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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why Should the Browns Start Johnny Manziel


It should have happened sooner, like halftime of the Colts game.  A little Johnny Football may well have given the Cleveland offense the spark it needed to put the game out of reach for the visiting Colts.  But head coach Mike Pettine stuck with Brian Hoyer, mostly thanks to his 10-5 record as a starter since the start of last season.  And possibly because of a decision by Johnny Manziel to attend a Cleveland Cavaliers game early in the week in which he was expected to be named starter.  But perceived off-field distractions aside, Manziel is clearly the better option right now. 

Brian Hoyer has zero touchdowns and seven interceptions in his last three games, which happened to be the first three games that Josh Gordon has played this season.  Even worse, he has led only one touchdown drive in his last 29 possessions, including two straight losses in winnable games that have made a postseason berth all but impossible.  The Browns are 7-6 in spite of Hoyer and not because of him.  Early indications would suggest that he is nothing more than a stopgap solution, similar to Kyle Orton in Buffalo.  The difference is E.J. Manuel had over a season to show what he can do and struggled, while Manziel is still waiting for a chance.

Johnny Manziel was drafted in the first round of this season’s draft, after the Browns traded up to ensure they would get the former Heisman Trophy winner.  His upside is high, with a unique ability to improvise and make plays with the legs as well as his accurate arm.  There have been few quarterbacks that have come into the NFL with the ability to flip the switch from going through their progressions in the pocket to scrambling in a full sprint as effortlessly as Johnny Football.  His size is a concern, but the combination of passing accuracy, arm strength, football IQ and athletic ability is tantalizing.

Manziel has sat on the bench and learned from a game manager veteran for the ideal amount of time, giving him the proper dose of humble pie before he gets his opportunity to show the world the explosiveness and big-play ability that he displayed in college.  Both struggled in the preseason and Manziel made headlines by flipping off the Washington sidelines, but seeing the team succeed without him surely challenged him to keep improving.  Had he started on opening day and failed, it may have done irreversible damage to his psyche like Manuel and other recent rookies, but now, he is in a win-win situation since expectations have been lowered by three weeks of Hoyer stinking it up.  And now that Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are back in the lineup, Manziel has a full arsenal of weapons on hand.

For a team that has not sniffed the postseason in more than a decade, playoffs are still possible with a few breaks but unlikely.  So in many ways, the last three games are a mini-season unto themselves more so than an audition for Manziel.  Several mobile quarterbacks had immediate success after sitting most of their rookie seasons, including Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.  But the recent trend has been for quarterbacks to be thrown in the fire early.  Sometimes it works (see Luck, Andrew), and other times it does not (see RG3).  But all three quarterbacks from the 2012 class reached the playoffs their first seasons, as did both teams that started rookies from Day One in 2008, and arguably none of those teams would have made it had they started a veteran.  It is time to end the Hoyer experiment in Cleveland once and for all and see what Johnny can do. 


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