Time to give Johnny Manziel the keys to the offense

While there were certainly flaws in his performance, Manziel played the best game of his short career on Thursday.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Frank Victores)

(AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Time to give Johnny Manziel the keys to the offense

On Thursday night, the Browns lost to the Bengals in convincing fashion, giving Cleveland their fourth straight loss and a 2-7 record. It was just the third time that Johnny Manziel both started and finished a game, and despite the raw numbers along with the loss, it was Manziel’s best start of his career.

He only completed 45.5 percent of his passes, but he was accurate on two thirds of his throws. Five of his incompletions were drops, and another three passes were thrown away. Had those dropped passes been caught, he would have had another 59 yards on his passing total from yards in the air alone, as well as any potential yards after the catch.

He also had very few inaccurate throws, with most of them coming late in the game, where he tried to force things in order to make more plays. Typically, they were thrown in front of the receiver or under-thrown, but rarely in danger of turning the ball over.

Where Manziel was most successful is when he could get the ball out quickly. On passes where the time to throw was 2.3 seconds or faster, he completed 9-of-12 passes for 75 yards, with one of those three incompletions being a drop. Being down early in a game doesn’t always allow for quick passes, but if the Browns can keep games closer, Manziel could find more success with that quick passing game.

On top of doing an average job throwing the ball, he had four quarterback scrambles for 31 yards. With this kind of play, Manziel won’t be the reason the Browns win games—but he also won’t be the reason Cleveland loses.

At a 2-7 record, the Browns chances of making the playoffs are minimal. If Cleveland starts Manziel and he plays worse than McCown, they will keep losing, and know they need to find another quarterback ASAP. If Manziel is better, the Browns can start building around him for the future. Either way, even if McCown is healthy, it’s probably time to see what Manziel can do.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Any time you make a QB your first pick in the draft you should start him right away. The longer you delay the more confidence you drain from him. Manziel is in a no-win situation now and it looks like the Browns are intentionally setting him up to fail so they can begin the search for their next franchise savior.

    • Jesse

      In all fairness, Johnny was their 2nd pick that year. Gilbert was their first, and they moved up to take also take Johnny in the first round.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Your right but anyone drafted in the first round should be expected to immediately step into a starting role, otherwise there is really no point in drafting them that high in the first place.

        • Ben

          Tell that to David Carr and Aaron Rodgers.

        • Sam Doohan

          First rounders have high value but expecting them to play day one is one of the reasons why rookies become busts so often. Not because they are bad players, simply because they don’t get the chance to develop as pro level players and lose confidence in themselves. There’s only a few months between the draft and the NFL season which simply isn’t enough to learn.

          Some guys are physically talented enough to start day one, but some positions especially QB and O-Line need time to develop and learn the pro game and the worst thing is dropping them in the deep end, putting them under enormous pressure with little support and expecting them to succeed.

          It wasn’t long ago that 1st round QBs NEVER started. Never. They’d be third stringers behind a mediocre journeyman despite their pedigree. Even the best of them had to sit and learn and weren’t played until they were ready.

          Developing talent is critical to the NFL. Most players will at least play decently given the chance but so very few of them ever have the chance to.

        • Dan Gerber

          All 1st rounders? What about 1st pick in 2nd round?
          Really, it depends year-to-year based on the quality of the crop.

    • dan

      Absolutely false. Quarterbacks usually arent ready coming out of college, you need to give them time to adjust to playing with bigger and better players, along with an extensive playbook. Name 3 qb’s who have made the most of their first round pick over the last 5 or 6 years. EJ Manuel? Josh Freeman? Sam Bradford?

      • Sam Gold

        Not that I disagree with your sentiment but in the past 5-6 years Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles as well as non-first rounder’s Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton & Derek Carr started immediately and have done better than OK.

        • Dan Gerber

          It’s taken Cam about 4 years to get adjusted.

  • Maverick99

    The Browns staff is in panic mode. Exploring Manziel’s ability over the remainder of a lost season is too logical for an emotional staff waiting for the Turk to arrive. I was hoping they would truly panic and trade Manziel to a competitor ( Dallas, Jets) seeking a quality backup/starter.

  • David Stinnett

    Keep playing him-get him the experience. It’s not like you’re otherwise going to the Superbowl….

  • SPB

    He’s only started FIVE games in his career. And getting better every game. He’s put under a microscope unlike most of all the other rookies. The Browns need to let him play.

    • Backinmd

      Right … Been saying for years QB’s get too much criticism when their team loses and too much glory when their team wins …Football is a team sport .. Know this is Johnny’s second year but the ONLY QB I’ve ever seen dominate his rookie year was Dan Marino ..Even Troy Aikman , Elway, and recently Andrew Luck struggled somewhat their rookie year …Let Manziel play rest of the season ..

  • Ad

    Starting Manziel the rest of the year is pointless if he isn’t going to sit there and run the offense and make reads. If he’s gonna play Johnnyball and just run around hoping people get open best case he has an ok game like last night (where they still only score 10), worst case he has a game more like what we’re used to, and in both cases he never learns to play QB the way it’s supposed to be played in the NFL.

  • Trenton Tyler Rains

    What’s there to lose? The Browns aren’t making the playoffs and McCown isn’t the future. Give Manziel the ball for the rest of the season and see what happens. If he’s good then they can finally draft a #1 WR for him and if he fails then draft another QB.

    • Jaguars28

      What’s there to lose? Games.

      • Sam Doohan

        So? They’ll lose games anyway. They have to think about next season. At the very least they need to decide if they want to keep Manziel or not and that can only happen by seeing how he reacts to real games.

        The worst thing they can do is go into ANOTHER year without knowing if he’s their guy. That’s the problem here. Not because Manziel sucks, it’s because through two losing seasons they haven’t put him in enough to work out if he’s worth keeping.

        If he sucks then they can trade him and re-build. If he’s their guy (even as a work in progress) then they can build the offense around him. But going into another year without even knowing if he can play is indefensible. If they don’t use these last games to give him a shot then they deserve to get fired.

  • The Mysteries of Bob

    Nah, Petine the Coward will start McCown while Ray Farmer refuses to draft any skill players because “name the last time a top WR won the Super Bowl”

  • Jono Schneider

    I watched the game, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at his performance. Let the guy play for a bit and learn the NFL. He might actually be good!

  • Ghost

    Johnny couldn’t stay in a pocket or make a read to save his life last night. He had happy feet all night, and his pocket mechanics were truly wretched. He’s the type of QB that will get figured out after teams study the tape on him and have nothing else to offer. He has no promise.

    • geo2209

      Uhh no. Just no.

  • Backinmd

    Thought Johnny had his best game so far ..The five drops aren’t his fault .. Not saying if there were 0 drops Browns would have won the game.. Five drops can kinda take the wind out of your sails.. Only thing worse is dropping a touchdown pass in the end zone ..Feel Manziel has more upside than the Browns fans give him credit for …