Johnny Manziel needs help.
With the rival Cincinnati Bengals coming to town and the Cleveland Browns' season on the line, the Browns rookie has to know that he didn't really win the starting quarterback job as much as he was awarded it by default. During the past four weeks, as the Browns fell from first to worst in the AFC North, hometown hero Brian Hoyer was, well, awful. During that span he ranked last in the NFL in completion percentage and had the most interceptions and the fewest touchdowns in the league with a QBR of 25.2. In fact, Hoyer is the first passer since 2006 to go three straight games with no passing TDs and two or more interceptions.
So let's be clear: Manziel didn't earn this job. Cleveland just ran out of options. Either way, and regardless of whether he or the NFL is ready, on Sunday the long-awaited Johnny Football era begins.
How it goes will depend largely on the critical choices Manziel makes in the next few weeks about exactly the kind of NFL quarterback he wants to become.
To help him, the Flem File has compiled a cheat sheet of sorts from a dozen NFL quarterbacks on the do's and don'ts Manziel must follow if he wants to avoid becoming Cleveland quarterback casualty No. 21.
TOM BRADY -- Use your eyes. You know who also studies the Patriots' quarterback? Aaron Rodgers. That's right, during the offseason a few years ago, Rodgers broke down every single one of Brady's throws, and what he marveled at was how remarkably consistent Brady was in using misdirection with his eyes to freeze defenders. Young, excited quarterbacks like yourself, Johnny, tend to drop back, lock in on their No. 1 receivers and stare them down until the ball is in the air and, inevitably, headed in the opposite direction for a pick-six. So, what Brady does might not sound like much, but it's incredibly difficult. With everything else going on in the pocket, he's able to take his eyes off the intended target to hold or confuse the safety, and then, at the last second, lock back in and deliver the ball. The key? Watch his feet. Rodgers noticed that even though Brady looks off his target on 99 percent of his passes, his feet are still pointed at the intended receiver.
TIM TEBOW -- Success on the run never lasts. Just like you did with your 10-yard touchdown run against the Bills, early on you're going to have a lot of success and create a ton of buzz and excitement by tucking the ball and running. You are going to get a lot of attention and accolades for your athleticism, intangibles and daring in the open field. Try to remember this: So did Tebow. The mistake Tebow -- and many, many other athletic young quarterbacks make -- is one of humility and perspective. Don't let a little fluky early success with your feet inflate your ego to the point that you no longer see the need to develop and improve as a pocket passer. ESPN's Bill Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year, likes to say that there are no running quarterbacks in the NFL because sooner or later to survive and consistently succeed you have to be able to sit in the pocket, read defenses in a split second and deliver the ball with timing and accuracy. If you can't do that, you'll never be more than just Johnny Flukeball.
JAY CUTLER -- Protect the ball, and smile. The mark of a true leader is someone who is able to lift those around them to a level they could not reach on their own. The opposite of this is Jay Cutler. Sulking does not seem to be one of your problems, Johnny. But what makes Cutler truly one of the worst quarterback values of this era is how his mental indifference manifests itself in his near total disregard for protecting the football. One of the very few stats that actually mean something in the NFL is turnover differential. Quarterbacks that hand their opponents extra possessions through fumbles and interceptions tend to lose -- a lot. Especially in the playoffs, where since 2000 teams that win the turnover differential win nearly 70 percent of the time. Since 2007, very few quarterbacks have turned the ball over as much as Cutler, who has a combined 201 interceptions and fumbles in 117 games. In ten fewer games, Aaron Rodgers has 105. Young quarterbacks with great defenses like yours need to remember that sometimes their job is not to win the game but just not to lose it by turning the ball over.
ANDREW LUCK -- You know what? Just study everything. I'd tell you to watch film on Luck, but I can't think of a way to narrow it down. Study his mechanics: Clean. Compact. Precise. Efficient. Your throwing motion, on the other hand, can be lazy, loopy and slow in a league in which an extra two-tenths of a second to get the ball out gives a cornerback enough time to cover 3 yards. Study his study habits. He already has an encyclopedic understanding of the Colts' offense. You can't seem to grasp how social media or a team curfew works. Study his work under pressure, the way he uses his feet not to run but to adjust in the pocket and keep the play alive down field. You were clutch in college. But Luck is already the best in the NFL late in games. Study his demeanor. He seems eager to accept blame, to cover for his teammates and to learn from his mistakes. Your answer to everything seems to be, "Well, other people are doing it too," a defense most of us stopped using in the ninth grade. Study his trademark touchdown celebration. Oh, that's right, he doesn't have one. You, however, seem to flash that money sign every time you correctly buckle your helmet.
AARON RODGERS -- Lessons in leadership. There's so much you could learn from Rodgers about being a franchise quarterback, but for right now all you need to focus on is how Rodgers handled his first bit of playing time in 2006 against the Patriots. Rodgers broke his left foot in that game but hid the injury and stayed on the field to send a larger message to his teammates: that he was willing to put his body on the line for the team. The Packers lost, but Rodgers is convinced gutting out that injury is what solidified him as the next franchise quarterback in Titletown USA. "These were decisions I made based on the type of person, teammate and player I wanted to be thought of," Rodgers told me a few years ago. "My biggest fear against the Patriots was taking myself out of the game and finding out I had a sprained foot. Think about a ripple in still water that continues on and doesn't really ever have an end. That's the metaphor here: Something like that would have had a long-lasting ripple effect on how I was viewed in the locker room."
