Nov 30, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills won 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the joke of the week thanks to the circus that follows him everywhere, and also thanks to Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, but the truth is, Manziel could be trouble for the Bengals when the teams meet in Cleveland on Sunday. His strengths and the Bengals’ weaknesses could mesh to make for an exciting debut as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
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While Manziel has seen limited action so far this season — two games, nine pass attempts — we know enough about his college tendencies to make a guess about what Browns coach Mike Pettine wants to see from his rookie, and what he doesn’t want to see. In particular, Manziel built his college career, as many Heisman QBs do, on his ability to scramble and then run the ball himself when necessary, along with enough passing talent to rack up big yards and touchdown numbers. The knock on Manziel is that he tends to get antsy in the pocket and takes off before all of his options have played out.
So Pettine will want to see if Manziel can stand the heat and only use his legs when absolutely necessary, or when the play specifically calls for it. It’s a fine balance that continues to burn mobile quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III once they hit the NFL.
But Manziel could hardly have picked a better team against which to make his first start. Along with the Atlanta Falcons, the Bengals sit at the bottom of the defensive sack ratings, with just 15 through 13 games. Those sacks have resulted in just 88 lost yards, worst in the league.
And, while Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins can pressure a quarterback, the Bengals have only 47 hurries on the season, which ranks them 19th.
In other words, Manziel should have time to figure things out, and just the threat of his running will cause troubles for a Bengals’ decimated linebacking corps that has been largely responsible for a 27th-ranked run defense.
So, Johnny Manziel may be small of stature by NFL quarterback standards, and he have a somewhat limited skill set, but he has the chance to burnt the Bengals in his first game as a starter for the Browns. And if he runs away from them, the Bengals’ playoff hopes might go with him.