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.
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.