Ever since Cleveland traded up for the 22nd pick to draft Johnny Manziel, Browns fans everywhere have had his debut marked on their calendar. And with good reason. The highest overall team passing grade the Browns have had in the PFF era was -8.9 in 2007, which was good enough for 16th overall. That’s their best grade, and Cleveland’s futility stretches back further than that. So how did Johnny Football do? Let’s take a look.
Cleveland — Three Performances of Note
Week 1 Starter is…
No clearer than it was before the game. Johnny Manziel’s debut highlighted many of the strengths and weaknesses that draft analysts saw in college. He displayed a strong arm, accuracy, and elusiveness, but was indecisive, run happy, and asked only to make quick, simple reads. He finished the day with a +.3 grade in 14 dropbacks with just two negatively graded throws in 11 attempts.
Comparing Manziel’s play to Brian Hoyer’s(+.4 in 14 dropbacks) is almost impossible though. Manziel was playing behind an offensive line that was getting completely manhandled. Manziel faced pressure on seven of his dropbacks, all in under 3 seconds, while Hoyer saw pressure on only four. Hoyer also played with Josh Gordon and Miles Austin although the pair dropped Hoyer’s two best throws of the day (Q2-14:01 to Austin, Q2-11:20 to Gordon). Hopefully we’ll get to see Manziel with the number one offense a couple times before the preseason is out and the frontrunner to start will become more apparent.
While the quarterback competition gets all the headlines, the runningback splits matter most to fantasy football owners. Former GM Charley Casserly predicted all the way back in May that Terrance West would beat out free agent signing Ben Tate. Through one game I can’t quite say I agree with Casserly.
Tate struggled Saturday with a fumble and a -1.7 overall grade. But Tate has a significant body of work to evaluate on. Since the former Texan came into the league he has posted a positive rushing grade every single year. We don’t have that luxury with West(+.2). The rookie certainly showed physical ability (see DeJon Gomes’ ankles break Q3-13:52), but he also showed the rawness that comes from playing inferior competition at Towson. West was far too eager to bounce to the outside and would too often run parallel to the line of scrimmage instead of taking an angle, planting his foot, and getting up field (Q3-8:44, Q3-2:40). A back as physically imposing as West (5’9”, 225 pounds) should be running north and south in a zone scheme, not pattering his feet looking for the edge.
First round pick Justin Gilbert was the only drafted rookie not to appear Saturday night after a groin injury kept him out. The other three, Joel Bitonio (25 snaps), Christian Kirksey (24 snaps), and Pierre Desir (34 snaps), all saw significant playing time. Bitonio, the second round pick from Nevada, was easily the most impressive. The guard sealed out linebackers multiple times at the second level and had just one downgraded play on the day for a final grade of +1.8.
The reviews on Kirksey and Desir were a little more mixed. The rookie linebacker was a complete nonfactor in the running game with a -1.4 grade, but made up for it with two stops through the air and a +2.3 coverage grade. Desir looked like he was still adjusting to the speed of the pro game after coming from Lindenwood, a Division II school. He allowed three of four targets for 34 yards and a -1.9 overall grade.
Detroit — Three Performances of Note
Kellen’s Quick Release
Kellen Moore left college in 2012 as one of the most productive college quarterbacks in recent history, but since then no one has given him any consideration as a viable NFL quarterback. Labeled too small with a weak arm, Moore did his best to change that perception Sunday. The Boise St. product flashed superb accuracy and decisiveness in the Lions comeback victory. 12 of Moore’s 13 attempts were on target and he had enough arm strength to push one 27 yards downfield into Corey Fuller’s hands for the game winning touchdown. Even though Dan Orlovsky has been a backup in the league since 2005, Moore could be taking his spot before the preseason closes out.
Defensive tackle may be the least ‘need’ area for Detroit this season, but with the contract situations of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley it could very quickly become one. Rookies Caraun Reid (25 snaps) and Gregory Hickman (25 snaps) both did their best to show that they can produce when called upon. Each had two stops and two pressures for grades of +2.0 and +4.0 respectively. With Hickman being a UDFA and Reid a fifth rounder, they’ll have to continue to perform at a high level to leap frog incumbents C.J. Mosely and Andre Fluellen.
Staking Claim at Right Tackle
When the Lions first depth chart came out last week LaAdrian Waddle (30 snaps) was listed as the starting right tackle. When the snaps were doled out on Saturday though, Waddle was running with the second unit. The second year player who started seven games last year must not have been too happy because he was distributing punishment to Browns linemen. Waddle went unblemished in pass protection and finished with a +2.4 overall grade.
Corey Hilliard (15 snaps) couldn’t quite match Waddle although he had a tougher assignment going up against Paul Kruger. The veteran tackle was beaten quickly twice in pass protection and finished with a -1.2 overall grade. Barring unforeseen developments in practice, I would expect the roles to be reversed for next week’s game in Oakland.
– Just two of the Browns seven backup offensive linemen graded positively for the day (Jeremiah Warren and Ryan Lee) as they combined for an overall grade of -9.0. Yikes!
– John Hughes is starting to develop into one of the league’s premier run defenders. He was unmovable 1-on-1 and had three run stops to go along with a +3.5 overall grade.
– Steven Miller and George Winn each showed considerably more juice than former 2nd round pick Mikel Leshoure, but if they can’t hold onto the ball they’ll have an uphill battle making the team.
PFF Game Ball
Kellen Moore was as impressive as any third string quarterback we saw in week 1 of the preseason (4th highest graded quarterback overall) and gets the game ball for his efforts on the game winning drive.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner