Browns 2nd Half Thoughts: Johnny Manziel, Defense & Depth
Last night’s Cleveland Browns versus St. Louis Rams game was another difficult game for Browns fans to watch. Bad, but not as bad as Monday Night, was the home team in the unveiling of the improved First Energy Stadium and new mascot Swagger. We gave you first and second quarter takeaways last night as the game was going on, you can find those here: 1st quarter 2nd quarter.
Now on the morning after we give you some second half thoughts specifically on Johnny Manziel, the Browns’ defense and the team’s overall depth.
FES was rocking for Manziel when he came on the field after a Christian Kirksey interception and return set the Browns up inside the red zone. Everything that is Johnny Football right now was on display in this short drive. A nicely placed 20 pass to the endzone that resulted in a pass interference and the ball at the 1. Two penalties, including a delay of game on Manziel, taking the ball back to the 16. Finally capped off with Manziel scramble for a diving touchdown. Money Signs. Fans Cheering. A true Johnny Football moment.
Manziel played the rest of the 2nd half and showed both the good and bad that has been seen in college and so far in the pros. Manziel has a rocket for an arm. Throwing strikes into small windows that receivers, and defenders, are surprised by. Though he has a strong arm he also has good accuracy and touch on the ball. His 4th down pass to Charles Johnson was placed where only the receiver could get it, but soft enough for him to be able to pull it in. Johnson dropped the ball but Manziel put it right where it needed to go. Those parts of Manziel’s game are ready to go today, as well as his creativity that includes running with the ball.
On the other hand are all the things that Manziel needs to develop to be a starter QB at the NFL level. Last night he showed that these are still works in progress. From the pocket Manziel locked on to his target and stayed with that receiver the entire time. It was only when the pocket broke down or he was on the move did he actually look to other receivers. This allowed defenders to get their hands up at the line and backend defenders to attack the primary receiver.
Manziel also continues to look to make the big play even when a solid play is open right in front of him. On a very similar play to one from the Lions game, Manziel rolled out to his right with his fullback wide open. He looked at him first, then down the field to 2 other receivers before coming back to Ray Agnew, the fullback. By that time the defense was able to come up and hit Agnew for a short gain. Throwing to him first would of given Agnew more space to get a few more yards.
All and all from an excitement standpoint Manziel gets a B-, the craziness of Michael Sam sacking him and doing the money dance is a solid A+ from a ratings perspective. Manziel’s play from the pocket and making good reads was a C-. The good news is that the things he struggles at are teachable. They are muscle and behavioral memory things that take time but very teachable. The tools he has already; arm strength, touch, accuracy and use of his legs, are not teachable. He is ahead of the curve in those areas and could be ready in the former areas later this year.
The Browns have depth everyone on defense besides their defensive backfield. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Zac Diles, Jamaal Westerman, John Hughes and Cam Henderson all showed good signs in the second half last night. Kitchen is a space eater who could be the Browns long term nose tackle. Diles and Westerman were all over the field from the linebacker position and continue to fight for time on the field and roster spots. Hughes’ spot on the team is wrapped up but he is starting to compete well with fellow draft mate Billy Winn. Henderson, along with Jacobbi McDaniel, are fighting for spots on a very deep defensive line unit but could slip through to the expanded practice squad.
The secondary looked bad but that was to be expected with 5 of the 6 top corners out of the game. Rookie Justin Gilbert showed he wasn’t ready yet but looks to have the physical skills to make up for some of his mistakes. One shocking development was the constant ability for Rams’ QBs to get out of the pocket and make plays with their legs. When the Browns could stay true in coverage often the rush would lose contain and allow a scramble for a first down. Something to watch for when the season starts.
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While the defense has depth in the front 7 the Browns depth on the offensive side of the ball is concerning. Some may nag on the lack of high end talent at wide receiver, but it is the lack of depth on the offensive line that has been a huge concern with the second and third units. Manziel was under constant pressure, which doesn’t help his development, and the running game struggled to get going with the second unit.
The wide receiver corp also has little to no depth. With Josh Gordon sitting out the entire game, reportedly due to “something medical” the depth took another hit. Expect the Browns to look at receivers and offensive linemen when cuts are made. While the Browns are not likely to make any big time trades, trading defensive line depth for a wide receiver, with a team like the Packers, could be a solid under the radar move.
What were some of your takeaways from the second half?