Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel made his NFL preseason debut on Saturday evening. The 2014 first-round pick and former Heisman Trophy winner had his ups and downs throughout the game, but his overall performance can be seen as a success.
Manziel finished the night completing 7-of-11 passes for 63 yards while tallying 27 yards on six rush attempts. Due to circumstances out of their control, the Browns were unable to play Manziel behind their first-team offensive line, which means that it was hard to get acquire a full understanding of how Manziel performed in the grand scheme of things. He was constantly under pressure and didn’t have the necessary time to go through his secondary reads.
Reports are now surfacing that Manziel will start in Cleveland’s second preseason game against the Washington Redskins. We will have a better understanding of where he’s at as a potential starter in the NFL at that point.
But for now, let’s focus on a couple aspects of Manziel’s game that we can take away from his performance against the Detroit Lions.
1. Play-Making Ability
Manziel played his game to the best of his ability. He was able to skirt pressure throughout the night, finding receiving options in the flat. That was his MO at Texas A&M and it will be how he earns his cash in the NFL.
The rookie did a tremendous job finding Terrance West in the flat along the right hash when he was faced with pressure up the middle. Stepping away from the pressure and up in the pocket, Manziel hit West in stride, enabling the rookie running back to gain eight yards. A little bit earlier in his appearance, Manziel avoided pressure and stepped up for a nice 16-yard gain. It was the most Johnny Football-like play of the game.
What you will notice above everything else is the fact that Manziel had the presence of mind to look behind him and realize that Lions’ defenders were closing on him. At that point, the smallish quarterback made the correct decision to slide. Understanding that NFL players are much stronger and bigger than what he went up against in the SEC will go a long way in extending Manziel’s career.
2. Struggling with Reads and Decision Making
Instead of finding the open receiver here, Manziel decided to tuck the ball and run. The result was a minimal gain. He needs to do a better job keeping his eyes down the field in situations like this. More than that, Manziel went with his primary read far too often on Saturday. Some of that may have had to do with lackluster pass protections from Cleveland’s second-team offensive line, but it’s something Manziel will have to work on moving forward.
In reality, he looked a lot like Colin Kaepernick during the earlier stages of his starting career. That is to say, Manziel struggled finding his secondary targets throughout the evening. While fixable, it’s something to concentrate on down the road in the preseason and if Manziel breaks camp as Cleveland’s starter.
During his initial possession of the game, Manziel rolled out left on a called run from the pistol. And he was greeted by waiting Lions’ defenders, giving him first-hand experience that the speed of the NFL is much different than the SEC. Manziel was stopped for no gain by Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis.
You have to remember that Manziel was thrown out there behind a second-string offensive line. He wasn’t able to find consistent time in the pocket and that limited his ability to go through progressions/reads. When the rookie quarterback was able to sit in the pocket, he looked extremely comfortable and did a decent job finding his secondary targets.
Inconsistency was somewhat of an issue for Manziel. As you saw above, he struggled keeping his eyes down the field. That’s going to be somewhat of an issue moving forward until Manziel gains some seasoning in the NFL. He didn’t have any problem understanding the nuances of the offense. Even when the officials made a mistake by not resetting the play clock, Manziel calmly let the clock run down and enabled them to fix the issue on their end. He called the right plays, remained calm in the pocket, didn’t struggle when pressure came through the middle and was darn accurate throughout the night.
With all that said, I want to see how Manziel performs in live-game action against a first-team defense (if you want to call the Redskins that). This is when he will be given a scripted playbook out of the gate and an ability to run his offense with the starters. If Manziel plays at the level he did Saturday evening against Washington next week, he may very well earn the starting gig.
Photo: USA Today