Tale of the Tape for Johnny Manziel Heading into Regular Season

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterAugust 29, 2014

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As quarterback Johnny Manziel continues the transition process to the pro level, let’s take a look back at what the Cleveland Browns rookie put on the tape this preseason.

Here are my notes on Manziel’s development with a focus on technique, pocket management, scheme and the corrections the Texas A&M product has to make before he can produce consistently in the NFL.


Technique (Footwork, Mechanics, Release Point)

Manziel’s technique in the pocket was inconsistent when studying his footwork, hips and the release/target point in both the three- and five-step passing game.

Here’s a positive example with Manziel throwing the deep dig route (square-in) off play action with Regular/21 personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB) in the game versus Cover 1.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

As you can see here, Manziel sets his feet at the top of the drop, closes his hips and delivers the ball (with velocity) to the upfield shoulder of the receiver (away from the defender’s leverage).

However, there are multiple situations we can point to this preseason where Manziel struggled with his footwork while opening his hips at the release point.

This forced Manziel to leave the throw short on the deep 7 cut (corner) route, sail the ball on inside vertical concepts (seam) or miss to the back shoulder in the underneath passing game (slant, smash, shallow drive route).

This play below is from Week 2 versus Washington’s interior A-gap pressure with blitz-man technique in the secondary.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

With the running back scanning in protection, Manziel has the opportunity to set his feet and deliver the ball on a quick read to the tight end in the flat (stick-out combination).

Instead, the rookie gives ground, fades back on the release and misses on a throw he has to make at the NFL level.

These are just a couple of examples, but the inconsistency shows up all over the preseason tape when breaking down his technique inside the pocket versus both coverage and pressure.

Pocket Management

This is where Manziel can improve at the NFL level by showing the ability to step up, slide and maintain his eye discipline within the pocket to work through his progressions.

At times, Manziel can get lost in the pocket as he looks for an exit door to break contain—and that’s when his eye level begins to drop.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

This forces the rookie to panic, as he can’t find room to run. And that prevents him from moving to his second/third options within the route scheme.

Yes, Manziel has the skill set to make plays once he gets outside of the pocket (as I will address later in this post).

However, from the perspective of developing in the pro game, he has to learn how to manage the pocket while showing the ability to make the necessary reads in the passing game.

The Boot Game

Manziel is at his best within Kyle Shanahan’s scheme when he can get to the edge of the formation in the boot game.

This allows the rookie to extend the play and keep his eyes up the field while creating time for routes to develop off the boot action.

Here’s a look at the swap boot in the Browns' system versus the Rams' Cover 2 with Manziel working back to the open (weak) side of the formation.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

With the No. 1 receiver to the open side of the formation forcing the cloud cornerback to sink versus the vertical release, Manziel can look to his second-level read (tight end on the over route) or dump the ball underneath to the fullback in the flat (swap).

Throughout the preseason, Manziel has shown much more accuracy in the boot game, and he looks comfortable delivering the ball (with the proper placement) when he is outside of the pocket versus both zone and man defenses.

This is another example of Manziel running the boot out of Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) versus Cover 1.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

Look at the ball placement here with a defender playing from a trail position versus the over route. This is a confident throw from Manziel that had to be put on the upfield shoulder of the receiver given the leverage from the defensive back in coverage.

The movement passes in Shanahan’s offense cater to Manziel’s ability on the edge with a run/pass option for the quarterback.

Identifying Pressure  

In the Week 3 game versus the Rams, Manziel was much quicker to identify pressure and get the ball out to his No. 1 read (or “hot” read) when Gregg Williams’ defense utilized its blitz packages.

This was an improvement from Week 2 with Manziel finding his underneath option versus zero-man (blitz-man with no safety help in the middle of the field).

Here’s a look at Manziel throwing the smash route against edge pressure from the Rams.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

With Williams’ defense sending seven-man pressure (playing off-man in the secondary), Manziel throws the underneath smash route (smash-7 combination) to move the sticks and set the Browns up in the deep red zone.

The point here is that Manziel showed the ability to identify the pressure/coverage look and get the ball out quickly to his No. 1 read.

That was an issue back in Week 2, and the rookie proved he could make the proper adjustment to win versus pressure looks.

Playmaking Ability at the Quarterback Position

The Browns ran some read-option with Manziel this preseason out of the pistol alignment to utilize his athletic ability on the edge.

However, the way I see it, Manziel’s true talent shows up when he can escape pressure, extend the play and get into the open field.

That’s where we see his quickness, vision and unique playmaking ability at the quarterback position to pick up the sticks on third down or produce in the red zone.

Take a look at Manziel versus the Rams in the deep red zone versus Cover 2.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

Out of a 3x1 alignment, the Browns run double “shake” (or “nod”) routes with an underneath smash to the closed side of the formation.

But with a deep half safety over the top on the inside double-moves, Manziel steps up in the pocket, holds the seam-hook defender with the pump and uses his open-field ability to put this ball in the end zone.

There’s no question Manziel has to improve in the dropback game based on his pocket awareness.

However, his ability to run with the football and make plays once he breaks contain does create stress for opposing defenses.

What's Next for the Rookie Quarterback?

Manziel is going to begin the year as the No. 2 in Cleveland behind veteran Brian Hoyer—and the tape from the preseason supports that.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

At this point, the rookie isn’t ready to run the Browns system versus regular-season defensive game plans, and his technique issues have to be corrected before he can produce against starting talent in the secondary.

However, if Manziel can make the proper adjustments to clean up his footwork and throw the ball with more accuracy in the short-to-intermediate passing game, he can continue to develop with live-game reps this season while showcasing his rare skill set when plays break down.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 


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