Monday leftovers (Friday edition)
Might as well get it out into the open right now. Buckle up for a quarterback controversy swirling somewhere in Berea. Maybe even today.
After Johnny Manziel’s moderately successful first-half performance in Thursday night’s loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, it’s only natural that talk will surface regarding the immediate future of the quarterback position for the Browns.
He was just good enough in the first 30 minutes to make some fans actually think that maybe, just maybe, he has improved his game to the point where he will not embarrass himself or his team.
In the next 10 days or so, until the club pays a visit to Death Valley, er, Pittsburgh to play the Steelers, the main story will center on who starts that game. Will it be Manziel or Josh McCown, who had to sit out the Bengals game with painful ribs?
Mike Pettine will be pestered, probably on a daily basis, with questions surrounding his next command decision. The answer should be obvious, but he’ll probably stretch it out to just before game time a week from Sunday.
Let’s be honest. The Browns are 2-7. They have lost their last four games. They are 2-12 in their last 14 games and on a train headed speedily toward yet another cellar finish in the AFC North. At this point, why not start Manziel? What does the head coach have to lose? Another game? So?
What difference does it make whether the Browns wind up 2-14 or 3-13 or 4-12? It’s time to find out just what Manziel can do. Let’s see what he’s got on a more permanent basis. Seven games remain. Barring injury, he should start them all.
A lot of questions about him need to be answered. Now would be the perfect opportunity to get them answered. So . . . why not start him now?
Assuming Manziel is considered the quarterback of the future for this franchise, that future definitely is now. Not next season. No need to waste time watching the veteran McCown struggle through another futile season.
But what about the crutch most coaches lean on that says you play the man who gives you the best chance to win? Ordinarily that would make sense. But this is neither an ordinary team nor an ordinary situation.
McCown is 36 years old and probably won’t be with the team next season. He has been a solid addition from a morale and toughness standpoint. The beating he has endured the last five games would put most quarterbacks out of commission for the season. Time to give him the rest of the season off.
According to his coach and some of his teammates, Manziel is not the same deer-in-the-headlights rookie from last season. He has matured to the point where he actually looks like a National Football League quarterback.
On several throws against the Bengals when he did not stray from the pocket, he displayed the perfect throwing rhythm of an NFL quarterback. His best throw, off a play fake, doinked off the left knee of wide receiver Taylor Gabriel in the third quarter. It could not have been executed any better.
It’s not as though Manziel can’t do it. And the more he plays, the more comfortable he will feel. Pettine owes him at least that much as a reward for his hard work.
To haul him back to the bench if McCown is ready to go for Pittsburgh would be a mistake. To be deliberately repetitious, McCown is not the future of this team and continuing to play him will retard whatever growth pattern Manziel has established.
But what, say the critics, about how awful Manziel looked in the second half of the Bengals game? Good point until you take into consideration his offensive coordinator did not give him anything resembling a ground game to offset any pressure from the Bengals. Only one rushing attempt in the second half.
Throwing three- and four-receiver packages at the Cincinnati defense on every play sent a blaring message: We’re going to throw the football. And it was party time for the Bengals’ front seven.
The fact Manziel was sacked only three times down the stretch is somewhat remarkable. Under similar circumstances, McCown would have been battered even more.
If nothing else, Manziel’s ability to extend plays weighs much more heavily in his favor. At least he gives himself a solid chance to complete a play when it breaks down. And with the very ordinary Cleveland offensive line protecting him, that happens more often than not.
So what to do? In defense of Pettine, all he wants to do is win games. His job depends on it. Staying with Manziel would be considered by some to be a gamble. But the bottom line shows each quarterback has produced a victory this season.
Maybe he should flip a coin.
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When Pettine suggested during his halftime chat with Tracy Wolfson that Manziel should “calm down a little bit” in the second half so he could be more productive, I yelled at the television screen, “No, don’t calm him down. He’s at his best when he operates in a reckless manner.”
He seems to play much better when he freelances after being flushed from the pocket. His unpredictability makes it more difficult on opposing defenses.
Yes, it’s highly unorthodox. But it sure worked for smallish quarterbacks like Fran Tarkenton and Russell Wilson. Besides, it’s much more fun watching Manziel work his magical escapes out of trouble. And he is smart enough to know when to throw the ball away, which he did several times against the Bengals.
If Pettine starts Manziel in Pittsburgh, it behooves offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to be more creative in his play selection, knowing how mobile his quarterback can be. He’s not a standing target like McCown. The threat of rollouts in either direction, sometimes as misdirection, can keep a defense honest.
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What in the world is wrong with Andy Lee? The usually reliable punter had two poor boots against the Bengals that gave them great field position they translated into 10 points.
Lee, who has been forced to punt the ball 29 times in the last five games, as opposed to just 16 times in the first four games, shanked his first punt of the game only 34 yards. It set up the Bengals at their 37 from where they scored the game’s first touchdown 10 plays layer.
Then a 28-yarder didn’t even make it to midfield (Cleveland’s 49-yard line) after the Browns’ first possession of the second half. Nate Orchard’s sack of Andy Dalton on a third-and-2 at the Browns’ 5 saved a touchdown. A Mike Nugent field goal stretched the Bengals’ lead to 17-10.
Maybe we’ve come to expect too much from the Pro Bowl punter. His four other punts in the game averaged 53 yards.
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Nice to see Dwayne Bowe contribute to the cause. With wideouts Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline sidelined with injuries, Bowe stepped up with three catches for 31 yards. He made his first reception of the season, a four-yard slant, with 2:02 left in the first quarter.
Then in the final minutes after Marlon Moore blocked a punt with 3:28 left in regulation, Bowe stepped up again with catches of 16 and 11 yards, accounting for the only positive yardage on a drive that died at the Cincinnati 12. Welcome to the offense, No. 80.
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Notebook: When Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu scored easily on a 25-yard reverse early in the fourth quarter to climax an eight-play, 91-yard drive, there wasn’t a Brown within 10 yards of him down the left sideline. It was so clean, Dalton couldn’t find anyone to block along the way. . . . It looks as though tight end Gary Barnidge does not hold the same favored status with Manziel as he does with McCown. He caught only two passes in seven targets. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touched the ball only five times, scoring the Browns’ only touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Manziel after running a circle route. He carried the ball just three times for zero yards. . . . The Cleveland run defense returned to normal, surrendering 152 yards that included a couple of knees taken by backup quarterback A. J. McCarron at the end of the game. . . . The Browns recorded 13 first downs, two in the second half, and totaled 213 yards. They owned the ball for just 24 minutes in the turnover-free game. That’s 29 first downs, 49½ minutes (out of 120) in time of possession and 467 total yards in the last two games.