Cleveland Browns Seek Clarity but Find None in Their Second Preseason Game

Will Burge@WillBurgeContributor IAugust 20, 2014

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) stands during the National Anthem before an NFL preseason football game against the Washington Redskins Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

At some point the Cleveland Browns would love some clarity. They would love clarity on who to start at quarterback. They would love clarity on what will come of Josh Gordon’s appeal. At this point, I’m sure head coach Mike Pettine would love some clarity on just what kind of football team he really has.

Thankfully it is just two weeks into the preseason and there is still time. That is the optimistic way of looking at things.

The pessimistic, or Cleveland way of looking at things, is the team not only looks lost on offense, but it seem to have more issues than they did one year ago. Heck, they seem to have more issues than they did two years ago under the consistently lost Pat Shurmur.

The reactions to Week 2 of the preseason are not very positive, and the Browns better start finding some answers or it could be another long, double-digit-loss season on the lakefront.

Quarterback competition is a dud

That stench you smell is the Browns quarterback competition stinking worse than a city landfill. On a night when one of the two contenders was supposed to separate themselves and win the job, both fell flat on their face.

In the first quarter, against Washington’s starting defense, they combined for no first downs and no points in three drives. In fact, the Browns failed to complete a pass against Washington’s starters. That is about as ugly as it gets.

That wasn’t it, however. There were poorly executed plays, mistimed snaps, penalties and utter confusion no matter who was behind center. It might be a new year and offense but so far this looks like the same old Browns.

Mike Pettine had hoped to name a starting quarterback on Tuesday but after that performance he decided he needed more time. I feel bad he has to watch that film over again. I did it three times and my eyes hurt.

Neither Brian Hoyer nor Johnny Manziel made any spectacular plays where they looked like a legitimate starter in the NFL. In fact, they both made some terrible throws. Let’s take a look at each quarterback’s worst pass.

Hoyer: 3rd-and-6 at Wash 11-yard line

ESPN screen capture

Hoyer was given a gift on this possession. Safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted a pass and set the Browns up inside the red zone. Just 15 yards were needed to put six points on the board.

Instead of scoring, however, Hoyer threw two incomplete passes. The second of which (pictured above) was as poor a throw as an NFL quarterback can make.

Andrew Hawkins has his man beat to the inside, and there is a wide-open throwing lane (outlined in red) in the middle of the end zone. This is a layup for most quarterbacks. Hoyer manages to throw the ball high and well behind Hawkins, forcing the Browns to settle for a field goal.

Hoyer’s footwork was fine on the throw; he was just very inaccurate.

Manziel: 3rd-and-11 at Wash 39-yard line

ESPN screen capture

This throw illustrated two things on which Manziel is still not up to speed. First, he does not recognize an all-out blitz being shown by Washington before the snap. This immediately puts him at a disadvantage, as he waits for a deep route to develop. That time simply does not exist on this particular pass play.

Second, when the pressure does come, he panics and makes an ill-advised throw off his back foot. You can see in the picture above that Manziel has defenders all around him and no room to step up. Instead of throwing the ball away or taking the sack, he opts to loft a dangerous pass into no man’s land somewhat near Josh Gordon.

He is lucky it was not intercepted.

By the numbers

ESPN screen capture

This was ESPN’s QB comparison image after both quarterbacks left the game. Neither was impressive but to the naked eye Manziel’s numbers look better.

But that is just not the case.

Despite Manziel’s 13 first downs, his touchdown throw and a much higher completion percentage in the same number of series as Hoyer, most of his success came against third- and fourth-string defenders.

The chart below shows how Manziel’s numbers break down per quarter. Remember, Washington pulled its starting defense after the first quarter. Most of Manziel’s damage was done in the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. Hoyer did not play past halftime.

Manziel By The Quarter
Quarter1st Q2nd Q3rd & 4th Q
Yards Gained By Offense-26095
Touchdowns001 Box Score

Boomer goes the dynamite

Four-time pro Bowl quarterback and contributor Boomer Esiason is apparently not a big fan of Manziel and his antics. In the second-half of the game Monday night, with his frustration overflowing, Manziel flipped the middle finger towards the Washington bench.

Esiason took exception to the move and told WFAN in New York, via, that this is exactly why he is not ready to play in the NFL just yet.

His ass would be driven into the ground. Because I’m telling you, other teams hate this guy. Hate him...I’m telling you, those linebackers for the Pittsburgh Steelers are just praying to God that (Manziel) plays in Week 1. And if I were (Cleveland head coach) Mike Pettine, I would have to have my head examined to put that kid on the field.

Mazniel is obviously a very divisive figure and it is tough to take anything anyone says without a grain of salt. He tends to bring out emotional responses in fans and media alike.

What Boomer was definitely correct about, however, was that Pittsburgh would love to see Manziel in Week 1. If he thinks the taunting was bad on Monday night he has no idea what he is in for on the road in a rivalry game.

Pettine is as lost as we are

Following the embarrassing performance by his QBs in their prime-time evaluation, Coach Pettine spoke with Peter King of The question that King asked was the one we all were wondering the answer to: Do you have any idea who your starting quarterback is going to be?

I don’t know...Neither guy really distinguished himself tonight, and we’ll have to go back and study the tape and figure out who to go with. I will lean on [offensive coordinator] Kyle Shanahan and [quarterback coach] Dowell Loggains quite a bit, because they’ve watched them every day.’’

I asked: “Do you have a gut feeling right now?”

“I don’t. I don’t,’’ said Pettine.

King then asked Pettine whether he had "gut feeling" about which QB he was leaning towards as the starter. Pettine replied, “I don’t. I don’t."

And really how could he have a good idea who to pick? On one hand you have a veteran who has been underwhelming this preseason. On the other hand you have a rookie who, while he has made major strides, still looks like the NFL game is moving too fast for him.

This is why Browns owner Jimmy Haslam pays Pettine the big bucks. He will make the decision, whether it is now or later, which will be scrutinized for the entire season. Welcome to being an NFL head coach.

Still receiving bad news

The Browns receiver corps were abysmal on Monday night. Andrew Hawkins and Josh Gordon combined for just two catches despite being targeted eight times. Miles Austin was a no show in the box score, and there were drops galore.

Gordon is obviously distracted as the announcement of his suspension nears. He dropped two passes that he normally holds on to. It looked like a clear lack of concentration.

Another member of the receiver group, Travis Benjamin, left the game last night, but the injury was not as bad as originally thought. Benjamin left the game and the team feared the worst.

Press box announcement: Concussion test revealed #Browns WR Travis Benjamin doesn't have a concussion, but he is out because of a rib injury

— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 19, 2014

While they should be happy it is not a concussion; if Benjamin misses any significant time it is yet another blow to a very thin and questionable crop of receivers. It would also mean they would take a huge hit in the return game as well. Benjamin, when healthy, has been one of the most dangerous return men in the league.

That may not seem like a huge deal but consider how poor the Browns offense looks. It needs all the field position and points it can get. Benjamin could be a huge part of the support system around a young and shaky offense.


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