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Johnny Manziel isn't ready to start, not even close

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White took a closer look at Johnny Football's big game against the Bengals last week and found a young quarterback who isn't ready to start.

The best football coaches I've come across all waited until they watched the film to give specific critiques of their players. Whether you are in the booth or down on the field, you are always going to miss some things that happen during the game. Hell, sometimes you'll swear you saw something that never happened. What you end up missing or thinking you saw could change your opinion on what happened on any given play.

That's why teams have game film shot both from the high on the side and from the end zone. They can see just about all the detail that's possible to see on every play. The good coaches want confirmation that a player screwed up before they come out and accuse them of something because the good coaches never want to lose credibility in the locker room if they're wrong.

Buuuuuuut the best coaches are also usually right about who screwed up in real time.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine seemed displeased with his second-year quarterback, Johnny Manziel, during a halftime interview on Thursday. Manziel had just led his team on a touchdown scoring drive, a drive that brought the Browns back to within seven points of the Bengals. Pettine was actually derided on Twitter at the time because his complaint centered on Manziel not being productive enough from the pocket.

From the pocket?

Why in the hell would he want him to stay in the pocket?


In the moment what he said struck me as curious, too. After all, at least part of the reason why the Browns selected Manziel in the first round last spring was because of his improvisational skills. Skills that helped him win a Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M. So, why would Pettine be so upset about Manziel doing arguably what it is he does best?

Then I watched the all-22 of the game on Saturday morning. It all makes sense now.

When we watch the games on TV every week, we are at the mercy of what production crews decide to show us. From the camera angles to the replays we only get a certain amount of insight into what actually happens on each play. We also rarely have any way of knowing how each play is supposed to look as opposed to how the part of it that we get to see actually looks.

The coaching staff, especially the head coach, usually notices when things are not going the way they are supposed to. For instance, if a guy is wide open on a pass play, we may not know the guy was open, but the coaching staff usually does. That's because they are anticipating that guy being open before the ball is snapped. They know what the route combinations are supposed to look like and they can see what kind of coverage the opposing defense is running.

So, when that guy who is supposed to be open is in fact open, but the ball doesn't come to him, the jig is up when it comes to the staff. All of us on the outside looking in have a much harder time discerning that kind of stuff during the game.

Watching the coaches film after the fact made so many things fall into place for me. Let's be honest, even those of us in the business of breaking down NFL film every week who don't have a high opinion of Manziel's ability as an NFL quarterback believed that after he started in Week 2 and led the Browns to a 28-14 victory over the Titans that it was the last we were going to see of Josh McCown this season ... maybe ever.

But we were all wrong.

The Browns turned right back to McCown. Manziel went right back to the bench. That decision was received so poorly by Manziel that he ended up having some more "off-field issues" not long afterwards. The Browns had to know that it was to be a gut punch to Manziel to go back to the bench, yet they sat him back down anyway.

The kid simply isn't ready. That's not me saying so, that's the film. There were so many plays of his against the Bengals that illustrate this point that I won't even be able to go through all of them, just the most obvious ones.

Don't worry, there were still plenty of those.

The case for keeping Johnny on the bench

First, let's talk about one of the arguments for naming Manziel starter for the rest of the season -- which still may happen -- after his start against the Bengals and why it doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

This argument goes that while Manziel may not be ready to be a pocket passer, he does so much using his athleticism to get out of the pocket and make throws on the run. He still ends up being a net positive for the offense. It also kind of implies that while Manziel might be bad at going through his progressions and reading defenses, because he "makes things happen" outside of the pocket he still gives the rest of the offense juice.

On almost every one of Manziel's positive passing plays he actually also lost yards. The only passing plays where that wasn't the case were generally the screens that he threw. On plays where he had to actually decide who to throw to based on the route combinations and coverage, Manziel almost inevitably found ways to minimize the offense's production.

By the end of the game it didn't look like any of his receivers were still running their routes as hard as they had been. Probably because at that point they were no longer expecting him to actually sit in the pocket and go through his reads which made their crisp routes null and void.

So, I'm not buying that particular argument at all. At least not based on this game.

