There will be hoopla, discussion and hype -- as would be expected when Johnny Football finally gets his chance. Manziel brings interest, the ability to scamper and, going by his college performances, tremendous playmaking ability.
But Manziel will be dealing with some of the same hurdles that Brian Hoyer dealt with, and he'll have to overcome some things. Coach Mike Pettine said Sunday that Hoyer had not been able to lift the team past its overall struggles.
“When you look at his last couple of weeks, he could have elevated the play,” Pettine said. “There were some throws I know he made mistakes on and some where it was a mutual thing. I think there are very few quarterbacks in this league that fall into that category of making the guys around them better or that can overcome any circumstance, whether it’s an offensive line, whether it’s the receiving corps, whether it’s the run game. There are very few.
“The guy we just played against [Andrew Luck] I would put on that list, but there are very few.”
What are the factors Manziel will inherit?
Josh Gordon’s production has dropped from eight catches to seven to two. His play is at best a mystery. How a player with Gordon’s ability can finish a game with two catches for 15 yards, both in the first quarter, defies all logic. Gordon can’t play in a funk; the Browns need him.
Example: Gordon did not catch up to a late throw to the sideline that could have put the offense close to field goal range. Pettine said he got “tangled up” on his route (read: he stopped). He then could not catch up to it as the ball fell off his fingers. “Some guys in this league would make it, some guys don’t,” Pettine said. Great ones make the catch.
The Browns dropped five passes, not all perfect throws by any means, but in the NFL, if a player gets his hands on a ball, he’s expected to catch it. A throw to Travis Benjamin on a crossing route was on his back hip, but he had his hands on it. Had he held on and made one guy miss, it might have been a touchdown. A third-down throw to Gordon that could have used more time was dropped.
The injury to Miles Austin removed the Browns’ most reliable receiver, and that showed when Gordon did not hold on to the late throw.
A bad route by Jordan Cameron led to Hoyer throwing an end zone interception, just like Gordon’s bad route led to Hoyer’s interception in Buffalo the previous week. Bernie Kosar said it a long time ago: The quarterback doesn’t have time to watch and wait. His job is to throw to the spot. The receiver’s job is to win and be at that spot.
These are not excuses. Hoyer made his own mistakes: poor throws, bad footwork, tough decisions. He didn’t help his cause. But they are the reality, and are what Pettine was referring to when he said: “Brian missed some throws, but receiving wise [we] did not help him out. Didn’t help him out sometimes in protection. He was hurried, couldn’t set his feet on some throws, had some routes that were not run properly. It was a combination of things, but overall, for us to be successful we have to perform much, much better in the pass game.”
The Browns turn to Manziel, who brings energy and quickness and the ability to move. If nothing is there in the passing game, he can run. He showed that in Buffalo.
He also may allow the Browns to use a different part of the playbook, perhaps add more rollouts and play-action.
The challenge is that after 14 weeks, it’s not simple to reinvent an offense, to change what a team has been doing. And rookies usually struggle. It’s just a fact.
Manziel’s advantage is the Bengals have not seen him, so what he brings is fresh.
His disadvantage is that he hasn’t seen live what an NFL defense can bring -- its changing rushes and coverages and presnap confusion.
This week's game is a must-win for the Browns. It’s close to that for the Bengals.
The Browns are going to a rookie in his first NFL start.
Safe to say many NFL eyes will be on Cleveland at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.