The regular season doesn't start until next month but the excitement has already begun and there are several takeaways from the week 1 preaseason game of the Cleveland Browns vs the Detroit Lions. Everyone that watched the Browns' 13-12 loss on Saturday had one thing on their mind, how well Johnny Manziel will play. The answer to that question is that he played pretty well. Here are some points of clarity that can be taken from this week 1 game.
Hoyer is not that far ahead of Manziel
All throughout the offseason it has been made clear that Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback and that rookie Johnny Manziel will be considered a backup for the foreseeable future. This has been based on the the play of both quarterbacks in practice as well as the playbook comprehension between the two. In both instances Hoyer has been considered significantly ahead of Johnny Manziel. However, this apparent disparity in practice didn't manifest on the playing field Saturday.
Manziel threw 7/11 for 63 yards. His first professional throw was a short pass to the left for 6 yards to Anthony Armstrong with 7:32 left in the 2nd quarter. Manziel went a perfect 2/2 on his opening drive but the Browns were unable to convert on 3rd down resulting in a punt. His performance wasn't spectacular but it was without major fault which is more telling of his progression this early on.
On the other hand, Hoyer had played similarly in the preseason game against Detroit. He went 6/14 for 92 yards. Hoyer had a lower completion percentage but threw from more yards. This is due to Hoyer throwing deeper passes than Manziel although both quarterbacks threw mostly short passes.
Both quarterbacks were able to get the team into position for field goals but were unable to find the end zone. Bottom line is that both quarterbacks got the chance to lead 4 drives and Hoyer was less accurate but made some more impressive throws while Manziel was more accurate, threw for less yards but also made some plays with his legs.
Special teams looked solid
Special teams may not be the most exciting but still is a very crucial element. Saturday didn't see any scoring touchdowns at all until the 4th quarter by the Lions. Billy Cundiff was perfect for the night going 4/4 kicking in each quarter to score all of Cleveland's 12 points. Cundiff kicked a 43 yard field goal in the first quarter to tie up the game.
Relatively unknown 5th year wide receiver out of Fresno State made an impressive showing on special teams. He was able to return a kick for 52 yards in the beginning of the 3rd quarter which resulted in a Cundiff field goal.
Manziel learning when and how to run
The best play of the night for Johnny Manziel was undoubtedly his 16 yard dash up the middle of the field when the pocket started to collapse late in the third quarter. The most impressive part of this run was not his speed or elusiveness but rather the fact that he slide at the end of the play. He was able to run for the most individual yards of the game with 27. This is exactly what Manziel needs to learn to do on a consistent basis in the NFL if he want to stay healthy. It is apparent that Manziel will never be a traditional drop back passer and that his stats will always include rushing yards in it. Being a quarterback runner coupled with the fact that he is a smaller player puts a huge target on him for big strong defenders to put a hurt on him in the open field. The only real way to avoid injury for him is to slide at the end of his running plays. Sliding typically only loses about a yard or so which is a much better loss than injury.
Browns offense will be marked by short passes and shotgun formation
This offensive scheme seems tailored for Manziel success but can also be beneficial to Brian Hoyer as well. Of 14 passes thrown by Hoyer, 8 were from the shotgun and most all were short passes. In contrast, out of Manziel's 11 passes, 9 were from the shotgun and all were short passes. This may be the key to the offense this season, especially when Manziel becomes the starter. Shotgun formation allows for a shorter quarterback such as Manziel to see over his offensive lineman to get a better view down field. It also gives him a little buffer zone and room right after the snap to make a quick pass. Another benefit is that it gives mobile quarterbacks a great position to run the ball instead of pass.
Overall, this game did not give any clear cut advantage for either candidate vying for the top spot however in many people's eyes Manziel was pretty good in his preseason debut with Cleveland. The choice for quarterback is not any more clear now but by the time preseason is over, a definitive conclusion will be obvioius. If Manziel keeps up what he is doing and minimizes his mistakes, it is likely he will be starting in September against Pittsburgh.