That's not being harsh, that's reporting the facts. But I can show you better than I can tell you.

One last thing before I start breaking down some of Manziel's plays. Can we all agree that statistically he sucked against the Bengals? I know Manziel fans will scream about drops, but there were basically two drops, both by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. Manziel was 17-of-33 passing, a completion percentage of 45.5 percent for 168 yards and one touchdown throwing the football. Give him two more completions and let's say, 30 more yards, and you you still have less than 200 yards passing off 33 passes and a completion percentage just over 51 percent. You can even add in his 31 rushing yards on four carries, but this still would be, at best, mediocre production, no?

Ok, good. That also means we should agree that since there is no statistical argument for Manziel being named the starter based on his game against the Bengals. The only good argument for naming him starter would have to be if his film were more impressive than his stats, right?


Start at the beginning

2-7-CLV 23 (14:24) (Shotgun) J. Manziel pass incomplete short right to I. Crowell

Lets start with the first passing play of the game. Yes, the first passing play of the game.

manziel first pass

This is an example of the Browns trying to get Manziel off to a good start, and him refusing to let them. The Browns came out with trips left shotgun on the second play of the game and had rookie running back Duke Johnson (red circle) go in yo-yo motion from the left side of the formation to the right side and back to the left before the snap. On the snap of the football Johnson went immediately to the flat while the two other receivers on that side ran interference up the field.

It was kind of like a pick play without necessarily needing the picks since the Bengals were sitting back in zone. All Manziel has to do is sling the pass out there to Johnson -- who appears to be the primary read by the way -- on an easy throw to the flat and let him run up the side line to get as many yards as he can. With Johnson's speed and ability to run after the catch, I'm saying he gets at least 8 yards with a good throw from Manziel, and I'm probably being conservative.

This is second-and-7 by the way. This nice, easy, obvious completion should've gotten the Browns pretty close to a first down.

The only problem is Manziel didn't throw the ball. At least not to Johnson.

Maniel is looking right at Johnson initially. He sees the route combination develop just like it's supposed to, but he just freezes up and doesn't throw the ball to Johnson.

Instead, he decides to scramble to his right and try to throw it to Isaiah Crowell on the right sideline. That pass fell incomplete. What was a probable first down turns into an incomplete pass and an unfavorable third-and-7 situation.

But whatevs, right? I mean third-and-7 is still doable.

3-7-CLV 23 (14:16) (Shotgun) J. Manziel pass short middle to T. Benjamin to CLV 32 for 9 yards

The Browns line up on the very next play with trips again to the left. To the right they have Travis Benjamin all by his lonesome. If you aren't familiar with Benjamin, this kid is suuuuper fast. I did a write-up on him for my preseason breakout players column where I compared him favorably to a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and believe you me he is that kind of fast.

The Bengals elected to blitz Manziel, which left them in man-to-man coverage with one safety deep. I always look at blitzes as opportunities for either team to make a big play. If the defense gets there, they can wreak all kinds of havoc and maybe even cause a turnover. If an offense can exploit where the blitz leaves the defense weak, they could possibly score on that play, too.

On this particular play, the Browns had three eligible receivers, who went out on pass routes. Only Benjamin, the guy by himself opposite the trips side of the formation, ran a route where he was available immediately after the snap. The other guys both ran longer routes that would not be open initially and thus were not viable options with the blitz coming.

Manziel 2

As a quarterback you have to know stuff like that, so when the blitz comes you can stand strong in the pocket and deliver the ball to the route, or one of the routes that are available to you right after the ball is snapped. He also has to know that he is probably going to get hit and just not give a damn.

Good quarterbacks know they have to sit in there and deliver the ball where it needs to go to make a defense pay when they blitz. The Browns had that opportunity on this play.

If Manziel had recognized the blitz was coming, realized Benjamin (red circle) was the only guy he was be able to hit right away and delivered the ball right to him, there is a legitimate chance Benjamin scores on this play after he runs away from Dre Kirkpatrick. The closest linebacker (blue circle) has his back to Benjamin and he is definitely fast enough to run right by the single high safety George Iloka (green circle).

