Johnny Manziel’s height is an issue only if he allows it to be


Nov 5, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) throws a pass in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel pointed out an important part of life in the NFL on Wednesday.

“I am not going to be able to sit there like some of these taller quarterbacks in the league and just be able to see everything happen as it plays on,” Manziel said on Wednesday. “There are going to be times where I am not going to be able to see something and I am going to have to make a faith throw.”

While there is no denying that the 5-foot-11 Manziel will, at times, have trouble seeing over the defensive line, this is not anything new. He’s been dealing with being shorter than most quarterbacks since he started playing quarterback and, at age 22, there is no summer growth spurt coming in his future.

There are also other shorter quarterbacks, most notably Russell Wilson in Seattle and Drew Brees in New Orleans, that play the position at a very acceptable level despite being vertically challenged. Watch Brees play, for example, and you consistently seeing him tilting his head up to see over the onrushing defense and he sets up in the pocket.

“The realization is that he’s going to have to understand where to move in the pocket to create some throwing lanes.” – Head coach Mike Pettine on Johnny Manziel

It is a point that head coach Mike Pettine made on Thursday.

“I don’t see (Johnny’s height) as concerning,” Pettine said. “The realization is that he’s going to have to understand where to move in the pocket to create some throwing lanes. When you study Drew Brees you can see that he’s not a scrambler but he has great sense in the pocket as far as where to move in relation to who he’s throwing to and where the potential throwing lane would be.

“Any quarterback that’s in that position has to learn it. Sometimes the only way to learn it is live reps and get the sense of the game when you finally get a chance to get to the film and say ‘ wow that guys wide open, I just didn’t see him’ that blind faith or that trust has to be information gathered. Where he just has to know he’s going to be there and I have to move and make a throw.”

So Manziel’s height does not have to be an issue – unless he allows it to become one.

Last week’s game against Cincinnati is the perfect example. Manziel had some success – especially on Cleveland’s lone touchdown drive of the game – in the first half, most notably on plays where he rolled out of the pocket (either by design or out of necessity).

“I don’t want to take Johnny’s athleticism away from him, but at the same time, if there is a play to be had in the pocket, we need to make it.” – Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo

Manziel was an effective 11-of-18 for 128 yards in the first half. In the second half, though? The Browns managed just 32 yards of total offense and two first downs. The first four possessions of the half were all three-and-outs, Manziel was sacked three times and completed just four of his 15 pass attempts.

So what was the difference?

  • The Bengals, knowing Manziel is more comfortable on the move, made a commitment to keeping him in the pocket.
  • The Browns adjusted to that by imploring Manziel to stay in the pocket.
  • The problem? Manziel is not comfortable or good when throwing from the pocket.

As exciting as it is when Manziel is rolling out and throwing 50-yard touchdown passes, those occasional highlights lose some of their luster when they are surrounded by a seemingly never-ending string of three-and-outs.

The Bengals took away what Manziel does best and he had no answer to it, leaving many to spend the past week nattering on about how Pettine “doesn’t make halftime adjustments,” rather than focusing on the real issue.

The more Manziel plays the more teams are going to force him to stay in the pocket, and until he figures out a way make opposing defenses pay for that decision, the harder life is going to be for both him and the Browns.

Being more athletic than everyone else and “making something happen” works in high school and college, but isn’t a recipe for a long and productive career in the NFL, which is what Pettine was referring to when he talked about the need for Manziel to “calm down” on the field.

To his credit, Manziel seems willing to work to try to adapt his game.

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“I have a lot of confidence in my ability. I am continuing to gain confidence in playing in this system and playing in this offense,” he said. “It takes a lot of time getting used to seeing these coverages, knowing where people are going to be and exploiting that. As far as knowing where guys are and knowing where the defenders are and staying in the pocket and making the throw, there is a time and a place for me to get out.

“I don’t think it is a bad thing when I get out of the pocket and run around. I don’t think anyone wants to take that away from me, but there are times where I could definitely stay in a little bit longer. That is just a fact of the way I play and the way I have to try and continue to adapt.”

We can spend from until eternity debating whether or not the Browns should have drafted Manziel (no) or if he was really a first-round talent (no), whether or not they should have played him sooner (no) or be playing him now (maybe), and whether or not the team should move on from him after this season (they should not.)

Manziel may not be ready to be a full-time starter just yet, and there is a very possibility he may never be, but his height isn’t the reason why he’s struggled.

It’s up to him, though, to make sure that it doesn’t become his ultimate shortcoming.