Johnny Manziel, despite not even being the top quarterback taken in the 2014 draft, is getting as much air time on ESPN these days as LeBron James. He is a polarizing figure, to say the least, and all of his off field antics are well documented via social media and the news. The guy simply can’t do much of anything without public scrutiny. The over coverage tends to get a bit annoying to the average football fan, but thankfully soon none of this stuff will matter as the focus shifts to what happens on the field.
No team takes a player in the first round without having designs of getting contributions from said player as soon as possible. While some teams, like the Jaguars, take a quarterback and intend to sit him for a while, in reality the best players will play at some point. The Browns have give Johnny Manziel a pretty equal chance at winning the starting job in Cleveland, splitting first team reps between he and Brian Hoyer, and naming Manziel their preseason game 2 starter after Hoyer started game 1.
By all accounts, Manziel slightly outplayed Hoyer in the first preseason game against the Lions. Manziel completed 7 of his 11 pass attempts for 63 yards (5.7 avg) and rushed 6 times for 27 yards (4.5 avg). Hoyer was 6 of 14 for 92 yards (6.6 avg) with no rushing stats. The offensive playcalling changed from one to another, playing to Manziel’s strength as an improviser and a more mobile quarterback than Hoyer.
But why does this all matter to the Ravens? The obvious reason is this is a team that they must face twice a year. Even though the Browns have been mired in mediocrity for a long time, they have made strides over the last couple of seasons with the talent they have added on both sides of the ball. In the NFL, success and failure are a year to year proposition. With an solid defense and excellent offensive line, the Browns can easily be one of those teams who go from worst to first in one season. Two divisional wins or losses can quite literally make or break a season.
So which quarterback poses a bigger threat to the Ravens? Brian Hoyer was very solid for the Browns last year before going down with a torn ACL. Appearing in three games, he went 57 of 96 for 615 yards (6.41 avg) with 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 82.6. A former pet project of Bill Belichick with the Patriots, Hoyer also saw time with the Cardinals in 2012 before catching on the with perennially quarterback needy Browns last season.
Hoyer is still young at 28 but has widely been considered to have a ceiling as a solid backup at best. He is a pocket passer who can perform well in spurts, and his athleticism isn’t going to improve following his ACL tear. Hoyer did go 2-0 in the 2 games he started last year, sparking the Brown’s offense in a way that Brandon Weeden certainly could not. But streaky and inconsistent quarterbacks have a history of making great backups, and poor starters. See Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel, etc.
Johnny Manziel is gifted with athletic ability and seems to have that “it” factor on the field. He seemingly willed Texas A&M to victory time and time again, no matter what the odds. He is a legendary college football player, no matter what happens in the pros. If not for his off field antics, he would have been the consensus number one quarterback in the draft, and most likely the number one pick overall. But alas, the Tim Tebow debacle has scared teams away.
And make no mistake, if Hoyer starts the team will be under tremendous pressure if he struggles, and maybe even if he doesn’t. All eyes will be on Manziel regardless, and the pressure to play him will become intense unless Hoyer comes out and looks like the next iteration of Peyton Manning. Which he will not, barring a miracle. All bets are on Manziel taking snaps under center before midseason.
So it seems pretty obvious that the Browns will pose a bigger threat to opposing teams with a guy like Manziel under center. His ability to create plays when things break down and improvise means that opposing defenses must game plan for him differently. The good news is, the Ravens have one of the best linebacking units in the league, and have added some speed on defense this year. Savvy veterans Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Daryl Smith have the smarts to counter Manziel’s on field antics. Young guys like C.J. Mosley have the speed to track him down when he breaks loose.
It’s an exciting time to be a Browns fan, for sure. After living with futility at the quarterback position for so long, they may finally have one (or two) that will stick. The downside is one of those guys is a media darling, and all eyes will be on Cleveland 24/7, no matter who they go with at quarterback. It will be fun to see just how well Johnny Manziel pans out in the NFL, and we look forward to seeing him succeed. Except against the Ravens, of course.