Johnny Manziel takes another small step forward in Seattle


Dec 20, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) pressures against the Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Cleveland, 30-13. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Manziel may not be part of the problem for the Cleveland Browns, but it is not time to declare him part of the solution, either.

The Cleveland Browns, to the surprise of no one, had another day to forget against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The Seahawks rolled over the Browns in winning their fifth consecutive game, hitting 30 points for the fourth consecutive game, and clinching yet another playoff appearance.

The Browns? Not so much.

The defense continued its season-long struggle to do something – anything – to stop the opposing offense. The Browns allowed 182 rushing yards, the eighth time this season the defense has allowed more than 150 rushing yards to a team.

The 30 points also marked the ninth time the Browns have allowed 30 or more points in a game. Cleveland is on pace to give up 442 points this year, which would be the second-most by a Browns team since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Cleveland also could not run the ball, as Duke Johnson was the leading rusher with 46 yards. That marked the 10th game this season that the leading rusher has totaled less than 50 yards.

Which brings us, as always, to quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Manziel finished the game 19-of-32 for 161 yards. He hit Gary Barnidge for a touchdown, threw an interception when he tried to hit Dwayne Bowe despite Bowe having three defenders on him, fumbled once, took three sacks and finished with a quarterback rating of 69.9.

Manziel was perfectly adequate against the Seahawks, continuing a trend this season where the quarterback play has not been the Browns biggest problem on Sundays.

But just because he was not part of the problem doesn’t mean the Manziel is a lock to be part of the solution.

After leading the Browns on a nice 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game, Manziel and the offense could only muster 150 yards of total offense and six points the rest of the game.

That continued another trend from Manziel this season. When he faces bad teams (Tennessee and San Francisco) he puts points on the board (an average of 21 per game). When he faces good teams, (the New York Jets, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Seattle) that number drops to 10 points per game.

And that’s a problem – but not necessarily one that doesn’t have a solution.

Manziel is essentially a rookie this season in many ways. Sure, he was with the Browns last year, but that was a monumental waste as he decided to voluntarily take the year off without telling anyone.

So his up-and-down season this year shouldn’t come as a surprise. Inexperienced quarterbacks will struggle when facing good teams and it happens to the best of them.

Manziel has also shown real improvement this year, and not just compared to his “can’t be any worse” performance in 2014 against the Bengals.

He looks prepared when he is on the field, doesn’t try to force plays for the most part, and seems to be growing more comfortable playing within the offense rather than trying to “make a play.”

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Has Manziel done enough these past few weeks that we want to see him again next Sunday against Kansas City? Of course.

Has Manziel done enough to definitively say he is the Browns quarterback of the future? Absolutely not.

This is a difficult concept for many to understand in our current culture of “hot takes” and instant analysis, where a player is a superstar on one play and should be cut on the next.

But acknowledging that Manziel is trending in the right direction, while also understanding that he still has a lot of work ahead of him, do not have to be polar opposites. Pointing out that he has flaws does not make one a “hater” – it just makes one a non-extremist who understands there is more to playing quarterback than just the occasional highlight play.

There is also Manziel’s off-the-field concerns, which are going to be put to a big test once the season comes to a close.

Manziel took another small step on Sunday in proving that he does not need to be at the top of the problem list for the Browns.

But he still has a long way to go before anyone should be comfortable declaring that he is unequivocally part of the solution.