Instead, Manziel looked to the routes to his left first, the routes that were going to take too long to get open. As he stared down two routes that had almost no chance of getting open quick, he continued to drift back in the pocket to avoid the blitz. By the time he realized Benjamin was open, Manziel was more than 10 yards back from the line of scrimmage with Bengals rushers now in his face. Manziel still managed to get the pass off by throwing off his back foot, but couldn't get much on it. Benjamin was able to get over and catch what was basically a touch pass at that point for a 9-yard gain, but he had to settle down to haul it in which gave Kirkpatrick the opportunity to tackle him.

First down!

Yeah, it was a first down. And yeah, watching it live it seemed as if Manziel had made a play by drifting back and avoiding the rush before threw the pass. The reality is that had Manziel done what any good quarterback does in that situation as soon as he caught the snap -- planted his back foot to deliver the ball to Benjamin -- that catch and run ends up being a much bigger play.

Tell me I'm wrong.

Those are literally the first two passing plays of the game. Both were designed for Manziel to have easy reads and he still found a way to screw them up. Maybe not disastrously, but they were screw-ups all the same.

3-13-CLV 29 (12:37) (Shotgun) J. Manziel pass incomplete deep left to T. Benjamin

Fast forward to later on the same drive. The Browns found themselves way off schedule, facing third-and-13. The offensive coordinator dialed up a pass play. They have a trips bunch to the right and they used a receiver and tight end (orange circles) on that side to kind of clear things up the field so Johnson (red circle) -- lined up in that bunch and trailing just behind both of them after the snap -- would be open up the seam.

It worked!

Manziel 3

I don't know if Johnson would've actually gained 14 yards (purple line) had the ball been thrown to him, but with a good ball and his normal run after catch ability, it likely would've been close by the time he got tackled.

We'll never know because Manziel said screw going with the play design shit, pirouetted out to his left and took off running the moment he felt some pressure from that direction. Instead of throwing the ball to Johnson on a play that seemed like it was drawn up that way, Manziel tried to complete what ended up being, like, a 25-yard comeback route to Benjamin after he scrambled to the left.

Manziel 4

His pass fell to the turf after Bengals corner Adam Jones came up from behind and slapped it out of Benjamin's hands as he tried to haul it in.

See, that's that would drive me nuts as an offensive coordinator. Hell, that would drive me nuts as a defensive coordinator too for that matter.

You don't think Pettine wishes he got 10 more yards of field position before that punt? The OC gave him a good play, one that should have been an easy read and relatively easy throw, and he didn't even try to give it a chance as soon as he felt some pressure. If he just side stepped to the left, he could have delivered the ball to Johnson and given him a chance to convert. Instead, he turned his back to him and went the other way to look for the home run. Before he gets any better he will have to learn that you have to hit singles and doubles if you ever want to win in the NFL.

Big plays that could've been bigger

2-10-CLV 20 (3:13) (Shotgun) J. Manziel pass deep left to D. Johnson Jr. ran ob at CLV 46 for 26 yards

OK, fast forward to the 3:13 mark of the second quarter. Those of you who are actually Manziel fans who have made it this far into the column (not many I'd imagine) will probably remember this play from Thursday night. Manziel took off scrambling to his left (again) and he found Johnson for a 26-yard gain up the left sideline. You know, the play where Johnson caught it as he was going out of bounds.

Manziel 5

So, here's the thing about that play. Duke Johnson was open for a loooooong time. If Manziel hits him here deep in the middle with nobody around him, I'm going to go ahead and say Johnson picks up a lot more than 26 yards. Hell, with his speed he might score. However, Manziel didn't see him before he left the pocket. When he did, he still waited to throw it to him after he left the pocket until Johnson had nowhere to go but out of bounds after the catch.

Manziel 6

Again, he actually lost yardage with this completion. While some of us were marveling at him scrambling out of the pocket and "making something happen," Manziel's coaches and many of his teammates knew he had actually missed an opportunity for an even bigger play.

3-5-CIN 12 (:27) (Shotgun) J. Manziel pass short right to D. Johnson Jr. for 12 yards, TOUCHDOWN

I'm going to really blow your mind now because remember the Manziel touchdown you were hyped about?

