The Cleveland Browns were hoping to find a solution to their quarterback battle on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately for the Dawg Pound and the maligned franchise, neither Brian Hoyer nor Johnny Manziel played well—at all.
Cleveland laid an egg on the national stage, needing a strong effort from a talented defense to keep the game tight. In the end, Washington got the home victory, 24-23, at FedEx Field.
ESPN Cleveland's Aaron Goldhammer did a nice job summarizing how many Browns fans felt following Monday's ugly outcome:
I don't know who won the QB competition tonight, but I know who the loser is...Browns fan. Both guys looked awful...— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) August 19, 2014
Goldhammer's colleague, Tony Rizzo, expressed similar sentiments:
What a letdown, who would you start at Pitt?— Tony Rizzo (@TheRealTRizzo) August 19, 2014
It looks like the Browns could use 8 pre-season games— Tony Rizzo (@TheRealTRizzo) August 19, 2014
In fact, undrafted rookie QB Connor Shaw produced the most excitement with a desperation heave that somehow fell into the arms of Emmanuel Ogbuehi as time expired. It didn't matter when the two-point conversion failed, though.
Connor Shaw's like, "Fine, I'll be the Browns starting quarterback." Shaw throws 45-yard Hail Mary, but 2-pointer fails. Redskins win 24-23.— Eye on Football (@EyeOnNFL) August 19, 2014
Shaw completed eight of nine passes for 123 yards and a score, and the NFL on ESPN recorded the ugly stats for Hoyer and Manziel:
2-pt conversion NO GOOD, Redskins win 24-23. RG3: 6-8, 112 yds, INT Hoyer: 2-6, 16 yds Manziel: 7-16, 65 yds, TD pic.twitter.com/vtp89iETdS— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 19, 2014
Coach Mike Pettine remarked on the QB competition afterwards, via Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio and NFL: AroundTheLeague:
Pettine: "Whoever gives us the best chance to win the opener will be the starter."— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) August 19, 2014
"All the options are still on the table" -- Pettine on his QBs. "Have to watch the tape."— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 19, 2014
Pettine decided to rotate the Browns' top two signal-callers every two series in the opening half. Hoyer began the game under center for his hometown Browns, but he didn't even resemble the player who sparked the team last year.
Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey felt that Hoyer couldn't be a viable franchise QB anywhere, much less Cleveland:
Hoyer clearly is not the future of this (or any?) football team. Why are you starting him to get, maybe, a handful of wins? #GiveJohnnyReps— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) August 19, 2014
Perhaps Hoyer's best play came on a checkdown—a play that's becoming a Hoyer staple—to former college quarterback and converted tight end MarQueis Gray. It appeared Hoyer could lead the Browns to a score just before halftime.
Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan then documented the damage:
BREAKING: Hoyer completes a pass; MarQueis Gray for 12y; of course he fumbles & Wash. recovers because #Browns— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) August 19, 2014
Based on how both Hoyer and Gray played in their respective roles, they might be better off switching positions.
That gave Manziel a golden opportunity to seize hold of the QB job. Johnny Football failed to do it, which was a letdown to say the least. Manziel was must-see TV as a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M. In adjusting to a far thicker playbook, he is evidently struggling.
Bleacher Report analyst Matt Bowen noted how Manziel gets happy feet in the pocket when under duress:
That's not a good sign. With the critics telling Manziel to hang in the tackle box more and his instincts telling him to escape and make plays with his legs, it appeared Johnny Football was playing rather robotic.
It was a struggle just for Manziel to get a snap and scan the field in time, per NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah:
Manziel is consistently late getting away from center. Kills the rhythm of the play.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 19, 2014
We could dissect Manziel's every play, as is common with the spotlight he commands, but that would be analogous to covering Tiger Woods ad nauseam when he's below the weekend cut line at a major championship.
Other than a nice, 12-yard completion to Andrew Hawkins rolling to his right in the second quarter, nothing happened for Manziel to write home about before intermission.
