Orbiting Cleveland: Johnny Manziel’s debut and the end of the Cleveland Browns’ season


Photo by Joshua Gunter, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Photo by Joshua Gunter, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

The season is over.

A tad too melodramatic? Well, you tell me.

The Cleveland Browns lost 30-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals at home on Sunday in the team’s final home game of the season. Nice way to show the home crowd how much you appreciate them, right?

The loss was the team’s third in a row, and the Browns’ record now sits at 7-7 after previously sitting at 7-4 just three week ago. The Browns are now 2.5 games back of the Bengals in the AFC North. The team is now officially out of the divisional race.

Johnny Manziel, the supposed future franchise quarterback, completed 10-of-18 passes for 80 yards and two interceptions. Many of his passes were off the mark, and he was hardly as advertised.

The defense allowed 244 yards on the ground. Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden also left the game with a shoulder injury.

Yes, the season is over. Still too melodramatic for you?

The hype surrounding Sunday’s game was incredible. For evidence, consider that FOX made the decision to broadcast it to more than half of the country after the news broke that Manziel would be making his first NFL start.

That’s the type of exposure a quarterback with the nicknames “Money Manziel” and “Johnny Football” brings to a team.

The nicknames suited Manziel during his time quarterbacking Texas A&M. It was there where he won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and threw for 7,820 yards in two seasons while completing 68.9 percent of his passes.

It’s also the reason the Browns decided to trade up and select Manziel with the No. 22 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Behind the bravado, hand gestures and lavish personality, the Browns believed that Manziel could play. Fans seemed to believe that as well.

On Sunday, Manziel’s debut was supposed to be electrifying. His athleticism would bring new life to the offense, particularly wide receivers Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel, and the running game, led by Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, was supposed to flourish as Manziel’s legs would keep the defense honest.

Instead, his debut was far from electrifying — it was exhausting.

With every failed drive, the same thought lingered, “Maybe he’ll get it together next drive. Let’s just wait and see.”

Instead, Manziel and the entire team put on a performance that was deflating, discouraging and most of all — depressing. It’s been a long time since the Browns were playing meaningful football in Week 15, and Sunday’s performance ensured that this team would not be playing meaningful football in Week 16.

This column is not meant to be an overreaction. To be fair, this was the first start of Manziel’s career, and he does deserve somewhat of a pass because of that. Struggles would be inevitable, but did anyone expect him to struggle like this?

The line did him no favors as the Bengals recorded three sacks and six quarterback hits in the game. However, Manziel just was not confident with any of his throws, and his arm strength seemed questionable at times.

Where were the runs on busted-plays that were such a trademark of Manziel’s game in college?

What about Manziel moving out of the pocket and finding Gordon deep after a busted coverage?

Did we even ever get to see the trademark “Money Manziel” hand gesture?

Well, the answer to the final question is an emphatic yes, but it unfortunately never came from Manziel. After every sack and hit on Manziel, the Bengals flashed the signature “Money Manziel” gesture.

Remember the criticism that ESPN Analyst and former Pittsburgh Steeler Merril Hoge laid out prior to the start of the season?

In September, Hoge was interviewed by the Pittsburgh radio station WDVE-FM and said the following:

“This is the one thing that probably burns me more about our league, the NFL, than anything is when a player like Johnny Manziel is drafted based on hype and excitement, not a true football skill. He really had no business being drafted in the first round. This will be the saddest, quickest ending we have seen in quite some time. It’ll be like a Tim Tebow (situation).”

Then on ESPN’s Sportscenter on Sunday, Hoge continued his bashing. His comments are outlined in the following tweet:

Harsh words. Borderline scary.

You know what’s even scarier though? What if Hoge is right?

The bottom line is that Manziel’s career is not going to be defined by one start. More than likely, it will take 10, 15 or 20 starts before any sound conclusions can be drawn.

Still, that doesn’t make Sunday’s start any more encouraging because it’s difficult to find even one positive in the performance. During the past few weeks, when Brian Hoyer was struggling, there were still positives that could be taken away from each game. For example, consider his final drive against the Falcons four weeks ago. Even last week, he made an on-the-money throw to Gordon on the game’s final drive that the star receiver just happened to drop.

Yet, after Sunday, can anything positive be said? Well, there is one thing — at least it’s over.

This is not to fault Browns coach Mike Pettine or anyone for making the move to Manziel. Hoyer had played poorly in four straight games, and it was a move that had to be made.

However, now that it’s been done, there is no going back. And really, there’s no reason to go backwards anyhow. These final two weeks should be used to evaluate Manziel and see if he has the skills to succeed as a starter in the NFL.

It’s easy to chalk Manziel’s performance up to just one game — his first game at that — but compared to other quarterbacks drafted in the first round during the past five seasons, Manziel has now officially had the worst debut of them all with the exception of one.

Quarterback Completions/Attempts Completion % Yards QB Rating
Johnny Manziel, 2014 10-of-18 55.55 80 27.3
Blake Bortles, 2014 29-of-37 78.38 254 81.8
Teddy Bridgewater, 2014 19-of-30 63.33 317 98.9
EJ Manuel, 2013 18-of-27 66.67 150 105.5
Andrew Luck, 2012 23-of-45 51.11 309 52.9
Robert Griffin III, 2012 19-of-26 73.08 320 139.9
Ryan Tannehill, 2012 20-of-36 55.56 219 39.0
Brandon Weeden, 2012 12-of-35 34.29 118 5.1
Cam Newton, 2011 24-of-37 64.86 422 110.4
Jake Locker, 2011 (first start came in 2012) 23-of-32 71.88 229 89.2
Blaine Gabbert, 2011 12-of-21 57.14 139 73.3
Christian Ponder, 2011 13-of-32 40.63 219 59.2
Sam Bradford, 2010 32-of-55 58.18 253 53.1
Tim Tebow, 2010 8-of-16 50.00 138 100.5

The exception? The immortal Brandon Weeden. Did you just puke in your mouth a bit like I did?

Of course, let’s remember that it’s still one start. Just think of how great Robert Griffin III looked in his first start, yet he has since revealed himself to not be the franchise quarterback many believed him to be.

Similarly, look at the first start made by Andrew Luck. Far from impressive, but he is now considered the best young quarterback in the NFL. Plenty can change, and it’s impossible to judge a player on one start, even a start as poor as Manziel’s.

However, here is the real truth.

Succeeding in the NFL is hard, incredibly so. That’s even truer with the quarterback position as the institution of the illegal contact rule 10 seasons ago has seen the NFL become more and more of a passing league.

Having success in the NFL will be harder than anything that Johnny Manziel has ever done in his life. Everyone will be gunning for him too — the media, players, etc. — and that was proven this past week and in yesterday’s game.

There are two weeks left in the NFL season. Two more games for Manziel to show us what he’s made of.

The bravado, athleticism, intangibles — show us what you got Johnny Football.

Here’s hoping things start to get better. They sure as hell can’t get much worse.

Orbiting Cleveland is the regular Monday column from EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek. You can contact Steve via email at Follow him on Twitter at @orbaneks.

2 replies »

  1. I can’t exactly argue the point when you pull up the other first rounders, but I do think it has to do with his style of play, vs. the style of play with regards to Hoyer. I think it’s fundamentally difficult for a team to change midstream to a QB like Hoyer, to a QB like Manziel when said team is already struggling offensively. Perhaps they just needed to let him play…or he could just suck. We shall see. Good stuff again Steve…

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