Should Johnny Manziel Start Week 15 For The Cleveland Browns?
Over the past few days, the Cleveland Browns have made one of the toughest decisions in their franchises' 68 year history. Coach Mike Pettine has decided to go a different route at the quarterback position for Week 15, benching current quarterback Brian Hoyer for the one and only "Johnny Football" (Johnny Manziel). There has been much speculation since the Cleveland Browns drafted Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Before training camp, it was portrayed by Coach Mike Pettine that the quarterback job would be a dog fight between the hometown favorite Brian Hoyer and the football icon Johnny Manziel. After Manziel was beat out for the starting job, most experts took a look at the Browns' tough start to the schedule (Week 1 at Steelers, Week 2 home vs Saints, and Week 3 home vs Ravens) and expected Manziel to make his NFL debut Week 5 after the Browns' bye week, but Hoyer had different plans. The Browns started the season winning one of their first three games, with both losses being by three points or less. Coach Mike Pettine had another tough decision to make coming into Week 5 vs the Tennessee Titans, ultimately he went with his gut feeling and decided to start the veteran Brian Hoyer, who he felt gave them the best chance to win. From Week 5 on, the Browns rattled off five wins in six weeks, propelling them to a 6-3 record overall.
The Browns currently reside in last place in the AFC North division, which is arguable the toughest division in all of football (every team is above .500 in the AFC North). After losing their last three out of four games, Coach Mike Pettine feels that the quarterback position needs to be addressed due to the lack of progression offensivley and in order for this team to make a playoff push. The real question that everyone wants to know is will Johnny Manziel give the Browns a better opportunity to win rather than veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Since the return of superstar wide receiver Josh Gordon, Hoyer's play on Sundays has taken a turn for the worse. In Hoyer's last three games, he has failed to throw a touchdown pass and has been intercepted seven times. During that stretch, Hoyer has also failed to pass for 200 yards in two of the three games (192 yards and 2 interceptions vs Buffalo and 136 yards and 2 interceptions vs Indianapolis). Coach Mike Pettine feels that if the offense was able to click over the past few weeks, they could have a few more wins under their belt. Most experts would agree that the Browns were able to reach their seven win total because of their stellar defense, not their below average offense.
Let's take an in depth look at the Brown's opponent in Week 15, which is the 8-4-1 Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals started the 2014 season off extremely hot and have cooled down as of late. The Bengals have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball this season. The Bengals have been erratic on offense due to the play of their quarterback Andy Dalton (has passed for less than 200 yards in 4 games this season) and the defense has regressed as the season has went on. In the first matchup between the Browns and Bengals this season, the Browns running game gave them the edge they were looking for, rushing for over 150 yards and winning the game 24-3. The defense of the Browns clearly overmatched the Bengals' offense, the Browns' were able to keep Andy Dalton under 100 yards passing, under 50% completion percentage and intercepted him three times (Andy Dalton finished the game 10/33 for 86 yards and 3 ints). During the blowout win, Hoyer was able to play the role of game manager, completing 15/23 passes for 198 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel looks like he will be a solid matchup for the Browns this week, hopefully providing them the spark they need on the offensive side of the ball. The Bengals' defense has struggled mightily vs mobile quarterbacks this season. In Week 6, the Bengals defense gave up 284 yards and two touchdowns through the air and over 100 yards and one touchdown on the ground to "superman" Cam Newton. In Week 7, the Bengals defense gave up 344 yards and two touchdowns through the air to Andrew Luck. Luck was able to use his legs and make big throws outside of the pocket, gashing through the Bengals defense. Similar to Luck in week 7, Blake Bortles was able to escape the pocket often, passing for 247 yards and two touchdowns in Week 9. The Bengals have been exposed on the big play this season, most recently a 94 yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant during the Bengals Week 14 matchup vs the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a prime matchup for quarterback Johnny Manziel, due to his ability to extend plays with his legs and escape the pocket for big plays down field. Manziel's ability to escape pressure will be a huge problem for the Bengals' defense that ranks 31st in the league in sacks per game, with 1.2 sacks per game. Manziel had a solid debut, replacing Brian Hoyer in Buffalo Week 14, posting a stat line of 5/8 passes completed for 63 yards and two rushes for 13 yards and a touchdown.
Manziel should be able to thrive in his first NFL start vs an underachieving Bengals' defense. Past mobile quarterbacks have excelled in their first NFL starts, Cam Newton passed for 422 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 of the 2011 season, Robert Griffin passed for 320 yards ,two touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards in Week 1 of the 2012 season, Teddy Bridgewater passed for 317 yards and rushed for 27 yards in Week 4 of the 2014 season, Geno Smith passed for 256 yards, one touchdown and rushed for 47 yards in Week 1 of the 2013 season, and EJ Manuel passed for 150 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for 23 yards in Week 1 of the 2013 season. I predict that Johnny Manziel will be 20/33 for 230 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and will have 8 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown in a Browns 31-21 win over the Bengals.