With Browns Offense Sputtering, Johnny Manziel's Time Is Coming

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With Browns Offense Sputtering, Johnny Manziel's Time Is Coming
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Brian Hoyer took over just 37 yards away from paydirt. He had two minutes and 39 seconds to drive the Cleveland Browns that far and ride the high of a successful drive into halftime.

Working quickly, Hoyer completed five of six passes, mixed in with a couple of runs. He capped off the drive with a five-yard touchdown strike to Andrew Hawkins. Kicker Billy Cundiff nailed the extra point, and the Browns offense walked off the field with their mission accomplished.

Unfortunately, the scoreboard read "RAMS 20, BROWNS 7."

After halftime, the first-team offense got two more possessions—but one ended with a lost sack-fumble on its busted first play, and the second was a three-and-out. By the time Johnny Manziel got on the field Saturday night, there was only 8:20 left in the third quarter, and the Browns were down 23-7 to the St. Louis Rams in their Week 3 preseason matchup.

This was the Browns' dress rehearsal for the 2014 regular season, their chance to game-plan and prepare for an opponent just like they will when the games count. It's one reason why Cleveland christened Hoyer the starter in the run-up to this game so coaches could install a real game plan with all the offensive starters in place.

Judging by the boos raining down from the Dawg Pound, the audience didn't enjoy their sneak preview.

 

The Quarterback of the Present?

David Richard/Associated Press

Brian Hoyer played a quintessential Brian Hoyer game: He went a respectable 10-of-16 passing, gaining an uninspiring 5.3 yards per average attempt. His touchdown to Hawkins was his only score, and he threw a poor interception two series before.

The sack-fumble also came with Hoyer under center, though it looked like the play the Browns ran wasn't the one Hoyer thought he'd called. He didn't get a lot of help from his receivers, either, and his offensive line struggled keep him clean without committing penalties.

The veteran's effort was admirable, but the bottom line wasn't: Seven points on seven possessions.

That's, frankly, miserable. Though they were playing against a quality Rams defense with a pass rush feared around the NFL, the Browns offense just didn't look good enough.

That didn't change when Manziel came in.

 

The Quarterback of the Future?

Manziel had the luxury of taking over at the St. Louis 14-yard line, and he made the most of it.

His first pass fell incomplete, but a defensive pass interference call put the ball on the 1-yard line anyway. Manziel couldn't connect with tight end Gary Barnidge in the end zone, and then a Chris Ogbonnaya touchdown plunge was taken off the board by a holding penalty.

That's when Manziel showed his inexperience. On 2nd-and-goal from the St. Louis 11, Manziel couldn't get everyone lined up fast enough. He took a brutal delay-of-game penalty, moving the Browns two yards behind their initial line of scrimmage.

Finally, Manziel got them moving forward, hitting receiver Willie Snead for a nine-yard gain. The NFL-watching world got the moment it had been waiting for: He went full Johnny Football.

David Richard/Associated Press

His scramble and run for seven yards and six points was exactly the kind of highlight-reel magic Browns fans had hoped Manziel would conjure in each of the two prior games.

Even so, it only closed the gap to 23-14, and the Browns didn't score another point.

 

The Ugly Truth

In the preseason game that most closely resembles regular-season play, the Browns didn't score a point unless they were handed the ball inside their opponent's 40-yard line.

It's time for Browns fans, and the football-watching world, to face the ugly truth: Without All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon, this Browns offense just isn't very good.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Even though Hoyer and Manziel are very different quarterbacks, the end result was similar. Both quarterbacks moved the ball in fits and starts, made some ugly mistakes, made a few nice plays and managed to score once—but only once.

No matter who's under center for the Browns, they're going to struggle to put up points. They don't have enough downfield weapons to scare opposing secondaries. The wildly diverse playbook offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan built to accommodate both Hoyer and Manziel seems to have the whole unit disorganized. They're making too many mistakes, are too reliant on the run game and have zero consistency.

That's why Hoyer should start for the brutal early slate against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. However, that's also why Manziel's going to start sooner rather than later.

If Brian Hoyer doesn't give the Browns a noticeably better chance to win, he's going to hit the bench the instant head coach Mike Pettine feels comfortable with Manziel facing first-team defenses.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Because, Hoyer's status as a beloved native son aside, Manziel is the man in Cleveland. He's the first-round pick, he's the guy whose jersey is being bought by the truckload, he's the guy who's turned the Browns into a major national story. He's the savior of the franchise.

Unless Hoyer steps his game up significantly, Manziel will get the job the instant he's ready—or sooner.

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