Yeah, you. You know the one.

The Browns only scored one touchdown, so you ought to remember the play anyway. The Browns had worked the ball all the way down to the Bengals' 12-yard line, facing a crucial third-and-5, down 17-3 with just 27 seconds left in the first half. Manziel took the snap, set up in the pocket for a half a second before he takes off, this time to his right and hits Johnson just beyond the goal line in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown.


Cool story, bro, but let's take a look at whether there was an easier way for the Browns to have scored on that play.

Oh my, look at that.

Manziel 7

Barnidge (red circle and red arrow, because come the hell on) is wide ass open up the seam on a play that looks to have been drawn up to get Barnidge wide ass open up the seam. The short slant route underneath and behind Barnidge gets the linebacker to sit. There is nobody behind him to stop Barnidge from catching a touchdown.

This was not a hard read, and it would not have been a hard throw. The rush did not force Manziel to take off and run on this play either; he did that shit on his own.

That's why the Browns' coaching staff can't trust him and why Pettine wasn't happy even though his team had just scored.

Points are too precious in the NFL to give away some fo' sho' for some I don't know, but that's exactly what Manziel does every time he gives up on good plays and takes off running. When they draw up plays specifically to beat the opponent's coverage, offensive coordinators want the damn ball to go where it's supposed to because the plays work as designed. But they just don't know what they're going to get, even when you give Manziel the perfect frigging play.

But guess whose ass is going to be on the line if the team keeps having trouble scoring points?

Uh huh.

3-12-CLV 10 (9:51) (Shotgun) J. Manziel scrambles up the middle to CLV 21 for 11 yards

Here's another play you might recall if you watched the game live. The first drive of the second half for the Browns on offense ended on a third-and-12 play where Manziel scrambled for about 11 and a half yards and was ruled short of a first down after the Bengals challenged the spot.

Manziel 8

Again, I'm sure a lot of folks thought that was a "good" play for Manziel on a down and distance that usually isn't very favorable to most offenses. That sounds good until you actually watch the film and you're like "Oh wait, there's that really fast guy named Travis Benjamin that Steve talked about earlier in this column and man he looks sooooo wide open with that red circle around him and arrow on top of him."

Manziel had a nice run, but didn't quite get the first down. He missed a dude who would have definitely scored a touchdown and tied the game on the same play.

And tied the game on the same play.

And tied the game on the same play.

I feel like I need to repeat over and over.

If Manziel threw this ball to Benjamin, who is wide ass open, it probably would've been one of the easier completions he's ever thrown a pro and the game would have been tied. I feel like I need to remind people of that because I think some of the reason folks are acting like Manziel played well is because they weren't expecting much from him to begin with, considering the fact the Bengals are an undefeated team. And hey, I would definitely say the Bengals are the more talented team on paper for sure, but, the truth is that the Browns squandered opportunities to keep it close or maybe even win, and a lot of those squandered opportunities were on Manziel.

Opportunity lost ... again

3-4-CLV 26 (3:14) (Shotgun) J. Manziel pass incomplete short middle to G. Barnidge

The Browns had a third-and-4 at their own 26-yard line and they also have a guy pretty open for the first down. That guy (again) didn't get the ball thrown to him though.

Manziel 12

The Browns came out in a trips bunch set to the left. Browns wide receiver Marlon Moore (orange circle) lined up on the inside of the bunch formation. Upon the snap, he ran out to the flat and then back inside, opening himself up for about five yards or more with Leon Hall trailing him. Manziel never really looked his way. Instead, the quarterback opted to try to drop it over a linebacker (green circle) to Barnidge (red circle) who also had Adam Jones trailing close behind. It would have taken a perfect throw to get it to Barnidge, so you know that means it fell incomplete.

The weird thing about that play is that Manziel didn't take off running. He actually let the routes develop down the field, and he still threw it to the wrong guy. Almost like he isn't that good or something.

It's a one-score game near the end of the third quarter, man. You have got to be able to move the chains in this situation. When there are wide open guys who aren't seeing the ball and you can't convert on third down, that falls on your quarterback. Period.

