Johnny Manziel stumbles early, often in less than spectacular debut start
Let's be clear about one thing amid all the infernally hot takes regarding the first NFL start of Johnny Manziel: A bad start to an NFL career doesn't really mean much. For every quarterback who has started hot only to flame out just as quickly, there's a quarterback who threw up all over himself to start his career and then went on to do great things.
That said, Manziel's performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was not one that will have tongues wagging about his future -- at least, not in a positive sense. Manziel looked overwhelmed and frustrated more often than not in Sunday's 30-0 loss, throwing several passes too high and finishing with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 80 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks. Cincinnati's defense, which had been exploited by the legs of Carolina's Cam Newton in a 37-37 Week 6 tie, shut Manziel down in the Bengals' second matchup against a truly mobile quarterback this season. Manziel ran five times for 13 yards, and most of them were scrambles as opposed to designed runs.
"He didn't play well," Browns head coach Mike Pettine said after the game. "He played like a rookie, and looked like a rookie."
Not that it was all Manziel's fault. The Browns managed only 53 rushing yards on 17 attempts and had just 38 total plays. Cleveland's defense, which had kept the team afloat while Brian Hoyer had been dealing with his own struggles under center, gave up 244 yards on the ground on 45 carries and allowed rookie Jeremy Hill to run wild for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts. Andy Dalton wasn't too great himself, completing 14-of-24 passes for 117 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but the Bengals were firing on all other cylinders, while the Browns were decidedly not.
Myriad quarterback issues aside, it may be time to concede that the Browns aren't a very good team, that their 7-7 record is about as positive a result as could be expected, and it's time to let either Manziel or Hoyer take their lumps while a foundation is built around them. There's a great deal of talent in Cleveland, from the offensive line to the backfield to the defense, but this is a team that is struggling to hold it together consistently. What Pettine must do now is avoid the quarterback back-and-forth he's engaged in of late. He's seen Hoyer become ineffective, and he's seen Manziel take his lumps. The question going forward is whether the Browns will let Manziel try to unlock his higher upside or give the ball back to Hoyer and hope that experience trumps the veteran's obvious limitations.
What we do know is that Manziel didn't make anyone's job easier with this performance. Including his own. Pettine said after the game that Manziel will get to start the rest of the way this season, but we'll see how the vagaries of the position play out.