The first half produced 27 plays for 84 yards, suggesting the Browns offense may have gotten even worse. Cleveland's defense even generated a fumble recovery, an interception and a turnover on downs, yet it still didn't net more than three points in the first 30 minutes of action.
Brent Sobleski of USA Today weighed in on the arrhythmic, anemic offense:
Problem, as I see it, is both Hoyer & Manziel pressing. Neither is entirely comfortable w/offense, yet they're asked to be perfect each snap— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) August 19, 2014
Washington has a clear starting QB in Robert Griffin III, who threw an interception to Browns star cornerback Joe Haden, but he also hit Andre Roberts for a 49-yard gain at the end of the first. Griffin finished 6-of-8 for 112 yards passing, and his long bomb didn't yield any points, because Alfred Morris was denied at the goal line.
And we thought, based on insider buzz collected by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, that Washington had quarterback issues before Monday's contest:
Kirk Cousins led Washington on an eight-play, 60-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, hitting rookie Ryan Grant for a 16-yard strike in the end zone to open up a 14-3 lead.
Manziel came back onto the field with decent field position after Anthony Armstrong ripped off a solid kickoff return. However, Armstrong was hit hard on an accurate Manziel pass on 4th-and-2, giving the ball back to Washington and sucking the wind out of Cleveland's offense.
Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network highlighted the carnage at one juncture in the game:
Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel have combined for 13 series thru 2 games. 0 touchdowns. Here comes Manziel for series no. 14...— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 19, 2014
Penalties helped to aid Manziel's lone scoring drive, which went for 16 plays and 68 yards but came in the fourth quarter against Washington backups. It wasn't much, thanks to Manziel, save for a 3rd-and-6 conversion to Josh Gordon, who is the only viable receiving weapon and is likely facing a lengthy suspension.
Subtle, crafty work by Manziel saw him find Dion Lewis on a screen pass, and he took it to paydirt to cut the deficit to 14-10. Was it any consolation? Not really.
TOUCHDOWN BROWNS! Johnny Manziel with a shovel pass to Dion Lewis, who runs it in for an 8-yard TD. Redskins lead 14-10.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 19, 2014
In other, hilarious news from this game, the Browns were gifted the win when ex-Cleveland QB Colt McCoy's weak arm laid a pick-six up to newly arrived Browns safety Jim Leonhard. Then McCoy delivered the game-winning TD on a post to Nick Williams.
This is the preseason, and even though the Browns remained close on the scoreboard, it is not indicative of the disparity between what looks like another putrid Cleveland team and a progressing Washington bunch.
ESPN's telecast even foreshadowed what may await the Browns when they travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season opener:
First, ESPN shows Colt McCoy getting clocked at Pittsburgh. Then he throws a pick-six to Jim Leonhard.— Steve Doerschuk (@sdoerschukREP) August 19, 2014
Based on the fact that Manziel worked well into the fourth quarter and led Cleveland to its only touchdown of the preseason, perhaps it is true that he is being groomed to start Week 1 at Pittsburgh. Until Washington's starters were off the field, though, the following quote from Manziel last week rang true.
Who will be the Browns' starting QB in Week 1 of the regular season?
"I don't think I'm ready for Pittsburgh right now," said Manziel on Saturday (via CBSSports.com's Will Brinson). "I've only played one game."
Signs of improvement surfaced late, but a moderately respectable passing game is necessary for Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking running scheme to work. The Browns aren't even close to approaching that status, based on their display on prime time.
Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had to have some familiarity, since he coached with Shanahan on the Redskins staff as recently as last season. Nevertheless, there was a clear superiority in quarterback play between Washington and Cleveland. That is the most important position, and the Browns have seen 20 different starting QBs come and go since 1999.
Until the Browns figure out their solution under center—or commit to just one player and exercise some patience while he develops—they will continue to languish among the NFL's worst teams.