Too late

The Bengals woke up from their slumber on offense after that and the end would soon come, but I want to show you two more plays from the Browns' next possession when they found themselves down 24-10 early in the fourth quarter. There was still plenty of time to tie the game, and maybe even to get ahead. If they had any chance of doing either, they were going to need to score soon, though.

The Browns needed to get off to a good start on that drive, so their OC dialed up another easy read for Manziel on the first play of the drive. Browns OC John DeFilippo called a bootleg, which would allow Manziel to use his athleticism and put pressure on the edge of the defense while also allowing him to get the ball out of his hand quickly if need be.

He had one tight end, Barnidge (red circle), open immediately to the flat after the snap of the football. Manziel also had a second tight end in Jim Dray (orange circle) who was also open in the short middle of the field right away.

Manziel 9

OK, let's go to a multiple-choice format on this one. Do you think Manziel:

A) Hit Barnidge in the flat for a short gain to get the offense off to a positive start.

B) Hit Dray in the short middle for a short gain to get the offense off to a positive start.

C) Took a shot down field to Benjamin up the right sideline and let him go get it.

D) Had a brain fart and reversed field where he really didn't have any eligible receivers except Johnson who was well-covered and ended up having to throw the ball away, squandering an opportunity to advance the football down the field a few yards on a simple ass play.

You can make your choices in the comments section.*

Without giving anything away, the Browns lined up on the next play facing second-and-10. This time the Browns lined up with trips to the right with Johnson again lined up as a wide receiver. The Bengals played Tampa 2 and just tried to keep everything in front of them.

2-10-CLV 20 (13:18) (Shotgun) J. Manziel sacked at CLV 15 for -5 yards

Johnson (red circle) goes to the right flat immediately, and he's wide open for five yards or more if he can make the corner to his side miss. Crowell (orange circle) who was in the backfield at the start of the play leaked out to the left flat and was wide open right away for at least five yards, or even more if he can make the corner to his side miss.

Manziel 11

Johnny Manziel got sacked on this play.

Don't ask me how, but it definitely happened.

What more could the Browns have possibly done on this play to help Manziel make a positive throw or at the least not give up a damn sack?

Literally nothing, in my estimation. He just isn't ready.

One thing I noticed around that point in the game is that Browns players didn't seem to be running their routes as crisply. You can look at Johnson on that last play and see how quickly he gave up on that flat route after the ball didn't come out right away like it should have. He just turned up field and started trying to run a scramble drill route.

I wouldn't say anybody was loafing, but it seems to be obvious on film that guys started anticipating Manziel taking off running. If that was the case, why would anybody keep running their routes full speed? For who, for what?

Not that it mattered at that point because, like I said before, the Bengals' offense was wide awake and after yet another fruitless Browns drive, the Bengals scored again to make it 31-10

Game over.

QB 101

If the Browns do decide to turn the reins over to Manziel, as is their prerogative, it is probably going to have a negative effect on the continued development of Barnidge and Benjamin, two guys who are enjoying career years with Josh McCown, of all people, behind center. That's not to talk up McCown, but to point out that these guys are balling with a mediocre quarterback and are better off with him than Johnny Manziel. All of those innovative ways they keep coming up with to get Duke Johnson the ball are going to be wasted.

This isn't me hating, this is the film talking. I'm just translating.

Hey, maybe the Browns don't care about winning anymore at 2-7. Maybe they don't think much of Benjamin and Barnidge developing anyway. Maybe for them it's more important to give Manziel every opportunity to succeed before they decide to move on. All I know is that judging from this game, Manziel isn't close to being ready for a full-time starting job, not when he's trying to use his legs rather than his head to throw the football

Manziel wasn't failing his PHD dissertation, he was failing QB 101.

Maybe the Manziel fans among us still feel the Browns should name him the starter for the rest the rest of the season just so the Browns can see what they've got before next spring's NFL draft and free agency. If they don't name him the starter now, maybe they already know what they've got with Manziel? And maybe, just maybe, that's why they haven't been too keen to make him the starter.

As I said before, the head coach usually kinda knows, even before watching the film.

*whispers* It was D.

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