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Johnny Manziel's Putrid 1st Start Has to Be Alarming for Browns

David Richard/AP Images
Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterDecember 14, 2014

Hold on…do you mean you can't succeed at the quarterback position in the NFL by just upchucking lobs into the middle of the field like you're at the county fair trying to throw rings around milk bottles?

Are you telling me that what you could do at Texas A&M, you can't do in the pros? That everyone is faster than you? More athletic? You mean if you don't study hard all the time in a league with so many intelligent men who bust their ass in the classroom, you might fail?

You mean to say that in the NFL you have to be an accurate passer if you want to be a good quarterback? Nooooooo waaaayyyyy.

When Johnny Manziel was in college, he was electric. He was brilliant. He was the best. That may still happen in his professional career. But against the Cincinnati Bengals and their 20th-ranked passing defense Sunday, he was none of that. He was, as some across football predicted when Manziel was drafted, just another guy. He was worse. He made Tim Couch look like Joe Montana.

The Browns were destroyed, 30-0, by Cincinnati. It was the first time Cleveland has been shut out since Nov. 16, 2009—that one coming against the Ray Lewis-led Ravens.

Manziel looks like a less athletic Tim Tebow and a less accurate JaMarcus Russell. That is not an overreaction. That isn't hyperbole. That is the eye test. Manziel looked overwhelmed and overmatched against an average defense—a defense Brian Hoyer beat for 24 points five weeks ago.

There was definitely a general feeling around the NFL going into this game, especially from players, that Manziel was being hyped far beyond his capabilities. That's (mostly) not Manziel's fault. 

Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported that the Bengals players had discussed this week what they'd do when they got their hands on Manziel—whether it'd be worth taking taunting penalties to mock his signature money-sign celebration gesture. To expound on Glazer's reporting, one Bengals player texted to me how the team felt the "media was building this guy up when he didn't deserve it."

By the end of the first half, Bengals defenders had netted about as many money-sign celebrations as Manziel had completions. He was 4-of-9 with 22 yards and two interceptions for a 12.0 rating.

David Richard/Associated Press

He's only a rookie, but this was troubling for Manziel for a number of reasons. At times, Manziel looked slow. Really slow. A lot slower than almost everyone around him. A huge running lane would open, Manziel would step into it, and it would suddenly close. Instead of Manziel running the football, it looked like Refrigerator Perry.

Manziel was also sloppy. On one pass attempt into the end zone, he threw sideways across his body into the middle of the field, and it was intercepted. In college, that play would have gone for a touchdown. In the pros, it goes into the belly of a defensive back.

Browns coach Mike Pettine told reporters after the game, "There were flashes of [Manziel's it factor], but they were brief."

Those flashes lasted milliseconds.

"I never felt overwhelmed out there," Manziel told reporters after the game. "It was never too difficult."

"This is the tip of the iceberg," he added. "This organization drafted me, and I think going into it I even knew one bad start, I'm not going to be written off forever."

David Richard/Associated Press

What was perhaps most surprising was his inaccuracy. Passes sailed high. Passes went into the dirt. Obviously not all of this was Manziel's fault, as the offensive line played with uber-putridity. But when Manziel had a clean pocket and open receivers, he still missed badly.

That has to scare the Browns coaches. I hate the argument that to win you need to throw exclusively from the pocket. However, I do think to win, a quarterback in the pocket has to hit open receivers. Duh.

You see that with a player like Russell Wilson, who uses his athleticism to force defenses to respect his running ability but is also an accurate thrower. Manziel was supposed to be some sort of double threat, but if you're not fast, can't throw from the pocket and can't complete passes to open receivers, you're not a double threat. You're Brandon Weeden.

Yes, it's true, you can't judge Manziel on one game. But this is as alarming a beginning as you will ever see a quarterback have.

Unfortunately for Manziel, Louisiana-Monroe isn't next on the Browns schedule.

 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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