Fresh off a loss which begged their still-loyal fans to root for literally any other football team, the Cleveland Browns are heading into a much-needed bye week. The team put forth a brutal performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, failing at almost every level of the game. By the time the final seconds ran off the clock, there was nothing you could say about the Browns other than there were nearly zero bright spots in the defeat.
I say nearly because there was, surprisingly, something to be positive about after losing to Pittsburgh 30-9. This would be the play of quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Despite reports surfacing last week claiming the team no longer trusted him, Manziel gave the Browns a lot to think about during their extended break. However, none of this pondering should be about who should start at QB for the rest of the season. After yesterday, the team is officially out of any sort of excuses they could use to put Manziel back on the bench.
When he beat the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, Manziel was relegated to backup quarterback because veteran Josh McCown had healed from his concussion. Though he displayed progress, he clearly still had room to improve.
When the team was still considering putting McCown back in after Manziel started in his place during a Week 9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the hesitation was based on a shoddy second half and some off-the-field issues.
After yesterday, though, coach Mike Pettine doesn’t have anything else which would explain why going back to McCown is an even remotely sane call.
Manziel finished with a couple turnovers, but also threw for 372 yards, by far his career high. In fact, he was so far and beyond the only good part of yesterday’s game that, outside of him, the Browns gained -2 yards of offense.
On top of this, his footwork was much improved, as he’s looking less and less skittish in the pocket with every start. His on-field confidence continues to grow, as well, seen especially in the fact he was able to recover from a sloppy fumble on the first offensive play of the game.
During today’s presser, Pettine claimed he’s not prepared to name Manziel the starter for the rest of the season, but will have that conversation.
Frankly, the conversation should be “we’re sticking with Johnny” followed by head nods and a change of subject.
It would be an insult to the fans if Pettine decided to go back to McCown, who will not be the future of the team, and may not be anything more than a backup for the rest of his time in Cleveland. The move would be made for no other reason than Pettine being incredibly stubborn, and thanks to the progress Manziel has shown, it would also risk dividing a locker room already in disarray.
Yes, McCown has been good this year. But, what will anyone learn about this team if it loses out with a 36-year-old QB at the helm? What players in the locker room would understand the logic of keeping McCown in because he “earned the job in training camp”?
In Manziel’s first two starts, there were caveats when considering whether or not to keep him in. Yesterday, he erased any level of doubt about his spot on this team, regardless of the overall result of the game.
It’s not Manziel’s fault the Browns defense shouldn’t be trusted to catch a runaway puppy, much less an NFL receiver. It’s not his fault the Browns are one of the least disciplined teams in football (pro, college or high school). It’s not his fault the team can’t run the ball behind an embarrassingly under-performing offensive line.
The positives to take away from yesterday’s game are few and far between. However, the play of Manziel was clearly one of them. As a result, Pettine is officially out of any legitimate reasoning to hold him back.