Despite OK game, Johnny Manziel is Browns’ best option

Sam Monson explains why Johnny Manziel earned a negative grade versus the Titans -- and why he's still the Browns' best QB option.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/David Richard)

(AP Photo/David Richard)

Despite OK game, Johnny Manziel is Browns’ best option


Browns QB Johnny Manziel ended the game against Tennessee the victor of the latest Heisman Bowl, defeating Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota and finishing with a spectacular looking passer rating of 133.9 thanks to two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

That box score looks fantastic, but his PFF grade was -2.9, almost all of which came as a passer (as opposed to rushing). But those negatives are hidden deeper in his play, either from the box score, or disguised as fumbles.

Manziel lost the football twice when being sacked, risking a potential turnover that was averted on both occasions by the quick reactions of his teammates. Having the ball knocked out in a strip-sack you never saw coming is one thing, but allowing it to come out when you know the pressure is there and contact is imminent is poor ball security that will punish a team over the long term.

Though he only missed on a few throws in the game, there was one big poor decision that he was fortunate to avoid being punished for, throwing an ill-advised pass down field into double coverage only to see it dropped by Titans cornerback Perrish Cox. Throwing a hopeful jump ball into double coverage is questionable at the best of times, throwing it to a 5-foot-7 wide receiver in the shape of Andrew Hawkins isn’t even giving the wide receiver a chance to bail you out of your bad decision.

Much like Mariota last week, Manziel didn’t play quite as well as the box score suggests, and had the ball bounced a different way on those plays the narrative would likely be a little different, but the key question for Cleveland fans is whether he is a better option than Josh McCown going forward.

The answer to that question undoubtedly has to be yes. But for an anomalous stretch of excellent play in Chicago, McCown’s career has been consistently negatively graded during the PFF era, assuming he was even playing. McCown is a quarterback who has been out of the NFL on a couple of occasions before being handed reprieves by a league so starved of quarterback talent it will take yet another shot on a passer proven to be below par simply because there are no better options. There were good reasons that McCown found himself without a team on more than one occasion, but his play for the Bears under Marc Trestman bought him another go-around of personnel guys trying to recapture that magic.

However, McCown is far more likely to play to his career baseline – below average, at best – than he is to reproduce that seven-game stretch of excellence from 2013. McCown can operate an offense, and even make some things happen with his legs, but he can’t make the plays that Manziel was making yesterday against the Titans. The two touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin in particular as well as a couple of other ad-libbed positive passes represent a ceiling that McCown just doesn’t have.

JFF

As the grade shows, Manziel definitely has the capacity to make bad plays, costing his team and negating much of the good, but this is about the Browns going forward, and Manziel clearly represents a far greater potential for this Cleveland offense.

It’s time for Johnny Football.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • mhardt

    ON fumbles: Manz did all the right things and used two hands. The ball came out but Karma paid him back by the recoveries. As long as the technique is good that is all you can ask. On the other side….Mariotta fumbled five times. 2 lost 2 reversed 1 recovered. plus one interception reversed on extremely ticky tacky foul. On the lull in the third Q. That was by design. Petine was trying to run out the clock and did not care if he punted.

  • William Coffman

    -2.9 on QB rating 133.9. Last week Travis Benjamin gets .9 on on 3/3 for 89 yds and TD. Waiting to see if Benjamin gets a negative grade this week for three TDs…PFF has been ridiculous this year on rating Browns…

    • jojomellon

      You realize that Passer Rating is severely misleading right? You realize that the whole purpose of PFF grades is to cover stuff that QBR doesnt, right? I feel like you’re missing the whole point of this site and its grades. Manziel missed a boatload of open receivers, fumbled twice, has happy feet and cant stay in a clean pocket and still wants to run out of the pocket when he doesnt have to. No one is being biased against any one team. They arent homers like you clearly are.

      • Pat Leonard

        Please list out the “boatload of receivers” that Manziel missed. I’d love to see it.

      • anon76returns

        I’m not sure you can say 40+ mediocre plays are more detrimental to a player’s team than 3 outstanding plays. PFF has decided to grade on a -2 to +2 scale. As far as I can tell, that decision was arbitrary. So a player who made 3 unbelievable plays in a game (+6.0) could easily have a negative grade over the course of a game, even if those three plays provided all of his team’s points in the game, and his other mediocre play did not cost the team anything substantial.
        Check out their pass rush grading- due to normalization, a player gets a -0.1 grade on every pass rush unless he causes a disruption. A player also gets a -1.0 grade for virtually every penalty called against him. A pass rusher who had 3 strip sack scoop and score plays would still have an overall negative grade in a game in which he had 43 other pass rushes without a pressure and 2 offsides penalties (assuming a 0 score in the run game).

