(Yahoo!) We learned a lot about Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel in his first NFL start. And we saw how much he has to work on.
Manziel showed some physical limitations and fundamental flaws against the Cincinnati Bengals. One thing that was immediately evident (and could be seen on detailed film study) is that Manziel has an average arm by NFL standards. Manziel needs functional space and a clean pocket to step up into throws and drive the ball. He works hard to put any velocity on his throws.
The problem is Manziel didn’t want to stay in the pocket. He lacks any feel for the pocket, has almost no pocket patience and discipline and is very quick to move and play what I call “random football” outside of the structure of the offense.
The Bengals used a “mush rush” concept a number of times with an inside rusher staying at the line of scrimmage to prevent Manziel from escaping vertically and making plays running the ball. And Manziel produced very little in the passing game.
Both of his interceptions were prime examples of his issues at this point.
His first interception came in the second quarter. The Browns had a post/cross route combination against the Bengals’ “Cover 3” zone. Josh Gordon’s post route lifted the front-side cornerback and the single-high safety, allowing Andrew Hawkins to be wide open on the crossing route. Manziel looked for a split second to his right, losing his downfield focus (Manziel didn't see things clearly; you could tell by his head, he didn’t have what you'd call a "calm helmet") and then drifted to his left. He threw the ball with no base or balance and the ball came out with nothing on it. It had poor location behind Hawkins too. Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick picked it off.
The second interception came on a third and 4. Gordon and Hawkins ran a mesh concept to get open immediately on a quick in-breaking route. Gordon broke open right away and Manziel looked right at him, but didn’t throw it. The second part of the route concept was tight end Jordan Cameron running a crossing route on the back side, over the top of Gordon and Hawkins. He was also wide open. Manziel didn’t register any of that, and with no pocket clarity he tried to make a random sandlot play. His ill-advised pass was picked off by Cincinnati's Adam Jones.
Manziel’s only rhythm throw from the pocket to the intermediate level came on a third and 12 in the third quarter. The Bengals ran a “Tampa 2” zone with two deep safeties, Gordon ran a “7 stop” route to the void, and Manziel hit him for a nice gain.
The Bengals mostly played zone coverage concepts, and were very basic with those zone concepts. They wanted Manziel to read the coverage and make throws into voids. On that throw to Gordon, he did. It was a good read and he executed it well. But that was rare for him in his first start.
Manziel is just a rookie, and he could learn to hit more throws like the one to Gordon in rhythm from the pocket. But he needs significant work on his footwork as he plants and sets. Too often he’s off balance and not ready to deliver the ball. He still has a tendency to lock his front leg on his delivery. That will prevent him from driving the ball.
Manziel isn’t ready to play with patience in the pocket. Can he get there with experience? Maybe. But he has a lot to overcome to be a high-level NFL quarterback. He’s a small quarterback with average arm strength and almost no pocket skills and discipline at this point.
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