MATTHEW STAFFORD -- Embrace the weird. I watched Stafford on Thanksgiving with a room full of family members who were all Michigan natives. At least half the time he threw the ball we all yelled "Noooooo!" because he was on the run, off-balance, throwing sidearm, scrambling wildly or firing into triple coverage. But the Lions blew out the Bears 34-17 and Stafford threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns with a 116 passer rating. So, I guess what I'm saying is, sometimes it's OK to embrace the unconventional.
DREW BREES -- Become a film star. Mark Brunell played 17 years in the NFL, won a Super Bowl (as a backup) and made three Pro Bowls, but even he couldn't hang with workaholic, type-A personality, Boy Scout/Superman Brees in the film room. "It would be 7 p.m. on a Friday in the offseason -- the offseason -- and we'd have been watching film for hours and I'd tap out and be like, 'Man, I gotta go home,'" Brunell said. To be great at quarterback you have to put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of solitary, mundane and mind-numbingly repetitive work behind the scenes just to master the mental side of the position. Last year when Hoyer got the starting job you now occupy, he pulled aside a few of his receivers, some of whom didn't even know his name yet, and quizzed them on a laundry list of hot reads, route combinations and defensive tips that he had compiled in the film room while studying the Vikings. Most of them worked. I'm not saying you have to behave like Brees. In fact, his teacher's pet routine can sometimes wear thin on teammates. And on your rare days off, you can fly your own helicopter and parachute into the pond in front of the Bellagio for all I care. (In fact, take me with you.) But if you don't learn to love that mad-scientist part of the quarterback job, it's only a matter of time before the Browns will be looking for quarterback savior No. 22.
BEN ROETHLISBERGER -- Act like a point guard. The more the speed and spacing of the spread offense mixes with the horizontal short, timing attack of the West Coast, the more great quarterbacks resemble point guards in basketball: on the move, in traffic, deciphering the kaleidoscope of movement and bodies to anticipate who and where playmakers will come open and then delivering them the ball as they reach top speed. In fact, lots of quarterbacks, including Doug Flutie and Donovan McNabb, learned how to read their wideouts' movements and body language by playing hoops with them. And few are better on the move, outside the pocket than Roethlisberger, who was an all-district point guard at Findlay High School in Ohio.
RUSSELL WILSON -- The gold standard. One more win will put Wilson ahead of Dan Marino and Matt Ryan for the most victories (34) by a modern-era quarterback in his first three seasons. How has he done it? By becoming great at reading defenses (he has 15 TDs -- 12 passing and three rushing -- against one interception in seven road games this season) and being smart and selective with when he uses his feet to keep drives alive. Wilson leads the league with a whopping 7.2 yards per rush and the Seahawks lead the NFL with 117 rushing first downs, but it all works because first and foremost his ability as a pocket passer forces defenses to stay honest and not load the box with an extra run-stopping defender.
PEYTON MANNING -- Be an A-hole. I'm not sure how to put this, but the best quarterbacks can be, at times, demanding, never-satisfied A-holes. Manning elevates teammates to new levels by holding them to incredibly high standards, but he gets away with it because he leads by example and is toughest on himself. The question for you, Johnny, is what kind of an A-hole QB do you want to be? Do you want to be like Peyton Manning, whose surly, detached and demanding nature is seen as the most necessary tool of a gutsy field general? Or do you want to be the next Jay Cutler -- a physically gifted passer sunk by his own aloofness and petulance?
TONY ROMO -- One tough Cowboy. You are going to be subjected to an unbelievable amount of physical punishment, and the way you handle it will determine whether your tiny running back will take on a linebacker to protect your backside or if your wideout will go across the middle and risk his brain and spine in order to convert on a critical third down for you. When it comes to this part of your job, I always think of what former Giants GM and Hall of Famer George Young used to say: "There are quite a few things you need in a quarterback, but you start with courage. The quarterback has to be the toughest guy on your team, mentally and physically. And the guys who play around him have to know that." And there's no better model for toughness in the pocket than Romo.
MICHAEL VICK -- Sometimes the hardest step to take is out of bounds. In 2010, Vick had come all the way back from bankruptcy, disgrace and prison to have his best year ever as a quarterback, finishing second to Tom Brady in the MVP voting. And the next preseason, after he threw a meaningless interception in a meaningless game, I watched an enraged Vick sprint full speed and dangerously torpedo himself at Troy Polamalu with zero regard for his own personal well-being. It was awesome. And it was idiotic. He got up and walked away, a bit wobbly, but that's when I knew that the best thing about Vick was also the worst -- he simply could not play the game any other way but all out. And so now we can only wonder what the greatest athlete to ever play quarterback (until you, I supposed, Johnny) could have done if he had stayed healthy by, even just once in a while, backing off a little and sliding or stepping out of bounds.
So, in closing Johnny, let me say this: You're small. Get over it. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is an old defensive coordinator and he knew exactly what he was doing when he trolled you on the radio by making fun of your size. You're a rookie who hasn't done anything yet except sell a lot of candy bars. NFL defenders are absolutely dying to be the first one to cleanly de-cleat you. So Lewis wants you to have Little Man Complex and feel like you have to prove how tough you are by staying in bounds or taking on a linebacker. Why? Because he knows the odds behind those collisions favor the defense and he's banking on you not being a big enough man to show a little discretion and back down in order to fight another day.
I sure hope he's wrong.
I have no idea if the Browns will be any better off, but the NFL sure is a lot more interesting with you on the field.