        • Tony Russo

          to this point, I’d have to say the scale seems to reward consistent contributions as opposed to a handful of stand-out plays. It seems to reward the approach rather than the outcome and I’m comfortable with that type of grading.

  • eldaveablo

    It’s hard to take PFF seriously with this type of analysis. Let me get this straight – Two fumbles (neither was lost) and one bad decision (that again, cost them nothing in the end) outweigh 2 TD passes of 50 yards or more – one of which with a high degree of difficulty in an important time to clinch the game? You are a joke. Learn to incorporate a level of risk/reward and situational analysis to your attempts at being quantifiable or this will just get pointless.

    • Pat Leonard

      I’m usually a PFF fan, but this was a strange one. If your scoring rubric comes out with a moderately poor performance for Manziel after that game, then I think it’s time to revisit the rubric. I know Manziel only had 15 passes in that game, but I think it’s hard to determine that he made the wrong decision or a poor play on more than 3 or 4 of them. Overall, the Browns won because of Johnny Manziel’s play… how can that possibly end up as a negative grade for the game?

      • jojomellon

        Because he sucked? Its more than possible to win a game with a bad quarterback. Happens all the time actually. He made 2 nice TD passes, but one was a completely fluke play where he completely failed to read an obvious blitz off of the right side. His pocket passing is pretty awful and he fails to pull the trigger quickly and misses open WRs constantly.

        • Pat Leonard

          Except that he didn’t suck. He played well. I’m not sure how else to say that… it wasn’t just the two touchdown passes. Watch the game and see each play and you will understand.

        • John Vitale

          He had a QB rating of 133 and threw two long touchdown passes at key moments, to open the game and close the game. His team WON the game! Any opinion(read yours) that denies reality is generally termed insanity!! Recognize yourself?

      • Al

        PFF grades are a help aide, but generally are not that accurate for certain positions. It’s hard to fault them too much. Hard to grade effectively without knowing what’s going on in the huddle and at the line for OL and QB’s and receivers too. Defense is slightly easier to grade but can still present problems.

        They also seem to have a very flawed rating system for QBs. Do you recall the Chiefs/Colts playoff game in 2013? https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/01/05/refo-chiefs-colts-wild-card-round/

        Alex Smith played a fantastic game. It wasn’t totally perfect, but it was a very very strong performance. He was severely let down by his team at times as well as a load of injuries and wound up with barely a positive grade despite putting up 44 points and throwing for almost 400 yards and 4 tds with no interceptions and one fumble lost. There’s no GM nor any alternative universe where a GM would watch the tape from that and say he was barely a positive. They put up 44 points and he was basically the reason for it. Charles was hurt early. He also had a few really critical drops on key downs on difficult throws. He did miss a few throws too, but holy cow – QB’s miss throws sometimes? Anyway… when you’re putting up 44 points I don’t think that’s going to be something worthy of a barely above average performance (you know, assuming 0.0 is even the average, which I highly doubt as I do not think the guys who made this system were math/stats guys).

        Meanwhile Luck throws for over 400 yards and 4 tds – to go with 3 interceptions and at least one more that could have been a pick 6 that was dropped as even noted in the article itself and he managed a notably higher rating than his counterpart from the guys at PFF. One of the dropped ints could have been a pick 6. I watched that game a couple times. The grades simply do not mesh.

        Alex Smith – 0.7 Rating
        Andrew Luck – 1.8 Rating

        There is no logic to this.

    • popsiclesticks

      So if Manziel throws a pass off a DBs hands and he drops it, it’s ok, but if he does the same thing and the DB this time catches the ball, the reflection on his play is much worse?

      You can criticize the methodology, sure, but your post inherently shows that you just don’t understand. Fumbles are bad and your teammates aren’t going to recover all of them.

      Also, if he had completed more than 7 passes beforehand, he may not have needed the 8th to clinch the game.

      • Pat Leonard

        You cannot say that pass was a “drop” for the DB. He had to jump over top of the wide receiver just to make a play on the ball and it would have been a pretty amazing catch.

        No one is saying Manziel shouldn’t be docked points for two fumbles. What he’s saying is there is no way those fumbles and a long pass play that had a small percentage chance of being intercepted are equal to or worse than two 50+ yard TD strikes. The simplest reason is because not every fumble and pass that touches a DB’s hands turns into points for the other team, but a TD always turns into points.

