Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel to start on Sunday


Nov 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) throws a pass under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

With the season in a free fall, the Cleveland Browns are returning to Johnny Manziel as the starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cleveland Browns announced on Tuesday that quarterback Johnny Manziel will return to the starting role when the club hosts the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

A day after several media outlets reported that Manziel would take over for Austin Davis, who had taken over for the injured Josh McCown, Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine made it official.

“Johnny will be our starting quarterback on Sunday,” Pettine said. “He’s been solid in the building over the last couple of weeks and we are hopeful he takes this opportunity to continue to build on the progress he’s made on the field throughout the season. The goal for every game is to go out and win, and Johnny needs to show that he can put us in position to do so during these last four weeks of the season.”

In the four games this season where Manziel has been the primary quarterback (three starts and the opener against the New York Jets, where he played all but once series), Manziel has posted a 1-3 record while completing 59 percent of his passes for 894 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

More importantly, the offense has scored 10 or fewer points in three of those four games.

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If Manziel makes it through the rest of the season as the starter – after the 49ers the Browns hit the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs before closing out at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers – Cleveland will have half a season of starts (along with Manziel’s wasted rookie year) to help evaluate whether or not to go forward with the troubled quarterback.

While some will argue that is not enough time, the three hours on Sundays that fans see the players is only a small part of the evaluation process. According to Pettine, by the end of the season the club should have a good handle on what it has in Manziel.

“Sure, it depends on how those games go. We have to make sure that we support our quarterback,” Pettine said on Monday. “As I mentioned earlier in this press conference, we have to be playing well around our quarterback. Four games is a quarter of a season. That is a good chunk of time. I think we already have a sense of where he is from a football standpoint. He has done some good things and showed progress from a year ago. That has been encouraging. We will see how it plays out.”

Manziel and the Browns will be facing one of the league’s worst defenses on Sunday in the 49ers, who are led by defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, a former Browns head coach. Under Mangini, San Francisco’s defense is 28th overall, 27th against the pass and 28th against the run.