that stung more? I wanted to write my Monday column on the game afterwards, but I could not even muster the energy. How does a team record 13 quarterback hits, recover two fumbles, snag two interceptions, score two defensive touchdowns, yet still manage to lose? It’s the reason why it’s hard to feel bad for Hoyer at this point. No one wants to see a player fail, but coach Mike Pettine believed in him and gave him every opportunity to right the ship. He provided the Browns with some incredible memories this offseason, but it looks like the Hoyer era has officially come to an end, and that’s probably best for both parties.
5. Two things that the Browns can do to help set Manziel up for success tomorrow: 1.) Run the ball early and often with Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. Manziel’s elusiveness in the pocket should keep the defense honest, which should open up some additional lanes for these two. 2.) Find a way to get Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel back into this offense. In the last two Browns’ losses, these two receivers have combined for seven catches for 75 yards. In the Browns’ first 11 games, the two combined for 1,234 yards on 80 receptions. They’re small and undersized, but they’re also both very athletic and capable of generating yards after the catch. Gordon’s return should not mean that these two are immediately cast aside. Some quick slants and screens to the two could prove beneficial to Manziel on Sunday and help get his confidence going.
6. My final prediction for Sunday’s game: Browns 27, Bengals 24. It’s obvious that I should not have too much reason to be confident, but consider the first meeting between the two teams, which also happened to be on the road. The Browns annihilated the Bengals and rushed for 170 yards. Did you see how Le’Veon Bell ran all over them last week as well? This team’s run defense has plenty of flaws, and West and Crowell have the ability to exploit them. Plus, the home crowd will be rapidly behind Manziel, and those are great circumstances for him to make his first start under. The team’s playoff hopes may be getting slimmer each day, but they can certainly help themselves stay alive with a win tomorrow. Needless to say, this is one of the most highly-anticipated Browns games since the team returned to the league in 1999.
7. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ eight-game win streak unfortunately ended on Thursday when the team fell 103-94 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. If there is such a thing as moral victories though, this was one of them. With LeBron James sitting out with left knee soreness, the Cavaliers struggled for a bit but then cut a 20-point deficit down to three in the game’s final two minutes. Unfortunately, that was the closest the team got, but the loss was not due to a lack of effort. Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, Kevin Love and Dion Waiters all had outstanding games, and it’s easy to see that this team is now talented enough to win games without James. Remember, this was often not the case during his first stint with the Cavaliers.
8. James returned to the lineup last night and went off for a scorching 41 points on 17-of-24 shooting as the Cavaliers fell 119-114 to the New Orleans Pelicans. This was not nearly the same kind of moral victory that the team experienced on Thursday. The defense, which had been such a staple during the team’s win streak, was largely absent. If anything, this game was a reminder that the Cavaliers are still far from a finished product. At times, when everything is clicking, the team looks outstanding, but there are going to be nights like this. Also, one of the reasons for the team’s struggles in the last two games was the poor shooting of Irving. Overall, he combined to go 14-for-40 from the field in the two contests. That’s just not typical for the star point guard, and probably something that we won’t regularly see in back-to-back games from him.
9. With trade rumors swirling, Dion Waiters has suddenly started to step up and show why he can be such a valuable member of this team. He unfortunately left last night’s game with abdominal pain, but prior to that, it seemed as if he was really starting to find his rhythm. In his last three games, he was averaging 19.3 points and scored 26, 19 and 14 points, respectively, in each of the contests. There’s an obvious need for a rim protector on this team, and that’s clear as day. Still, it seems as if it’s going to be hard to move Waiters, simply because you give up such valuable scoring, and that’s something this team needs off of the bench. The unfortunate thing is it appears as if his injury came at the worst possible time. He remained in New Orleans at the Ochsner Medical Center last night for further testing. The team just does not seem to have the depth at this point to handle a major injury, so here’s hoping that this turns out to be nothing serious.
10. The Cleveland Indians made some news this past Monday when they sent infield prospect Joe Wendle to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Brandon Moss. Credit to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer for breaking this story, days before it actually came to fruition. Everyone who has read my stuff knows how much I like Wendle, but this was a deal the team had to make. While Moss is coming off of hip surgery, he has hit at least 25 home runs in each of the last two seasons and is under team control through the next two seasons. The bigger challenge now becomes finding potential suitors for Nick Swisher and David Murphy. Murphy likely won’t be a challenge as he has just one year left for $6 million. He would appear to be a dead man walking, and the team can probably receive a lower-level prospect in exchange for him. Swisher is much more complicated as he’s owed $30 million over the next two seasons and then has a $14 million vesting option for the 2017 season. Something has to be done though, even if the Indians have to eat some of that salary. For years, Travis Hafner’s over-inflated contract handicapped this team, and it looks like the Indians could be facing a similar situation with Swisher for the next two seasons unless they’re able to dump his salary somewhere.