Reel Film Recap Week 15: Manziel Start Grinds to Halt

Each week Inside The Pylon takes a look at ins and outs of the latest offensive action from around the NFL in Reel Film Recap. In this edition Mark Schofield looks at how the first-ever Johnny Manziel start went for the Cleveland Browns against the Cincinnati Bengals.

In his own words, his performance graded as “a fail”. The rookie signal caller completed only 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards with two interceptions (a Cincinnati penalty negated a third pick). Harassed throughout the afternoon, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel forced a number of throws into coverage, and two plays from Sunday illustrate the “risk/reward” aspect of the young passer’s game.

Million Dollar Arm

Before halftime, the Browns face 1st and 10 near midfield with Manziel under center and in a run formation using 12 personnel. The Bengals counter with their base 4-3 defense and Cover 3 in the secondary. Cleveland fakes a stretch play to the right with the quarterback executing a naked bootleg to the backside:

Receiver Josh Gordon is open on the crossing route as the go route clears out the coverage. As Manziel emerges from his naked bootleg, he discovers that Cincinnati defensive end Wallace Gilberry (#95) stayed home to set a strong edge. Manziel relies on instincts and arm strength to get the ball to his wideout:

His technique lacks refinement on this throw: Manziel’s body leans away from contact – and his target – and he throws off his back foot. But his release point is sound and his arm is plenty strong to get the ball to Gordon:

The wideout secures the throw and gets upfield for a first down:

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Even with his flawed mechanics, Manziel is able to complete the pass because of his arm strength, getting the ball out quickly to an open receiver along the sideline. That right appendage – along with his raw talent – demonstrate the “reward” side of the equation.

Ten Cent Head

However, a few plays later the rookie reveals the “risk” side of the ledger to disastrous effect. Cleveland faces 3rd and 4 on Cincinnati’s 19-yard line with only 1:17 remaining in the half. Trailing by 20, the Browns desperately need points before the break and are in field goal range.

Manziel stands in the shotgun with an empty backfield. The Bengals only rush three while dropping eight defenders into coverage. With no one open downfield the QB buys time with his feet, but forces a throw late in the play:

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Look at the difference in his mechanics here:

Manziel leans well away from contact ‒ and his target ‒ again. His feet are anything but set and his release point is below his helmet, which takes zip off the football. The result?

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Throwing the football late over the middle is a classic blunder, on par with starting a land war in Asia or decorating holiday cookies with my three-year-old son. It is not likely to end well. The floating pass is easily intercepted in the end zone and the Browns fail to put points on the board. Manziel needs to take the sack or throw the ball away and let Cleveland generate a small bit of momentum going into the half.

In the wake of his first start, many pundits are wondering if Johnny Football is a bust. He certainly is a talented athlete, but he cannot turn in more performances like this if he is to have a career in the NFL. Whether he becomes a bust or is destined for a solid career is uncertain after one start, but, either way, Manziel would like to forget about this day.

All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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