        • popsiclesticks

          There’s also the rest of the game outside of all of that. Those two passes comprise a fourth of all of his completions for the entire game. He could have feasibly been poor on most of the other throws.

          With this logic, most QBs would be positively graded every week because they pretty much all throw more TDs than INTs.

          • Pat Leonard

            He could have been, but he wasn’t. I know you are probably thinking of me as a biased Browns fan, but I watched each play intently. So here’s where we are… even if you want to cancel out the 2 TD plays with the 3 plays he mentions as negative and use the remaining plays as the reason to grade Manziel negatively, I still can’t imagine where this grade comes from (and again, there’s no way those 3 plays should cancel out the two TDs). Manziel was 6/12 on the other plays. A 5 yard completion to Benjamin, an 18 yard completion to Hawkins, a 17 yard completion to Barnidge, a 2 yard rush (where he slid feet first and took as much as the defense allowed), an incomplete pass to Hartline, a completion to Gabriel for -3 yards (not Manziel’s fault, the defense blew up a screen pass), an incomplete pass to Hartline, a 9 yard completion to Hawkins, a QB sneak for 0 yards on 4th down where the offensive line got no push (again can’t see how this would be a negative play for Manziel), an incomplete pass to Johnson, an incomplete pass to Benjamin, a 16 yard completion to Hawkins, an incomplete pass to Hartline, and incomplete pass to Bowe, a kneel down to run out the clock (-1 yard, but not a negative play obviously). I can’t remember a single poor decision on any one of those plays and in some cases the negative or low-yardage play was actually the correct option.

          • popsiclesticks

            I’m not, at all. Your argument is reasonable. I’m taking issue with a guy dismissing everything in large part because the fumbles were recovered by his teammates.

          • eldaveablo

            Which is not at all what I said. I was halfway through my response to you, but Pat already had it covered. If they want to say that two recovered fumbles and a bad decision resulting in an incompletion outweigh 2 50+ yard TDs, then I have issues with that. I stated it as such in the comments section (pretty sure that’s what they’re for). If I wasn’t clear, I apologize.

          • Wendell Gee

            Yes Pat we are thinking of you as a biased Clowns fan. John Football only completed 8 passes during the entire game. Not to mention with John at the helm their offense is limited to high school concepts. Be glad your team won. John’s negative grade is dead on. Who Dey!?!

          • Pat Leonard

            Haha no Wendell. Maybe watch the game before commenting. John DeFilippo’s offense is pro style. No college spread or option concepts. Nice try though.

          • jojomellon

            So sign up for the site and read their analysis of why his grade was low. Its not a secret. The site isnt handing out bad grades because they dont like the guy. He did not have a great game. He still sucks at passing from the pocket and missed a ton of open receivers.

          • Pat Leonard

            But he didn’t miss a ton of open receivers. Again people please watch the game before commenting.

          • Pat Leonard

            I don’t need to sing up for the site… I’m able to analyze a quarterback on my own. My anaylsis = solid game.

  • Pat Leonard

    I’m surprised the Cox pass breakup was graded negatively for Manziel. It was a really hard pass to haul in for Cox, and if he did, it would have ended up being like a long punt. I thought Manziel played a very smart game with the exception of the two fumbles, and both of those were blind side pressure plays where most QBs in the league are going to have a hard time holding on to the ball.

    • jojomellon

      No, most QBs, at least the ones with the least bit of awareness, know to expect pressure from their blind side and thus dont hold on to the football forever like Johnny does thinking he’s still at A&M and will be able to outrun DEs. Its absolutely a QBs fault for fumbling off a blind side pressure. It doesnt happen to the Bradys or Breeses, and they have much worse O-lines than Manziel does who has the benefit of a HOF LT and two all pro interior linemen. Take off your orange and brown sunglasses and realize that despite his two fluke passes, Manziel still looks like an SEC scrambling QB and nothing like a pro.

      • Pat Leonard

        I’d say take off your Manziel-hater glasses. Watch the rest of the game… he made some great reads from the pocket, went through progressions, and executed pretty well. Not flawless. I’m not saying give the kid a +3.0, but to say he was a -2.7 for the game is simply absurd. Read my breakdown of each play and you’ll see that there really was not much of an opportunity for him to earn a negative grade when he only passed 15 times in the game (which is the offensive coordinator’s game plan, nothing he can do about that). I know you don’t care, but I have a very reasonable take on Johnny Manziel. I expect him to make mistakes and blow some games because this is his first year preparing as a starter. But he won that game for the Browns… without him, they lose.

      • John Vitale

        Love you haters because its fun to watch you be miserable!!