There is absolutely no question who should start at quarterback for the Browns Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
It is a no-brainer. It shouldn’t even be given a second thought.
If team doctors tell Mike Pettine sometime this week that Josh McCown is fit to resume his season, there is no way the Browns head coach can logically say no.
Despite his up-and-down performance in Sunday’s big victory over the Tennessee Titans where the ups were Everest-like and the downs were almost subterranean, Johnny Manziel should be a spectator against the Raiders.
There is no question Manziel’s growth as a professional football player is headed in the right direction. But if Pettine looks at the big picture, he also sees an inconsistency in his young quarterback that can be harmful to the team.
That’s why McCown, if healthy, is the correct way to go right now. He brings levelheadedness to the offense. There is no guessing what he’s going to do as there is with Manziel.
What the Browns need now is a seasoned pro to lead the offense and you don’t get any more seasoned than McCown. He has reached the point in his career that when he is entrenched as a starter, he has to play his way to the bench as he did last season in Tampa Bay.
Until he does that, Manziel should return to the sidelines, grab his clipboard and resume the growth process from a mental standpoint. The practical process of that growth needs to be tapped only if McCown falters or is injured again.
Right now, the pundits are divided on who should start against the Raiders. Those on the pro-Manziel side say he’s ready. One decent performance and he’s ready to take charge. A Johnny Football-like performance can sometimes cloud clear thinking.
Those in the Manziel camp tend to overlook a big problem he has with ball security. He got lucky against the Titans where he was stripped of the ball twice on consecutive series only to watch teammates recover deep in Cleveland territory. That’s four fumbles in two games, losing the two he coughed up in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.
Lose one of those against the Titans and we might not be talking about a Cleveland victory. Sloppy ball security is a surefire way to find yourself back on the bench.
Many fans rave about the two long scoring connections Manziel made with Travis Benjamin against the Titans. All well and good. But do not for a minute lose sight of the fact Manziel was extremely fortunate to be in a position to make those throws.
The Browns are so fragile on offense – questionable ground game, way below average receiving corps – that it doesn’t take much to disrupt it. Until his fourth-quarter scoring pass to Benjamin, Manziel was contained nicely by the Tennessee defense for most of the last three quarters.
The Browns had 10 possessions against the Titans. Between the first two, each of which produced touchdowns, and the final one, which produced the insurance score, five of the other seven were of the three-and-out variety. Not exactly a prescription for success.
So if Pettine is as smart as I think he is, look for McCown – and yes, I’m not his biggest booster, but he’s clearly the better quarterback for this team right now – to regain his starting job.
Manziel’s time will come. Just not now.
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Of those seven possessions that did not result in any points, one stood out if only because it should have put at least three points on the board.
On the first series of the second quarter with the Browns holding a 14-0 lead, they drove 51 yards to the Titans’ 19-yard line. On third down and about a foot, Isaiah Crowell was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Decision time for Pettine.
Instead of taking the sure 37-yard field goal to make it a three-score game, he listened to the home crowd, in a full testosterone rush, screaming to go for it on fourth down. What made the decision to go for it egregiously awful was the play called.
It was obvious the Titans decisively won the line of scrimmage on the previous play. That should have been a signal that if you try again, don’t do it that way. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo couldn’t have dialed up a worse play.
With the Titans lined up nine across the line of scrimmage for the second play in a row, he called on the relatively slight Manziel (barely six feet and 210 pounds), who had probably never run a quarterback sneak in his life, to run a quarterback sneak behind an offensive line that got its butts whipped the play before.
What in the world was he thinking? Manziel, who still has problems with his rhythm quarterbacking under center, didn’t even come close. In fact, he lost a yard. Why not the larger Crowell again off tackle? Or, surprise!, a pass to one of the tight ends who slips a block and drifts into the flat.
If you’re going to be bold, use a little creativity. Asking a small quarterback to do the job is flawed thinking. And it gave the Titans a boost. The Browns went three-and-out on three of the next four possessions.
I come from the school that says take the points when possible. Don’t leave them off the board. Even as the Browns lined up to go for it, I thought a Travis Coons field goal was the correct move.
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Did we see some of the infamous amoeba defense the Browns used in their inaugural season in the second half of the game? Remember the defense where no hands were on the ground just prior to the snap and there was general milling around? It sure looked that way on several snaps.
It was designed to confuse opposing quarterbacks who were ostensibly unable to accurately read what the defense was going to do. It was the brainchild of defensive coordinator Bob Slowik, who lasted just one season with the expansion Browns.
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Alex Mack thus far is not having an Alex Mack season. Maybe he isn’t totally recovered from his broken leg a year or so ago. But he definitely is not the Pro Bowl center fans have been used to watching the last several seasons.
He was arguably the best offensive lineman on the club before breaking the leg early last season. In his first two games, he has been semi-abused by opposing defensive linemen and not been strong at all at the point of attack. That needs to change if the Browns continue to make the running game the focal point of the attack.
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The Browns also must stop taking stupid penalties at the most inappropriate times. Jordan Poyer’s end zone interception that would have prevented Tennessee’s second touchdown was wiped out by a Desmond Bryant penalty and extended the drive that ultimately wound up in the end zone.
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Notebook: The Browns did a poor job of covering the Titans’ tight ends. Anthony Fasano, Chase Coffman and Craig Stevens combined for 10 catches, 139 of Marcus Mariota’s 257 yards and one touchdown in the absence of Delanie Walker. . . . The Browns also couldn’t stop running back Dexter McCluster, who gouged the Cleveland defense for 98 yards on 10 carries, frequently exposing the continuing problem on the edges. . . . The run defense, which surrendered 154 yards in the Jets loss, coughed up another 166 yards against the Titans. . . . Did anyone notice wide receivers Dwayne Bowe (one target) and Brian Hartline (three targets) combined for zero catches? . . . The Browns ran only 47 plays and controlled the ball for just 25 minutes. . . . Andy Lee continued his terrific punting, averaging 53.2 yards on six kicks. . . . The Titans never had a chance to return any of placekicker Travis Coons’ five kickoffs. Adding in Lee’s punts and one series when the Browns turned over the ball on downs, the average start for a Tennessee drive was the 19-yard line. . . . The Browns officially had seven sacks, 11 knockdowns of Mariota and at least a dozen other hurries.